Two men have been arrested in connection with the fire at a Caulfield burger restaurant in November last year that led to scenes of violence in the heart of Jewish Melbourne.
Police criminal investigation unit detectives on Wednesday morning arrested a 27-year-old man in Carnegie, and have also detained a 25-year-old man in Dallas, later in the morning.
Arson charges are expected to be laid.
Inspector Scott Dwyer of Moorabbin investigation and response said “We know this incident was not a hate crime, it wasn’t motivated by prejudice or politics”.
The news has led to calls from the Jewish community for an apology from those who labelled the fire a hate crime.
Philip Zajac, President of the Jewish Community Council of Victoria has thanked Victoria Police for making the arrests and stating it was not a hate crime.
He believes the slander against the Victorian Jewish community after this arson attack was reprehensible, leading as it did to one of the worst nights in our community’s history.
“We will never forget the night aggressive protesters descended on Caulfield and led to a situation where Jewish people were injured on the streets of Caulfield and hundreds were left unable to safely attend synagogue, visit family for Shabbat dinner, or walk the streets of their own neighbourhood.” He said.
Zajac said the situation was allowed to get completely out of hand and the JCCV commits to continuing its work with the Victorian Government to develop stronger laws against incitement and hate crimes.
The blaze which caused hundreds of thousands of dollars of damage to Burgertory was falsely claimed by several organisations and individuals at the time to have been a hate crime.
That led to a crowd of pro-Palestinian demonstrators gathering at Princes Park in Caulfield, a stand off with local Jewish residents and a nearby synagogue forced to abandon Friday night services.
In the aftermath of the blaze the Islamic Council of Victoria, the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network, Free Palestine Melbourne and the Palestinian Community Association made a public statement expressing “grave concern that this was an intentional act amounting to a hate crime against Mr Tayeh as a Palestinian and Muslim.”
They provided no evidence for this. The Islamic Council is the recipient of significant funding from the Victorian government.
Speaking on the ABC shortly afterward, APAN president Nasser Mashni expressed scepticism of the Police statement that it did not appear to be a hate crime.
He said, “In the afternoon, there was a baying mob of Australian Jews with Israeli flags, in front of that shop, like a West Bank settler pogrom of clearing a village, reclaiming the dirt.”
A Go Fund Me appeal was subsequently set up to raise 300,000 dollars to rebuild the restaurant, claiming without any evidence that Tayeh had been the victim of a “hate crime”.
It has so far raised 63,740 dollars. It is not known what will happen to the money now.
Zionism Victoria has urged all individuals and organisations that stated or insinuated that the Burgertory arson attack was a hate crime perpetrated by members of the Jewish or pro-Israel community to immediately retract and apologise for “concocting and disseminating blood libels”.
Welcoming today’s arrests, Zionism Victoria president Yossi Goldfarb said, “Those who helped spread this malicious slur … are directly responsible for the violent scenes we saw outside the synagogue that night”.
He believes their failure to retract their comments, despite police assurances to the contrary, have helped stoke the flames of antisemitism that have engulfed Victoria in the weeks and months since.
“Now is the time for all those who cast aspersions on the Jewish community to hold their hands up, admit they were wrong and apologise for their part in the hate, hostility and heinous antisemitism casting a shadow over our state” Goldfarb said.
MP for Caulfield, David Southwick, says Jews were blamed, targeted and attacked for something they did not do.
“Such blatant antisemitism is appalling. To anyone that jumped to conclusions, the Jewish community deserve an apology”.
Josh Burns, MP for Macnamara said the lie that the Burgertory fire was a hate crime was repeated over and over again.
“This lie was used to attack members of the Jewish community and resulted in a violent mob visiting Caulfield. To use the Burgertory incident to attack local Jewish people, including at their place of worship, was wrong and dangerous” he said.
Burns believes the conflict in Middle East is no excuse for targeting Jewish people in Australia.
“That’s antisemitism, plain and simple” he said.