Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has condemned an anti-Israel protest that forced a visiting delegation of family members and close friends of Israelis who were murdered or taken hostage during the Hamas attacks on October 7 to seek shelter at a Melbourne police station after they were ambushed and confronted by a group of pro-Palestinian activists at their hotel.
The masked protesters crowded into the lobby of the Crowne Plaza Melbourne hotel holding Palestinian flags and large signs with the words Stop Arming Israel, Free Palestine and Zionism is Fascism while using a megaphone to chant Shame at the Israeli visitors whose loved ones were killed or kidnapped by Hamas militants. The demonstrators also placed two bloodied dolls on the ground.
The Israelis returned after the demonstrators had been removed.
The five member delegation is in Australia to meet with political leaders as part of an international campaign to have their loved ones released from captivity. They travelled to Melbourne to see members of the Jewish community and remind Victorians that around 150 hostages are still being held against their will in Gaza.
One of them Orif Tamir told the Herald Sun: “We just talked two days ago [in Canberra] with the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister who said if there is something that we want or if we need help, they’re here and they will do the best to support us. We’re now in shock, we’re afraid. In the night I go to the room and I’m afraid to open the door. I didn’t think something like that would happen in Australia. I thought we were safe here.”
Mr. Albanese said the demonstration went beyond the right to protest peacefully and did nothing to advance justice for Palestinians or peace in the region. “There is no excuse, no circumstances where people should organise a demonstration against grieving families. I call it out and I express on behalf of the Australian government our regret to those families who we met with,” the prime minister asserted.
Opposition leader Peter Dutton says the activists’ behaviour was disgraceful and that they should have been arrested. “They clearly intended to intimidate those Israelis whose loved ones have been killed or taken hostage by Hamas. Only by holding those accountable for hate speech can we ensure we turn the tide of anti-Semitism in Australia right now, which has increased five-fold since 7 October,” Mr. Dutton proclaimed.
Other politicians also condemned the protest. Victorian Premier Jacinta Allan said it was “outrageous to retraumise people .. who are suffering grief and loss as a consequence of the awful conflict that’s going on in the Middle East and deserve our respect and care and support.”
Victorian Police Minister Anthony Carbines added: “It’s intimidating. People wearing masks. Staring down people who were just in this parliament yesterday … who came to share their stories.” But he indicated no one would be charged because officers did not detect any offences. “It doesn’t mean that it’s okay, it doesn’t mean that it’s acceptable,” he added.
Caulfield Liberal MP David Southwick, who is Jewish, said the protests “beggared belief” given that some of those staying at the hotel had children murdered in the Hamas attacks on Israel. Opposition home affairs spokesman James Paterson described the protest as “despicable. What kind of person goes to harass and protest the family members of the victims of hostage-taking by a terrorist organisation? You have to be a pretty sick person to think that’s an appropriate way to behave.”
Federal Labor frontbencher Ed Husic whose Muslim family fled to Australia during the Bosnia war said while there is always room for peaceful protest, people needed to think about where they should be held as personal space should be respected. “You can’t be standing up and speaking out against Islamophobia and ignoring anti-Semitism. Both anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are corrosive, absolutely corrosive to our social fabric. When we hold protests, that selection should be very sensitive. We don’t need to be holding protests in front of synagogues or in front of mosques,” he asserted.