BDS supporters cancel synagogue demonstration

ANTI-Israel protesters came close to a shameful first in Australia after  local organisation Students for Palestine planned a demonstration outside a Melbourne synagogue on a Shabbat.

If the three-hour protest outside the Adass Gutnick Hall in Ripponlea had gone ahead as planned this Saturday afternoon, it would arguably have been the first time Australian shul goers faced antagonists outside the shul doors.

Worshippers, including children and the elderly, would have had to walk past rowdy demonstrators from the Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, chanting calls for the destruction of Israel, if past BDS events are a guide.

But fears that attending shul in Australia in 2012 could resemble a 1930s newsreel were allayed when Students for Palestine cancelled the event, which would have targeted communal icon Joseph Gutnick.

However, the synagogue’s address was still advertised online as the demonstration venue as late as Tuesday this week. Now a demonstration outside the St Kilda Road office of North Australian Diamonds on Saturday is planned, as Gutnick is a board member, although no personnel are expected to be at the office.

On its website, Students for Palestine stated the protest was about the Gutnick Centre in Hebron “that permits access only to Israeli citizens, a monstrosity overlooking Palestinian homes and heavily guarded by the Israeli military. It is one of the few business that continues to thrive”.

“Gutnick himself has a history of contributing to Palestinian oppression: he is said to have donated millions to illegal settlements in Hebron, as well as bankrolling Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party in the early 1990s.”

Executive Council of Australian Jewry executive director Peter Wertheim said BDS organisers continually say they are not anti-Jewish. “Why then did they initially plan to protest outside a synagogue on Shabbat? The mask has been torn from the BDS movement and its ugly, racist visage has now been exposed.”

On his Facebook page, Larry Stillman, a member of the Australian Jewish Democratic Society and frequent critic of West Bank settlements, described the planned synagogue demonstration as “truly one of the most contemptible things that a left group has thought up in years, I think unique in Australia”.

The Gutnick Centre is a Hebron store selling Judaica and a venue for weddings, simchas and kosher dining, Gutnick told The AJN.

Gutnick, who donated money for the Adass Gutnick Hall in memory of his mother, said Friends of Palestine correctly describe him as a supporter of Netanyahu. “I certainly am. It’s my democratic right.”

Asked if he felt threatened, Gutnick, said he was more concerned about the precedent a synagogue protest would set. “Then they’d protest in front of churches and protest in front of mosques. I don’t think the Australian people would tolerate such actions – to protest in front of houses of prayer.”

PETER KOHN