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Israel Hamas WarInterviewAustralia

Nova Peris: ‘I’m saddened to see our sacred flag misappropriated by anti-Israel groups’

NOVA PERIS is the first Aboriginal woman elected to Federal Parliament. She has been outspoken since October 7. VIC ALHADEFF talks to her.
Vic Alhadeff
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Nova Peris

Nova Peris (Giselle Haber)

Published: 27 March 2024

Last updated: 26 March 2024

The record books show that Nova Peris won gold for hockey at the 1996 Olympic Games, when the Hockeyroos defeated South Korea 3-1, followed by gold medals at the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur for the 200m sprint and 4 x 100m relay. This made her the only athlete in the world to win Olympic and Commonwealth gold in different sports.

In recent times, however, Peris has focused her considerable profile on a different issue. Here she is on a podcast:

“As an Aboriginal woman, I’m one of four generations that lived under Australia’s greatest lie of Terra Nullius. The Jewish community was instrumental in overturning that lie. I want to reciprocate by helping overturn a similar lie which is being told against the Jewish people - that they have no connection to the Land of Israel and are settler-colonialists.” 

Another podcast: “We’ve heard a lot in our national discourse about truth-telling, mostly in the context of my people. How can we allow people to shout `F--- the Jews’ whilst burning flags on the steps of the Sydney Opera House? How can we not call this out and stamp this out? This behaviour is un-Australian.”

And this: “The Jewish community has played a leading role in establishing the rights of indigenous Australians. Lawyers such as Ron Castan, Jeff Sher and others were at the forefront of winning some of the most significant cases. As proud Jews, they understood what it was like for a people to have an internal connection to a land.

“The Jewish people have been the most committed friends and allies of my people. I absolutely refuse to stand by and let anyone deny these truths.”

There’s a generation chanting `From the river to the sea’ without understanding that between the river and the sea is Israel.

It takes courage to raise one’s head above the madding crowds, and Peris’ fearless determination to be “a truth-seeker” has cost her personally and politically. She has been slammed by members of her community, mostly from the radical Left in New South Wales and Victoria. Conversely, she has received several thousand messages of gratitude from Jewish voices the world over, many of them in tears.

Peris was the face of a campaign which saw the Aboriginal flag retrieved from private hands (an individual had registered copyright over its use) and returned to government ownership and public use.

“To watch this unfold is upsetting for me as a person who holds value in truth,” she tells The Jewish Independent. “I’m saddened to see our sacred flag, which I fought so hard to be returned to the Aboriginal community, misappropriated by anti-Israel and anti-Jewish groups. Who gave them permission?”

Born and raised in Darwin, Peris relocated to Perth – the nation’s hockey capital - to chase her childhood dream of representing her country in that sport. She played hockey for Australia for 13 years, from Under-16 to the Atlanta Olympics, going on to compete at the Sydney Olympics in athletics. She then blazed a second trail, this time in Canberra as a Labor senator in Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s government.

So is there a generational divide at work, with Aboriginal leaders such as Professor Marcia Langton, Noel Pearson and Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney expressing support for Israel and the Jewish community post-October 7, compared to the hijacking of Aboriginal indigeneity by proponents of the Palestinian narrative?  

Jewish Australians have fought all forms of discrimination, yet they now face the worst discrimination. 

“There’s so much misinformation out there, and it was evident during the Voice referendum,” she says. “There’s a generation chanting `From the river to the sea’ without understanding that between the river and the sea is Israel. They’re denying Jews their identity and their connection to their country through untruth and misinformation. For many of them, research means ten seconds on Tik Tok.

“For me to say nothing would mean I condone what’s being said. For Jews to be labelled colonisers is untrue. I have an aching heart that Hamas still holds hostages and I’m sick that people did what they did outside the iconic Opera House two days after the slaughter. How can people take to the streets using the blood of my ancestors and say we stand united? 

“Jews have done nothing but honour the First Nations people. They respect this land, they respect my people, and I could not sit back and watch them kicked to the gutter. The rise of antisemitism is disgusting. Throughout my life, Jewish Australians have fought all forms of discrimination, yet they now face the worst discrimination. 

“Having done Kokoda twice, I have a greater understanding of war and how important history is. As a human, I abhor the deaths of thousands of innocents in this violent war - in Israel and in Gaza. Too many people have died throughout history fighting over the Holy Land.

“I have many Jewish friends and I’ve seen how hurt they are. And I saw that Q&A episode with a Palestinian man wearing a combined Aboriginal and Palestinian pin. I championed the cause to free the Aboriginal flag, I became the face of that cause. I didn’t help free it to see it hijacked.”

Peris applauds the late Jewish human rights lawyer Ron Castan and Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus for their pivotal roles in assisting First Nations people secure native title. “If Ron Castan hadn’t dedicated his time to getting rid of Terra Nullius, we wouldn’t have achieved land rights and the identity we did. When he died, we lost a champion.” 

Determined to continue raising her voice against antisemitism, Peris asserts that “Jews should feel safe in this country. The majority of Aboriginal people are silent on this issue, but many support our Jewish friends. They just don’t speak out.”

Peris has started a charity - the Nova Peris Foundation - had her portrait hung in Parliament House, her statue unveiled in Melbourne’s Federation Square, and been inducted into the Sports Hall of Fame. She co-chairs the Australian Republic Movement, participated in Australian Survivor and recently competed in Dancing With The Stars.

Nova Peris will speak at a JCA campaign event in Sydney on April 7.

About the author

Vic Alhadeff

Vic Alhadeff OAM is former CEO of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies and former editor of the Australian Jewish News.


  • Avatar of Wesley Parish

    Wesley Parish28 March at 09:24 am

    Several points: First- Terra Nullius is conceptually the same as “A land without a people for a people without a land” – both deny the inhabitants any connection with the land.
    Second- I do remember seeing in the Jerusalem Post a rather self-congratulatory article on how Rome was once almost completely converted to Judaism. So conversion has played a large part at certain times in Jewish history. At the same time, in one of her books – precisely which one I’ve forgotten – Karen Armstrong talks about the probability that the Palestinians would’ve been Jewish in 0CE, but the Christian church was very active around the time of the Great Revolt 66-70CE.
    Third- I do know something about settler-colonialism, and the Nakba has resemblances to how various other settler-colonial states treated the indigenous people they encountered. Israeli Palestinians resemble New Zealand Maori during the 1940s – part and parcel, but not regarded as fully such. While the Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories are treated like Cherokee and the Sioux in the North American West during its settlement.
    Fourth- the historical situation the Nakba most resembles, to my knowledge, happens to be the Sephardic Expulsion; the expulsion of the Sephardim to create a “Christian” Realm.

  • Avatar of Ml

    Ml27 March at 01:23 pm

    Perth wa

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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