New hope for Bondi shule

Former Waverley mayor Sally Betts with Rabbi Yehoram Ulman. Photo: Noel Kessel

WAVERLEY Council and the Friends of Refugees of Eastern Europe (FREE) met yesterday morning (Wednesday) to try and move forward with a development application (DA) to build a shule in Bondi.

Both parties agreed that the decision of the court was “not meant to be related to religion or terror” and that the matters raised in the judgement were capable of being overcome.

The meeting discussed the process for submission and assessment of a fresh DA.

Waverley Council and FREE agreed that it was likely that, should a new DA be submitted, outstanding matters could be resolved satisfactorily in which case development approval could be given.

FREE’s spiritual leader Rabbi Yehoram Ulman said, “The meeting was positive and we look forward to working with Waverley Council to address issues raised in the Land and Environment Court judgement. All going well, we may have development approval in place as soon as December.”

But the calm has only come after the storm. A war of words erupted last week when the Land and Environment Court rejected an  application to build a synagogue at the Wellington Street site because of security concerns for neighbouring residents raised in a terror threat report. The judge found FREE had not addressed these concerns.

Rabbi Ulman said at the time that the ruling came as a surprise and a shock. “The decision is unprecedented,” he lamented.

“Its implications are enormous. It basically implies that no Jewish organisation should be allowed to exist in residential areas.

“It stands to stifle Jewish existence and activity in Sydney and indeed, by creating a precedent, the whole of Australia, and by extension rewarding terrorism.”

FREE further claimed that before it submitted the DA it had been told by Waverley Council to include a terror threat report. Rabbi Ulman said that Council used the report to stop the development, which crossed all lines.

“By pulling the terror threat argument they have shown that they are completely out of touch both with reality and with the needs of their constituency. They have effectively placed in jeopardy the future of Jewish life in Australia.”

Waverley Mayor Sally Betts responded saying that Council never had a chance to consider the DA because FREE took the application out of their hands and referred it to the court.

“Our Liberal councillors and council staff are proud to support the Jewish community and claims we are anti-Semitic or that we are rewarding terrorism are opportunistic and completely and utterly untrue and unfair,” Betts said.

She noted that in the past five years Waverley Council has approved various security works for Jewish schools and synagogues in the area.

“It’s highly likely that a properly designed synagogue would have been approved by Waverley Council, but the organisation chose to take this matter out of Council’s hands.

“It’s offensive to blame Council over a report commissioned by the applicants themselves or for a decision handed down by a court,” said Betts, referring to the preliminary threat and risk analysis commissioned by FREE.

The report said that it was likely the shule could be the target of a 500kg car bomb, a 100kg small bomb, a suicide bomber or a chemical or biological terrorist attack.

“What is shocking is that Rabbi Ulman’s comments have opened the door to many outrageous anti-Semitic comments that have completely shocked me,” said Betts.

“This should have been left as a development application process and not a religious discussion.”

NSW Jewish Board of Deputies CEO Vic Alhadeff said he now hopes the parties can move forward.

“The Board of Deputies takes no position on specific development applications; however, the Land and Environment Court’s decision set a bad precedent,” he said.

“The important issue now is for the relevant parties to work together on achieving a solution.”

Meanwhile, a planned protest for Sunday afternoon against the court ruling has been called off.

JOSHUA LEVI