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Caulfield and Coogee: a chilling new phase in physical hostility towards Jews

Michael Visontay
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Palestinian versus Jewish protests show failure of multiculturalism

Photo: Police are seen holding apart a Pro-Palestine and Pro-Israeli group during a Pro-Palestine demonstration in Brisbane in early November (AAP Image/Darren England)

Published: 14 November 2023

Last updated: 19 March 2024

Pro-Palestinian supporters crossed a line in the sand over the weekend when they took antisemitic violence and intimidation onto the streets.

In the days and weeks since Hamas launched its massacre of Israelis on October 7, the world has seen an almost instant outpouring of verbal scapegoating, physical intimidation and attacks against Jews. Antisemitism seems too mild a word for it. Attacks on US university campuses, a stabbing in France, the firebombing of a synagogue in Berlin, the list goes on.

But they were always elsewhere. In Australia, there was the gut-wrenching sight, just two days after the massacre, of pro-Palestinian demonstrators in Sydney chanting “Kill the Jews”. There has been a series of pro-Palestinian demonstrations around the country, angry but peaceful, that have grown in number as Israel’s retaliation in Gaza continues.

There has been vile graffiti, social media battles, offensive public letters by advocacy groups, and the tearing down of the “Kidnapped” posters put up by Jews trying to raise public awareness of the fact that Hamas has taken nearly 240 Israelis hostage. The release of those hostages is one of the chief aims of the offensive in Gaza, that has claimed too many Palestinian lives due to Hamas’ tactic of embedding command centres and infrastructure within and beneath civilian buildings such as hospitals.

But in Australia, there were no mass physical confrontations and violence. Not until this past weekend. The events of Friday night in Caulfield and Saturday evening in Coogee signalled a frightening new phase in the repercussions of the Israel-Hamas war.

On Friday afternoon, after news broke of a fire at the Burgertory outlet in Caulfield, owned by Muslim man Hash Tayeh who spoke at a Free Palestine rally last month, tension grew across Melbourne. The owner has since claimed his staff had received threats before the fire. Although police said they were “very confident” the fire was not motivated by religious or political concerns, carloads of pro-Palestinian supporters, inflamed by an offensive Instagram post during the day from a Melbourne Jew, announced they were coming to Caulfield in a show of solidarity with Mr Tayeh.

The pro-Palestinians lined up on one side of Princes Park and proceeded to pray. Their presence resulted in a synagogue service being cancelled. On the other side of the road a group of Jewish-counter-demonstrators gathered. The two sides were separated by a road and a substantial police presence.

As has been widely reported, after an exchange of insults, a handful of pro-Palestinian supporters crossed the road and made their charge. Punches were thrown and scuffles broke out. At least one Jewish person was hit by a rock and needed medical attention.

During the showdown, cars with Palestinian flags drove through other parts of Caulfield, harassing and, in some cases, spitting at Jewish passers-by.

What was less-known, The Jewish Independent has been told, was that while this brawl was taking place at Princes Park, cars with Palestinian flags and stickers were driving through other parts of Caulfield, their passengers verbally harassing and, in some cases, spitting at Jewish passers-by. The behaviour of the Palestinian protesters at Princes Park were condemned by politicians, police and Jewish community leaders.

On Saturday afternoon, with tension between the two communities feverish, a pro-Palestinian motorcycle convoy made its way from Lidcombe in Sydney’s west to the seaside suburb of Coogee, where about 100 Jewish people had a gathered for a community show of support.

Motorcycle convoy at Coogee on Saturday (Dylan Robinson/NCA Newswire)
Motorcycle convoy at Coogee on Saturday (Dylan Robinson/NCA Newswire)

The convoy was a deliberate act of provocation and intimidation, and was condemned by local members Allegra Spender (Federal, Vaucluse), Marjorie O’Neill (NSW, Coogee), Kellie Sloane (NSW, Vaucluse), and Jewish community leaders. “There is no reason why a notionally peaceful anti-Israel or pro-Palestinian protest needs to make its way from Lidcombe to Coogee. It is clear that the route has been chosen for one purpose – to intimidate and scare the Jewish community,” NSW Jewish Board of Deputies President David Ossip said.

Notably, the convoy was also called out by a Palestinian activist. “I’ll be clear: this is a deliberately provocative action. It has no strategic purpose. No one I know in the Palestinian community is on board with this,” said prominent pro-Palestinian activist Fahad Ali.

No violence ensued, although members of the pro-Palestinian group were caught on video shouting “F--- the Jews”.

Since these two confrontations took place in Melbourne and Sydney, the home of a rabbi in Newcastle has been defaced with graffiti, an Israeli restaurant, Shaffa, in Sydney's Surry Hills has been graffitied and there have been revelations of an Instagram post, with an ISIS beheading image, sent to ECAJ, dated October 12, warning that “we are coming to get you, from western Sydney”. A man has since been arrested in relation to the post.

Members of the pro-Palestinian group at Coogee were overheard on video shouting “F--k the Jews”.

There is a palpable sense of growing momentum for physical attacks against Jewish people, symbols and buildings.

The right to demonstrate, and respectfully, even angrily, advocate for a cause, is a given in this country. But the sense of entitlement to physical confrontation demonstrated by pro-Palestinian supporters is abhorrent. Everyone has the right to feel safe in their homes, suburb and beyond. The scapegoating of Jews for events taking place on the other side of the world is a blight on our way of life.

Police and political leaders can issue public messages but they can only do so much. Pro-Palestinian and Muslim community leaders must immediately step up and work harder to ensure that people acting in their name stop this behaviour. They have a responsibility to make clear that people do not have a licence to behave like this.

Jewish leaders must also re-explain to the community the importance of not getting drawn into tit-for-tat exchanges, online or physically, that might inflame already white-hot tensions. Peaceful shows of support are to be encouraged, especially given the tide of support for the Palestinian cause. But insulting others is both morally unacceptable and counterproductive to maintaining social calm.

The behaviour generated by Hamas’s massacre has shocked everyone in its intensity and sheer ugliness. The wave of intimidation and violence against Jews, here and everywhere, has to be stopped in its tracks. Now.

VIDEO: Brisbane supporters of both Israel and Palestine took to the streets in separate rallies
Thousands call for Gaza ceasefire at Australian protests while pro-Israel rally demands release of hostages
(Guardian)Large pro-Palestine events held in major capital cities for fifth successive week while pro-Israel groups gather at Sydney vigil
Jewish groups ‘highly concerned’ at Wong’s Middle East comments, as Marles says Australian Jews don’t feel safe
(The Conversation)Jewish organisations have criticised Foreign Minister Penny Wong over her latest comments on the Israel-Gaza conflict
Pro-Palestinian protesters take to waters at Port Botany in blockade campaign against Israeli ships (ABC)
Several hundred pro-Palestinian protesters have converged on the Port of Botany in Sydney, claiming to have forced an Israeli cargo ship to reschedule its arrival

Photo: Pro-Palestinian protesters in Caulfield on Friday, November 10 (Simon Shluter)

About the author

Michael Visontay

Michael Visontay is the Commissioning Editor of TJI. He has worked as a journalist and editor for more than 30 years. Michael is the author of several books, including Who Gave You Permission?, co-authored with child sexual abuse advocate Manny Waks, and Welcome to Wanderland: Western Sydney Wanderers and the Pride of the West.

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