A Jerusalem rabbi visiting Australia was the target of anti-Semitic abuse in a shopping mall on Monday, according to reports.
Rabbi Avraham Shalom Halberstam, known as the Stropkover Rebbe, is visiting the country on a lecture tour. On Monday he and his assistant were set upon by up to six pro-Palestinian youths at a major mall near a Jewish suburb in Perth, according to an eyewitness.
“I’m a bit shaken from yesterday.
I’m the one who pretty much rescued the rebbe,” Danny Mayer, a modern-Orthodox Jew who went to pick up the two ultra-Orthodox Jews, told JTA on Tuesday.
“They were surrounding him so I raced over to get him into the car and they surrounded the car screaming, ‘You are killing babies in Gaza.’” Mayer said the teenage gang got “very agitated” and started banging on the car and spitting on it.
“I’ve been in Israel for seven years,” added Mayer, “and it wasn’t too far from being in an Arab village and trapped in a car. We absolutely felt threatened.”
“The rebbe is shaken but OK,” he added.
Mayer said the youths ran away when he started taking photos on his phone.
“The wider community needs to know that Jews around the world are being affected because they are Jews,” he said.
The incident has been reported to police and closed-circuit TV footage is being checked.
The alleged attack comes less than two weeks after the walls of Perth’s only Jewish school were painted with graffiti that read “Zionist scum.” It also comes in the wake of police confirming a Perth-based Islamic preacher who described Jews as “filthy rapists” won’t be prosecuted under the state’s race hate laws.
Jewish Community Council Western Australia Director of Public Affairs Steve Lieblich told The Jerusalem Post the community was concerned over both anti-Semitic incidents.
“It’s clear that there is a greater expression of anti-Semitism around the world during the hostility in Gaza,” he said. “In general, we are lucky that we do not have much overt anti-Semitism in Australia or particularly in Western Australia but over the years there have been odd incidents. We are certainly concerned by these attacks these past few days – the graffiti on the school is one thing but someone accosting a rabbi and his assistant in a public mall is an even greater worry and we hope the perpetrators are soon caught and dealt with.”
Ian Britza, a state lawmaker in Western Australia, told JTA: “I was absolutely horrified. I condemn it in the highest possible terms.” He said the state government should publicly condemn it and even offer the rabbi a public apology, adding, “I’m not ashamed to be a friend of Israel.”
Halberstam, who runs several yeshivot in Israel, leads the hassidic sect that originates from Stropkov, a town in Slovakia.