Young Jewish Australians Are Protesting The Israeli PM’s Visit to Australia

"I think it's really exciting to see a new generation of Jews protesting the occupation."

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Most of the time when world leaders bother to visit Australia, we’re so thankful to have our existence recognised we roll out the red carpet and treat them like celebs (sometimes, like in the case of Danish royalty, we even unleash the full might of the paparazzi). But when visiting dignitaries have been heavily criticised by the United Nations for breaches of international law, things get a little bit more complicated.

Which brings us to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is currently visiting Australia on an official tour. Netanyahu, who is the first sitting Israeli PM to visit Australia, has been warmly welcomed by Malcolm Turnbull. Last year Australia was one of the only countries in the world to side with Israel after the UN Security Council passed a resolution condemning Israeli settlements on Palestinian territory. Even the US, one of Israel’s staunchest allies, voted for the resolution.

But not all Australians have been as welcoming of Netanyahu as Turnbull. A group of 60 prominent Australians signed onto a statement saying Netanyahu’s policies “provoke, intimidate and oppress” the Palestinian people and contravene international law. The statement has been signed by former Federal Court judge Murray Wilcox, retired Anglican bishop George Browning and Harry Potter actress Miriam Margolyes.

Yesterday a group of Jewish Australians held a protest outside Sydney’s Central Synagogue in Bondi Junction, where Netanyahu was delivering a speech. The protesters were predominantly young Jewish Australians who wanted to express their concern regarding Israel’s policies towards Palestine and other issues.

One of the protesters, Naama Carlin, told Junkee the action was about “opposition to Israel’s policies about Palestinians, and in general it was also to express communal dissent: he [Netanyahu] spoke to the Jewish community in a closed, invite-only event, so it was important for us to show that not all Jews were represented in that meeting.”

Carlin said that she felt motivated to protest because of “Netanyahu’s corruption, the illegal settlements, especially the recent law legalising theft of Palestinian land, his silence in the face of rising anti-Semitism globally and the US explicitly, the continued violation of Palestinian rights, Netanyahu’s demonisation of left-wing activist groups in Israel, all of it.”

Carlin also described Turnbull and Netanyahu as “a match made in heaven”.

“Both seem dangerously out of touch with how their policies impact people, and seem to be driven by a desire for power rather than social justice,” she said. “As public servants, I find them both lacking. The Australian government’s approach to Israel seems to be wilfully ignorant of the complexity of the occupation which involves denial of Palestinian rights. One can support Jews by being critical of Zionism and the occupation, and many in the Australian government, current and past, seem not to understand that.”

Michael Brull, another protester, said that attendees had a variety of reasons for being there but he felt it was important to protest as a Jewish collective “because otherwise our community would be portrayed as monolithically pro-Netanyahu and pro-Israel.”

“I think it’s really exciting to see a new generation of Jews protesting the occupation,” Brull said. “There’s kind of been a core of usual suspects at a lot of these rallies, many of them a few generations older. Part of this is just young people becoming adults… But it’s also a sign of growing dissent. One of the protesters used to work for the Jewish Board of Deputies drafting media releases defending Israel. One is an Israeli citizen. Also, the protest was kinda organised secretly, and very low key, with limited notice. So even if the collective won’t become huge, I wouldn’t be surprised if it expands.”

Another protest targeting Netanyahu will be held tonight in Sydney, organised by the Palestine Action Group. Speakers include Palestinian-Australian academic Randa Abdel-Fattah and Greens MP David Shoebridge.

Carlin told Junkee that she hoped “my Palestinian brothers and sisters felt solidarity by our protest” and “could see that not all the Jewish community simply welcomes someone like Netanyahu with a red carpet and open arms.”

Feature image via Peter Boyle