NSW Premier Chris Minns has rejected claims by an Upper House Labor MP who questioned the legitimacy of footage showing an anti-Israel mob chanting “gas the Jews” at the Sydney Opera House.
The remarks by Upper House member Stephen Lawrence on Thursday night were made during a debate about strengthening Section 93Z of the Crimes Act, which makes it an offence to publicly threaten or incite violence against a person or a group based on their race, religion or other attributes.
Video footage of the October 9 Opera House protest, which occurred only two days after Hamas’ murderous rampage through southern Israel, was seen around the world. Jews were told that evening to stay home for their own safety as the world renowned landmark was illuminated in blue and white to show solidarity.
But Lawrence said on Thursday that “real questions have since emerged as to whether that particular chant was said”.
Noting the police had not yet verified whether “gas the Jews” was chanted and no charges had been laid, he seemed to suggest artificial intelligence may have been used to fake the chant for online dissemination.
In comments made exclusively to The AJN on Friday, Minns said, “I’m not going to endorse these views or these comments. I’ll let police conduct their investigation however it certainly sounds like a despicable and racist chant to me.
“The horror I felt as Premier seeing those scenes on the forecourt of the Opera House was compounded by the fact that – my job as Premier was to protect that space as an area where the Jewish community could come together on that night,” he said.
“Let me say – loud and clear that there is no place for hate speech in our community or our country.
“The Government should be speaking with one voice. I’ve been clear that our role as the NSW Government is to keep NSW safe.”
Explaining his position on Thursday night, Lawrence said, “It seems that questions have been raised about the veracity of the video … we need to be careful, in charged environments like that which existed at the time of the protest, about relying upon video clips on social media and, indeed, pictures of photographs that might be circulating.
“That was discussed in a briefing to a committee looking into artificial intelligence. We were briefed by a very eminent professor, who made the point that significant social disruption can be caused and significant political developments can be driven by the circulation of things that are not real on the internet,” he said.
“I am certainly very relieved that the possibility exists that the chant was not said.”
It comes after on Tuesday night, Lawrence made a speech in the Chamber to coincide with the United Nations’ International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People.
“Every sitting period we are subjected to propaganda from the Opposition, made without qualification, on Israel as a paragon of human rights and democracy,” he said.
“The reality is that Australia is an outlier, a place where the dominant perspectives on Israel and Palestine simply ignore inconvenient facts—facts such as, firstly, the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in 1948 and then in 1967, and the denial of a right of return; and, secondly, the suite of laws and policies that constitute the ongoing occupation of Palestinian territories, the illegal settlements, the discriminatory land, immigration and freedom of movement laws.
“That suite of laws and policies are clearly designed to achieve the domination of one group over another and to deny the legitimate national aspirations of the Palestinian people—a cruel, unsustainable and explosive situation, one that threatens world peace and security.”