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As an Israeli, I can no longer support this Australian charity

Ori Golan
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Bearded man wearing a skullcap.

Michael Mohammed Ahmad (Hachette)

Published: 8 December 2023

Last updated: 5 March 2024

When refusing to condemn Hamas is politically acceptable, the values of an organisation have been distorted, writes ORI GOLAN.

I firmly believe in the mission of the Asylum Seekers Centre, which is why I decided to attend its 30-year anniversary celebration at the end of November.

The evening included an extraordinary line-up of refugees who have achieved amazing things. From unpromising beginnings, these individuals have become active and successful members of Australia’s multi-ethnic community. I was beaming.

Then the founding director of Sweatshop Literacy Movement, Michael Mohammed Ahmad, took to the stage. He was wearing a keffiyeh, a symbol associated with Palestinian nationalism. I braced myself for what would come next.

"I am expected to condemn Hamas, I know. But I won't.” And with this opening gambit, he launched into an anti-Israel diatribe, citing statistics of deaths in Gaza. Each statistic prompted audible gasps from the audience.

There was no mention of the context in which the ongoing war in Gaza is being waged; not a single word condemning the heinous acts of violence, including murders, mutilations, and rapes perpetrated by Hamas terrorists against defenceless civilians. No mention of the innocent Israeli hostages kidnapped into Gaza. Just a stream of pro-Palestinian propaganda.

I sat there, stunned, as the speaker continued the impassioned monologue. At one point, he posed a rhetorical question: "Did you know that one in every three refugees in the world is Palestinian?" More gasps from the audience. (He omitted to mention that this staggering statistic stems from the fact that all descendants of Palestinian refugees are recognised as refugees themselves.)

Looking around me, I wondered if anyone else was shocked. Did any other members of the audience feel it was wholly inappropriate? Were they asking themselves why the speaker was allowed to divert the event for his political agenda?

There are forums and appropriate times for political opinions, but this was not one of them. The event had nothing to do with Gaza. It was supposed to celebrate the achievement of refugees in Australia. What we all witnessed was an unabashed - and unchallenged - hijacking of the event for Palestinian propaganda that has become commonplace in the arts, academic and social services sectors.

No one on stage or in the audience objected.

I met with the Asylum Seekers Centre CEO Frances Rush OAM afterwards to express my concerns and ask the Centre to repudiate the diatribe delivered by Michael Mohammed Ahmad. The meeting was convivial, and I was hopeful of a positive outcome. But fine words butter no parsnips.

The Board of the Asylum Seekers Centre met and decided to simply put out a blanket statement condemning “all forms of antisemitism, anti-Palestinian racism, and Islamophobia”.

The problem with this approach, as Dan Coleman observed when writing about the Greens and antisemitism, is that in the face of racism, antisemitism or simply extreme one-sidedness, it’s not enough to respond with neutrality.

Like the STC actors who recently hjijacked a curtain call, the Asylum Seekers Centre gave carte blanche to a speaker to present the audience with a distorted and dangerous picture of the Hamas-Israel conflict and refused to repudiate the view he expressed.

I am disappointed that, as an Israeli, I can no longer feel welcome at the Asylum Seekers Centre. It’s an organisation I used to be proud to support.

About the author

Ori Golan

Ori Golan is a Sydney-based freelance journalist.

The Jewish Independent acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of Country throughout Australia. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and strive to honour their rich history of storytelling in our work and mission.

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