Premier apologises to Jewish community

In disturbing scenes that have since gone global, the protesters set off flares and burned an Israeli flag on the steps of Australia's iconic landmark.

Participants of a Free Palestine rally react outside the Sydney Opera House in Sydney, Monday, October 9, 2023. Photo: AAP Image/Dean Lewins
Pro-Palestinian protesters gathered at the Sydney Opera House on Monday night.Photo: AAP Image/Dean Lewins

NSW Premier Chris Minns has apologised to the Jewish community for the vile scenes at the Sydney Opera House on Monday night, taking full responsibility for not creating a safe space for the community to mourn.

Despite the Opera House being lit up in blue and white in a show of solidarity for Israel, the Jewish community was urged not to attend. Instead, pro-Palestinian protesters backed by Greens MPs gathered outside Town Hall, before they illegally marched to the Opera House.

In disturbing scenes that have since gone global, the protesters set off flares and burned an Israeli flag on the steps of Australia’s iconic landmark, while chanting “f**k Israel” and “f**k the Jews”. One group was heard chanting “gas the Jews” and “f**k the Zionist pigs”.

The same group is planning to hold another pro-Palestine demonstration in Sydney on Sunday, despite their application being denied by NSW Police.

“Protest organisers have already proven they’re not peaceful – shouting racial epithets at Jewish community members is not the definition of a peaceful protest,” Minns said on Wednesday morning.

“I really want to make it clear to the Jewish community that I want to apologise to them specifically on behalf of the government and myself as the Premier of NSW.

“The intentions of the government were very straightforward – to light up the Opera House to create a place and a space for that community to come together to commemorate the horrific scenes that we’ve seen in Israel over the last 48 hours, and we didn’t do that.

“I’m not blaming anyone for this and as the Premier of NSW I take full responsibility for it and will make decisions to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.”

While no protesters were arrested – in fact the only person accosted by police was a Jewish man holding an unfurled Israeli flag – Police Minister Yasmin Catley told The AJN that NSW Police would be trawling CCTV, “targeting illegal behaviour that was committed on the steps of the Opera House”.

On Wednesday morning NSW Police also announced Operation Shelter to respond to pro-Palestinian activities. “There were vile, despicable comments made during this rally and police will come down hard on that,” Catley said.

“For any members of the Jewish community who haven’t felt safe in recent days, I apologise. Many are going through so much hurt right now and are grieving for family, friends in Israel.

NSW Jewish Board of Deputies president David Ossip said after being told it was not safe for Jews to attend the CBD, concern was registered directly with the Police Minister and it was requested that the rally be restricted to Town Hall. “Our community is justifiably feeling angry and deeply disappointed that supporters of terror were allowed to march from Town Hall to the Opera House,” Ossip said.

“It is unthinkable that the CBD was deemed not secure enough for the Jewish community to attend, while attendees at the pro-terror rally were able to turn the Opera House forecourt into a scene of chaos and a forum for the incitement of hate. We call upon the authorities to ensure that anyone who attended the rally and breached any laws is appropriately dealt with.”

Former NSW shadow minister for police and counter terrorism Walt Secord told The AJN that it was a “serious mistake” to allow the protesters to make their way to the Opera House. “It turned into a celebration of depravity,” Secord said.

NSW Opposition Leader Mark Speakman condemned the rally and slammed the NSW government for preventing “a peaceful gathering of Sydney’s Jewish community at the illuminated Sydney Opera House to mourn the barbaric attacks on innocent civilians in Israel”.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who didn’t want the pro-Palestinian rally to go ahead in the first place, said the images from the Opera House were “horrific”.

“Quite clearly [there were] slogans which are antisemitic and just appalling,” Albanese said. “I understand that people have deep views about issues relating to the Middle East conflict, but here in Australia, we have to deal with political discourse in a respectful way and I certainly didn’t see that from the footage that I saw last night.”

The protest follows footage taken in Sydney’s southwest of a utility driver honking his car horn while a Palestinian flag was waved and fireworks were launched from inside the vehicle.

The incident occurred while nearby in Lakemba, hundreds of people gathered to celebrate the Hamas onslaught against Israel.

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