Tale of two rallies

May 24, 2021 by Henry Benjamin
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Sydney hosted two rallies showing solidarity with Israel. One was in the heavily-guarded Central Synagogue hosted by major community organisations and the other involved a motorcade in the Eastern Suburbs which transported supporters to Bondi Beach where showed their solidarity waving Israeli flags.

Lesli Berger, Jillian Segal, Dave Sharma and Gabrielle Upton   Photo: Giselle Haber

At the Central Synagogue, a capacity crowd heard the president of The New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies Lesli Berger welcome MPs Dave Sharma, Matt Kean, Gabrielle Upton, Walt Secord, Marjorie O’Neill together with Scott Farlow and members of the Aboriginal, Assyrian, Catholic, Chaldean, Christian, Ethiopian, Greek, Indian – both Hindu & Sikh, Korean and Kurdish communities.

Lesli Berger said: “I know the distress and deep worry you feel about your family members and friends in Israel and the frustration you feel at the media barrage, especially social media, and the protests in the streets here, in which Israel and Israelis are demonised in words and images which often cross into rank and terrifying antisemitism and I acknowledge the recent surge in antisemitic incidents that have played out here in NSW.

We gather today to comfort each other and to wish for peace for Israelis and Palestinians.”

He added: “The Jewish people are not victims. We are survivors. Our people survived Pogroms, we survived the Holocaust and the Jewish people and the State of Israel will survive Hamas’ terrorism.

We are strong and our strength comes from our unity and our commitment to our Jewish values. We are blessed to live in this magnificent country, Australia, where those values are respected and reflected in the wider national ethos.

We call for peace and we call for solidarity with the State of Israel.”

Dave Sharma Photo: Giselle Haber

Federal Liberal MP for Wentworth Dave Sharma told the capacity crowd of 700 of his time in Israel where he served as Australia’s ambassador. He and his family were there in 2014 when there was a previous major conflict. He recounted how he and his family made many trips to their bomb shelter.

The following year he was back in Australia. He said: “My wife was walking with our three daughters along the beach with daughters and our two older daughters with nervousness and trepidation ‘Is it OK to walk along the beach because since when we are in Israel you said we couldn’t walk along the beach as it is too far from the bomb shelters’.”

He said he was pleased the current conflict is over and he mentioned the toll it played on both Israeli and Palestinian children.

He added: There is a terrorist organisation that is committed to the destruction of one state and annihilation of its people”.  He said that whilst he is pleased to see this conflict at its end, But he spoke about some of their offensive messages and slogans, including “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”.

“They can only mean one thing. The destruction of the state of Israel. and the expulsion of the Jewish people.

Anyone who can associate themself with these slogans and this kind of activity has a lot to answer for. They are promoting conflict and strife and sectarian tension.”

Jillian Segal, president of The Executive Council of Australian Jewry addressed the rally saying: “The Jewish people are not victims. We are survivors. Our people survived Pogroms, we survived the Holocaust and the Jewish people and the State of Israel will survive Hamas’ terrorism.

Jillian Segal

We are strong and our strength comes from our unity and our commitment to our Jewish values. We are blessed to live in this magnificent country, Australia, where those values are respected and reflected in the wider national ethos.

We call for peace and we call for solidarity with the State of Israel.

We have seen journalists and civil society organisations shed any pretence of fairness and impartiality and essentially become mouthpieces for an organisation that Australia designates as terrorist. We have been drowning in disinformation and falsehoods spread by certain celebrities and other influencers.

There is a very long list of local and international figures who have voiced their support for Israel, including our Prime Minister.  We are grateful to them, and take heart from their courage in standing up to be counted. There have been spontaneous personal expressions of support from countless other Australians who see the truth for what it is and are appalled by Hamas’s genocidal Charter and its indiscriminate rocket attacks.

However, it must also be said that we have felt let down by the deafening silence from other public figures from whom we expected better.”

State Labor member for Coogee Dr Marjorie O’Neill has visited Israel. She said: “I have seen many instances of Jews and Arabs working in harmony for the betterment of all humanity. Israel is such more than a tiny striving democracy.

Marjorie O’Neill Photo: Giselle Haber

I and the Australian Labor Party support a two-state solution. And for Israelis and Palestinians to live within secure and recognised borders. I am sure that we all want to see the people of that region living in safety and at peace with respect for one another’s fundamental human rights. We all mourn the loss of innocent lives, no matter where the tragedy takes place.”

She added: “Israel has a right to exist within secure borders. Israel’s citizens have a right to go about their daily lives free from rockets and acts of terror.”

She said that “Hamas is unquestionably a terrorist organisation.”

Marjorie O’Neill stated: “Political leaders in Western democracies must always call out those forms of antisemitism, which includes boycotts, divestments and sanctions against Israel. I will stand firmly against BDS and call it out when I see it. Making lives more difficult for innocent people already struggling with the trauma of violence is not a legitimate means for achieving peace.”

Dr Noa Sheer Benav spoke on behalf of HaTzofim, the Israeli scouts movement in Australia.

Dr Noa Sheer Benav Photo: Giselle Haber

She said: “In 2012 my mother, my grandmother and I were driving into Tel Aviv for a girls day in the city. We had plans to start at a café, then take a stroll along the beach. When the siren started there was no memory of those plans. We instinctively stopped the car right there in the middle of the road, as did others, scrambled out and proceeded to lie face down on the grass taking shelter in each other’s arms. In that teary, panicked moment we had to make a decision who would protect who from what might fall or explode around us – who; my grandmother, my mother, or I, then 28 years old would lie on top and shield the others.

We want you, our family and friends, to know that we recognise your fear, we panic with you, our heart races when we watch the news. We are far but we want to extend our arms to shield and protect you, as my mother did that day on the grass, as parents are doing on both sides of this conflict.

On behalf of the Tzofim (Israeli Scouts), I yearn with you for peace, for people on both sides of the border to go about their day without the fear of violence.”

President of the Zionist Council of NSW, Rodney Naumberger said: “We gather to focus on the plight of civilians in this recent war: Israeli civilians targeted by the terrorist Hamas and Palestinian civilians made targets by the terrorist Hamas.

Rodney Naumberger Photo: Giselle Haber

We gather to give thanks for the Iron Dome and the bomb shelters that have saved civilian lives in Israel, despite the best efforts of Hamas to murder as many Jews as possible with more than 4000 rockets.”

On Hamas, Rodney Naumberger added: “Consider what life in Israel and in Gaza could have been like if Hamas did not exist or if it functioned as a government and not a terrorist organisation. If the hundreds of millions of dollars they receive in aid were used constructively instead of to bring destruction.”
He said: “We gather to reject the assertions that there is any such thing as a proportional response to 4000 rockets fired from and into residential areas. That the side with the highest casualties must be in the right. Or that Israel ever wanted another war.
We gather to give thanks for the ceasefire, to pray that it holds.”

CEO of The New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies Darren Bark stated: “Today’s gathering comes at a distressing time for the local Jewish community, who have seen a dramatic spike in antisemitism and hate speech, that has included the burning of flags, public displays of Nazi swastikas and vile, intimidating and hurtful comments online invoking Hitler and praising the Holocaust.

“It is important international conflicts do not spill over to the local community. We value peace, inclusion and cohesion,” Mr Bark said.

“There is no place in our society for intolerance, discrimination or antisemitism – we must all defend our peaceful and inclusive society so that it can continue to be enjoyed by all.

“We stand with Israelis. We stand with Palestinians. We stand with democracies against Hamas as a terrorist organisation and we mourn the tragic loss of life,” Mr Bark concluded.

Not far from the Central Synagogue, about 65 younger members of the community had travelled from Christenson park, Vaucluse through Dover Heights to the esplanade at Bondi Beach in a motorcade involving around 50 cars.

The news of rally number two was transmitted through WhatsApp.

The organiser, Eli Tuvel  addressed the rally, encouraging everyone not to be afraid to show support for Israel.

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