Efi Stenzler, world chairman of Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund, announced that he will convene an emergency meeting of his organization’s international representatives following the beating of Australian emissary Shlomo Ben-Haim and his wife in Sydney on Saturday.
The Ben-Haims and three other Jews were beaten on their way home from synagogue, resulting in wounds requiring hospitalization.
“The violent Sydney attack which came just hours after an anti-Israel protest in Denver, Colorado, as well as demonstrations in France and Belgium, require that we address the situation immediately,” Stenzler said.
The KKL-JNF executive was referring to protests outside of the home of Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, who was hosting KKL-JNF officials in town for their annual conference. The protesters, who also gathered outside the hotel in which the event was being held, waved signs calling for the end of Israeli “ethnic cleansing.”
“Attacks and demonstrations against us [Jews] have picked up momentum of late, we are targeted first and foremost because we are helping to realize the Zionist vision,” Stenzler said. “The protesters denounce KKLJNF since they recognize us as an organization that realizes the vision of Zionism.”
The Sydney attack is suspected of being racially motivated, with Ben-Haim telling the press that his assailants yelled “bloody Jews” during the melee.
Three males, two of them teenagers, were charged in connection with the assault, after being restrained by employees of a nearby hotel who rushed to intervene in the fight, according to Australia media reports. However, in later interviews with the Israeli press, Ben-Haim said the onslaught was allowed to continue for several minutes without anybody coming to his defense.
In a statement emailed to The Jerusalem Post by a KKLJNF spokesman, Ben-Haim stated that Saturday’s events “proved beyond doubt how the State of Israel is crucial for any Jew.”
The attack, he asserted, was an indication of the importance of his work in connecting Australian Jewry to Israel.
Ben-Haim’s sentiment was echoed by Chief Rabbi David Lau, who told the victims that the entire Jewish nation was with them and that the violence of the type seen during the Holocaust “will never return.”
Jewish groups in Australia were quick to say that violence against their community was a rarity.
Such acts were “very uncommon,” Yair Miller, president of the New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies, told The Jerusalem Post.
“No member of the Jewish community leadership can recall such a vicious and unprovoked attack in recent memory. Australia is a country that prides itself on our multicultural makeup and this goes against the very fabric of our society,” he said.
In response to the attack, the government and organizations, including the Muslim Women’s Association, have come out in support of the Jewish community, he said.
“We are extremely grateful for this support and for the efforts of those people who helped the victims on the evening when this occurred,” Miller said.
“It is the first incident like this I have heard of – and I have maintained the Jewish community’s data base since 1989. It was not in an area anyone would consider dangerous,” Jeremy Jones, a former president of the Executive Council of Australia Jewry, told the Post.
Jones said that while violence was rare, “verbal abuse is not,” nor is “vandalism, assaults, harassment, hate mail, threatening telephone calls, graffiti, leaflet campaigns and [anti-Semitic] emails – the average total of all incidents has been close to 400 a year, and in recent years, mainly due to emails, over 530 a year.”
MK Yoel Razbozov, who heads the Knesset Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Committee, wrote Australian Parliament speaker Anne Burke to ask that she oversee the investigation into the case.
“The State of Israel is alarmed at the anti-Semitic incidents that took place in Sydney,” he said. “I believe the Australian government and local police forces are making all efforts to bring to justice the assailants of the five Jews, but I would like the Australian House of Representatives to ensure that all relevant bodies are pursuing the issue and execute their work faithfully.”