As the community was welcoming Shabbat last Friday evening, peace was shattered when a mob of over 100 pro-Palestinian protesters descended on Caulfield South’s Princes Park, bringing fear, hate and violence to the heart of Jewish Melbourne.
The group stretched from the corners of Birch Street to Maple Street along Hawthorn Road. Muslim members of the group conducted prayers, chanted “Allahu Akhbar” and “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”, while some shouted derogatory, antisemitic and homophobic slurs.
Meanwhile, 150 congregants of nearby Central Shule were forced to abandon worship halfway through Shabbat services for their own safety, on advice by Victoria Police and CSG.
Shortly after the arrival of the pro-Palestinian group, around 80 pro-Israel protesters gathered on the opposite side of Hawthorn Road. They waved Israeli flags, shouted, and sang Am Yisrael Chai and Hatikvah.
Two lines of around 30 police stood between the opposing groups.
Organised by Free Palestine Melbourne, the gathering was slated as a “peaceful” protest, in response to a fire that destroyed local burger shop, Burgertory, owned by Palestinian Australian Hash Tayeh.
Despite Victoria Police publicly stating they were “very confident” the fire was not racially or politically motivated, the Islamic Council of Victoria and various other pro-Palestinian groups fanned the flames of discord by expressing their “grave concern” the fire was “an intentional act, amounting to a hate crime against Tayeh as a Palestinian and a Muslim”.
While each side shouted to the other across Hawthorn Road, words soon escalated into violence, with a pro-Palestinian supporter rushing towards the pro-Israel side where a scuffle ensued.
Capsicum foam was deployed to disperse those involved, while the man was tackled by police.
Documenting the protest as media on site, AJN photographer Peter Haskin was in close proximity to the skirmish, with capsicum foam making contact with his eyes.
After beginning to feel the effects of the foam, he retreated to the pro-Israel side of the road. Within moments, he lost vision.
He had fallen to the ground in agony, Haskin told The AJN.
“The pain was absolutely searing.”
Members of the Jewish community cared for him, dousing his eyes with water. Recognised by an acquaintance, Haskin was led to a nearby Jewish home, where he and three others also affected were treated by Hatzolah. He was released later that night after his symptoms subsided.
“There were around half a dozen pro-Palestinian supporters who were particularly aggressive. Their anger was palpable, and in their eyes,” said Haskin.
Also attending the protest, 3ZZZ L’Chaim To Life host Maurice Klein said he was “on the receiving end of a projectile with some liquid which burnt my eyes, neck and arms”, which required medical treatment at The Alfred.
“I saw a large chunk of some sort of paving land very close to me,” he said.
A young pro-Israel protester who chose to remain anonymous was struck by a large rock to the lower leg, causing bleeding and swelling. He too required medical treatment and was examined at Cabrini Hospital.
On Sunday, Central Shule’s Rabbi Shmuel Karnowsky and president Phil Goldman released a joint statement, reflecting on the events as “shocking and deplorable”.
“That level of hate and violence has never happened on our peaceful streets before and it cannot be allowed to ever happen again.”
While Rabbi Karnowsky and Goldman say there is no evidence to suggest the shule or congregants were targets, “coming to our community, on a Shabbat, with intimidation, incitement, blatant Jew hatred and violence cannot be and should not be tolerated.
“It is abhorrent and must be dealt with swiftly and appropriately.”
The protest was originally set to take place at the site of the Burgertory shop on the corner of Hawthorn and Glenhuntly Roads at 7pm (but organisers moved the location to Princes Park a short time prior). In anticipation, around 20 pro-Israel supporters gathered near the shop, and witnessed several vehicles drive past or stop outside; all waving large Palestinian flags. Some car occupants shouted a torrent of abuse at the pro-Israel group. In a menacing move, one driver in a white utility truck aggressively mounted the curb, coming just centimetres away from the pro-Israel supporters.
Victoria Police have attracted both gratitude and criticism from the Jewish community.
One eyewitness who was at Burgertory but did not want to be named told The AJN they were “shocked” when just before 7pm, all police members left the site. Other members of the Jewish community admonished the police for not providing enough members at the rally.
On Monday, CSG Victoria shared that an additional 60 police officers will be patrolling St Kilda, Caulfield and Balaclava “to provide a visible police presence and community reassurance”, until November 26 when resourcing will then be reassessed.
In Sydney, a pro-Palestinian motorbike convoy that made its way from Lidcome in Sydney’s west to Coogee on Saturday afternoon was widely condemned.
About a dozen riders from Al Quds community centre, their bikes adorned with Palestine flags, were led by organiser Zaky Mallah, the first Australian to be charged with terrorism offences after threatening to blow up ASIO and DFAT offices in 2003.
Mallah was acquitted of planning a terrorist attack but served two years in Goulburn prison after pleading guilty to threatening to kill ASIO officers.
The motorcade, which also featured utes, was escorted by police and by the time it reached Coogee, around 100 Israel supporters singing Am Yisrael Chai and waving Israel flags had gathered to meet it.
The two groups were kept separate, with the convoy eventually continuing on.
NSW Jewish Board of Deputies president David Ossip described the motorcade as “psychological warfare” that should not be tolerated.
“There is no reason why a notionally peaceful anti-Israel or pro-Palestinian protest needs to make its way from Lidcombe to Coogee,” Ossip said.
“It is clear that the route has been chosen for one purpose – to intimidate and scare the Jewish community.”
Prominent Palestine activist Fahad Ali also condemned the ride, writing on X that it was a “deliberately provocative action”.
“It has no strategic purpose. No one I know in the Palestinian community is on board with this,” he wrote.
“If things go awry, who is going to bear the consequences? We are. Palestinians organisers and the movement as a whole. My view on this is not going to shift,” he wrote.
Vaucluse MP Kellie Sloane said the motorcade was “designed to intimidate”, while Wentworth MP Allegra Spender said it was “deliberately provocative and intimidating”.
Spender added that her priority in federal parliament this week will be to push for further national measures to address antisemitic hate speech.
“I will continue to drive action on antisemitism at universities,” Spender said.
“I am also supporting federal legislation to prohibit nazi hate symbols, as well as broader action to support social cohesion through the multicultural framework review.”