IN THE MEDIA
“There’s a right to protest, but not a right to inflame hatred” – Colin Rubenstein on ABC Radio
Oct 12, 2023 | AIJAC staff
Colin Rubenstein on ABC Radio National “Breakfast” (12-10-23)
(To listen, click here)
Patricia Karvelas: On Tuesday, there was shock as an initially peaceful rally in Sydney to support the Palestinian struggle in Gaza turned pretty ugly. Protesters setting off flares, chanting violent anti-Semitic slogans. Last night, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and the Premier Chris Minns addressed large crowds that gathered in support of Australia’s Jewish community in different places. But civil liberties advocates have expressed alarm at the decision by the New South Wales Government and a police ban of another pro-Palestine protest planned on the weekend. Dr. Colin Rubenstein is the executive director of the Australian Israel and Jewish Affairs Council and he’s our guest this morning. Dr. Rubenstein, welcome.
Colin Rubenstein: Good morning, Patricia.
Patricia Karvelas: How has the Jewish community in Australia responded to the awful events unfolding in the Middle East? Is there real concern for safety here?
Colin Rubenstein: There is a degree of concern, of course. The community is wounded, deeply grieving. But I would say they understand the severity of this situation. We’ve seen new depths of evil depravity over the last few days. This is Israel’s equivalent of September 11. Even worse, with 1200 Israelis brutally slaughtered, 260 of them gunned down at an overnight music festival. We saw yesterday 40 babies and toddlers murdered in one kibbutz alone. Some decapitated. More than 100 victims in a community of just a thousand people. And similar decimation right across southern Israel where Hamas terrorists, war criminals went door to door across southern Israel, massacring residents, setting houses on fire and murdering the fleeing residents. So we see and we see almost 3000 Israelis wounded in this orgy of bestiality. It’s all you can really say and now we’ve got 150 people of all ages, from tiny children to the very elderly, kidnapped and taken as hostages. So, yes, there’s pain, there’s great pain and consternation. But this is, of course, has been reinforced by some of the Australian reaction. I mean, most Australians do appreciate the true nature of this evil. And most political leaders, bipartisan federal and state, have made empathetic and outraged responses and conveyed their condolences and the Jewish community heartened to see the landmarks throughout the country join those overseas being lit up in the blue and white and acts of solidarity. But, getting to your point, some shamefully celebrated the carnage demonstrated in favour of the perpetrators, with Jews incredibly warned to avoid Sydney Centre for their own safety. So I mean you have to be clear, no grievance justifies the wanton slaughter and torture of innocents and celebrating such acts. That’s absolutely beneath contempt. So yes, when it comes to the demonstrations and what we saw in Sydney the other night, undoubtedly as the political leadership has acknowledged, there was a failure of judgment here. No one questions the intent of the police. They want to maintain law and order and safety. But allowing that procession from the Town Hall to go to the Opera House and then standing aside while we saw the most shameful sort of antisemitism we’ve witnessed in Australia for many, many a year, that was a clear case of misjudgment. And I think Australians understand, of course there’s a right to protest, but there’s not a right to inflame hatred and there’s not a right to incite violence and there’s certainly not a right to support effectively in favour of a terrorist organisation. War criminals who were outlawed in Australia proscribed like the Hamas organisation is. So I think civil libertarians need to go back to their drawing books and understand that in a democratic, multicultural Australia, of course we have our rights, but we also have our responsibilities to keep faith with the core principles that this overwhelmingly tolerant and harmonious society, which is the way we want to keep it.
Patricia Karvelas: The chant that we heard was repulsive, right. And I know chilling for many Jewish people and people I’ve spoken to who have been really affected by it deeply. Uh, what do you think should be done in relation to this? Because some protesters say they denounced it. That’s not their view and it was a small group. What’s your response to that?
Colin Rubenstein: Well, what the police are doing, they’re looking at the footage very closely. And if there are violations, they should bring charges. You can’t incite to hatred in this country. You can’t breach those laws. And of course, even, and federally, we have proscribed terrorist organisations being lauded and effectively celebrated. That’s also a breach of the law. So I think the police should do what they are effectively now doing with the full backing of political leadership, in laying down the law here. And if there are no permits to hold a protest, those protests shouldn’t go ahead and the authorities have every right to prevent them and use whatever force is necessary to achieve those legitimate objectives. So, yeah, we’re being tested here. We’re being tested in terms of maintaining the fabric of our open and democratic society. You know, there’s not absolute right. You can’t protest and celebrate these brutal war, war crimes. I mean, this is totally against the Australian ethos, against the very fabric of Australian multiculturalism, which has been overwhelmingly successful. And that’s the way we want to keep it. Everybody in this country has got to comply with mutual respect and tolerance, which are core values of Australian multiculturalism. And so I think the authorities have come to a realisation of the significance of where we are right now. There is certainly overwhelming support for Israel. There is an understanding that Israel has experienced its 9/11 and there’s an understanding, as President Biden, I think, put it very eloquently the other night, that if the US experienced what Israel has experienced, its response would be swift, decisive and overwhelming. And of course I think Australians understand Israel’s will be to I mean, it has a right of self-defence not just to stop the current attacks, but it must make sure that Hamas can never do this again. And of course it will do everything to protect and free the hostages.
Patricia Karvelas: Let me just ask you this question before I let you go, Dr. Rubenstein. The prime minister was criticised yesterday by the opposition leader, Peter Dutton, for his response to all of this. Are you satisfied with the way that the Prime Minister has responded?
Colin Rubenstein: Look, I think the response of the Prime Minister has been absolutely proper. He’s conveyed his understanding that Israel has that absolute right of self-defence, that like much of this international community. He understands the horrific losses Israel suffered an unprovoked attack and that it it will conduct a very difficult campaign to uproot this vile terrorist group. So I think the prime minister has been perfectly proper. His stance has been appreciated. He met with leadership of the Jewish community in Melbourne last night. And similarly, I have to say I was at the Sydney rally of what, over 7000 people last night addressed by the Premier and the Leader of the Opposition, Peter Dutton. And I think we can be grateful, all Australians can be grateful for the bipartisanship that our political leadership, federal and state, has shown in these very difficult times.
Patricia Karvelas: Thank you for joining us this morning.
Colin Rubenstein: Thanks very much, Patricia.
Patricia Karvelas: Dr. Colin Rubenstein, executive director of the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council.