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Thursday, 27 March 2003
Page: 13895


Mr KING (9:43 AM) —Members of this place may have received an open letter from the Chairman of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, Jeremy Jones, alerting political, community and religious leaders to incidents of public vilification against Australia's Jewish community as a result of our military engagement in Iraq. The letter was a timely reminder of the role that we all can and must play in ensuring that international events like this do not lead to the harassment—either physical or verbal—of sections of our great multicultural community. Unfortunately, this kind of vilification does occur in Australia. Mr Jones highlighted a number of specific instances of attacks against Australian Jews in the last week, including graffiti in Condell Park, Sydney, which read `Kill the Jews'; an arson attempt on a synagogue in Sydney's south-west last Friday night; an attack on the Jewish museum in Melbourne last Saturday; and anti-Semitic graffiti at the entrance to the University of Sydney on Monday. They are just a few examples. I know from the experiences of the Jewish community in my electorate that they are not isolated instances. Although not directly related, the violent demonstrations that occurred in Sydney yesterday and the protest on the steps of parliament on Monday strongly indicate that some elements opposed to the war will resort to unlawful and intimidatory behaviour which completely undermines the credibility of their antiwar stance.

The attacks upon members of the Jewish community follow comments made by some entering the debate on the war with Iraq which suggest that American foreign policy is controlled or directed by the interests of Israel. I have spoken before in this House about the duty that we as members of parliament have to ensure that our words and actions do not encourage or inflame this kind of irrational prejudice. Unfortunately, these warnings have not always been heeded. Comments by some members opposite—such as those made by the member for Sydney, who described Israel as a rogue state and its Prime Minister as a war criminal; or those made by the member for Fowler, who referred to the Jewish community as arrogant and cruel—would have served only those who want to stoke the flames of anti-Semitism. Our multicultural society depends on tolerance and respect for people of other faiths and cultures. Just as we should condemn generic attacks on Muslim communities, we must resoundingly reject the types of actions that make Jewish Australians feel unsafe or uncomfortable in any part of our nation. Australian and American foreign policy towards Iraq has been based on nothing more than our desire to see a tyrant overthrown and weapons of mass destruction destroyed. To suggest sinister motives founded on an absurd understanding of Jewish culture or outlook is patently wrong and deserves our condemnation.

Finally, I mention the honour that I had last night here in Canberra to meet the former Labor Israeli Prime Minister, Mr Ehud Barak. I am pleased to say that the gathering was well attended by all sides of the political spectrum. Interestingly and importantly, Mr Barak strongly supported the present engagement against Iraq as the key to dealing with contemporary problems of international terrorism and rogue states, and he warmly endorsed the actions of the Australian government in Iraq.