Jews were blamed, targeted and attacked for something they did not do, state Member for Caulfield David Southwick has declared, after two men were arrested last week in connection with a fire at a Caulfield burger restaurant in November last year.
The blaze at the Burgertory shop, which caused hundreds of thousands of dollars of damage, was falsely claimed by several organisations and individuals at the time to have been a hate crime.
That led to scenes of violence in the heart of Jewish Melbourne, as a crowd of pro-Palestinian demonstrators gathered at Princes Park in Caulfield where there was a stand off with local Jewish residents and a nearby synagogue was forced to abandon Friday night services.
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.”
Last week, Habib Musa, 27, and Wayle Mana, 24, were charged with a range of offences connected to the blaze, which Palestinian-Australian owner Hash Tayeh claimed was a “hate crime”.
In the aftermath of the blaze, the Islamic Council of Victoria, 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”.
The news of the arrests has now led to calls from the Jewish community for an apology.
On Wednesday Southwick moved a motion in the Victorian Parliament condemning the Leader of the Greens, Samantha Ratnam, for fanning the flames of hatred against the Jewish community by falsely suggesting that the Burgertory fire was an anti-Palestinian hate crime – contrary to all police evidence. The motion calls on her, and all others who blamed the Jewish community, to apologise.
Federal Member for Macnamara Josh Burns said the lie that the 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.
He said the conflict in Middle East is no excuse for targeting Jewish people in Australia.
“That’s antisemitism, plain and simple,” he said.
Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV) president Philip Zajac thanked Victoria Police for making the arrests and stating it was not a hate crime.
He said the slander against the Victorian Jewish community after the 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.
Zionism Victoria has urged all individuals and organisations that stated or insinuated that the fire 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 the arrests, 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.
“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.”