Rabbi arrested over asylum protest

AN Adelaide rabbi was arrested on Monday after taking part in a sit-in at a federal MP’s office, where she and eight Christians protested the treatment of asylum seekers.

Rabbi Shoshana Kaminsky has been charged with one count of trespass and will appear in the Mount Barker Local Court on August 13.

She said she and other members of the Love Makes A Way group staged the occupation of Liberal MP and federal minister Jamie Briggs’s office because the Inverbrackie detention centre is in his Mayo electorate. Before the rabbi joined, the group had staged four other protests at the offices of senior frontbenchers and ALP leader Bill Shorten.

Rabbi Kaminsky said Inverbrackie is reportedly being used as a maternity centre for pregnant asylum seekers who are then returned to offshore detention with their babies.

The US-born Progressive rabbi from Beit Shalom Synagogue told The AJN: “I think it’s really appalling that these intentionally cruel policies are being carried out in the name of all Australians. And I believe it is of particular concern to Jews, both because of our own history of having doors slammed in our faces but also because the most frequent mitzvah in the Torah is not to mistreat the stranger.”

Inverbrackie, located in the Adelaide Hills and housing some 300 asylum seekers, was set up by the former government and has been slated for closure by the Abbott government.

The group spent around seven hours praying in the reception centre of Briggs’s Mount Barker office, with stuffed toys they hoped would be distributed to children at Inverbrackie. Police arrived to persuade them to leave and when they refused, group members were arrested.

Rabbi Kaminsky spent several hours in the Adelaide Watchhouse before being bailed, on condition that she does not visit the Inverbrackie centre while on bail.

Asked whether she was concerned to be encouraging disobedience of the law as a rabbi, she said: “It is certainly something I did with great reluctance. But I believe that when our laws are unjust then there is good reason to violate what was a very minor law [trespass] to send the greater message that our asylum seeker policy needs to be changed.”

While she would not commit to encouraging other rabbis to follow in her footsteps, she said that “other rabbis, Progressive and Orthodox, have written quite passionately” about the treatment of asylum seekers.

Expressing support for Rabbi Kaminsky, Union for Progressive Judaism executive director Steve Denenberg said, “It is our view that more religious groups and their representatives should be speaking out on issues of social justice and human rights, including the current government’s inhuman policy on refugees and asylum seekers”.

PETER KOHN

Rabbi Shoshana Kaminsky.