Fear prompts cancellations and caution but Australian Jews rally in support of Israel

Fear prompts cancellations and caution among Australian Jews

The State Library of Victoria has held off advertising an exhibition of Hebrew manuscripts and some Jewish schools have told students to not to wear distinguishing uniforms.

The library will not display banners advertising its new Hebrew manuscripts exhibition this week or hold public events to celebrate the opening of Luminous: A thousand years of Hebrew manuscripts.

The decision is among the local responses to the Hamas attacks in Israel and the retaliatory attacks on Gaza which have prompted widespread fear in the Jewish community.

Fear shot through the Melbourne community on Tuesday after an incident in South Yarra where a car filled with young people asked a pedestrian “where the Jews live” so they could “hunt them down and kill them”.

The incident followed chants of “Death to the Jews” at a pro-Palestinian rally in Sydney on Tuesday, when Jews were warned by police to stay away from the area, an action the Premier has since acknowledged was inappropriate.

“if fear becomes the prevailing ethos then the bastards have really got us.”

Paul Forgasz

Jewish schools and other cultural institutions across Australia heightened security, some parents reported keeping children home from Jewish schools and others said children had been told to wear casual clothes rather than appear in public with uniforms that could distinguish them as Jews.

Jewish cultural events were cancelled as the community went into mourning and some Jewish people told Plus61J Media they were staying away from kosher restaurants because they were potential targets.

At the same time, the community rallied to support for Israel. Israeli flags were displayed in public spaces, shops and online as people defied the fear to show their solidarity with Israeli victims. An estimated 10,000 people joined a community solidiarity rally in Sydney on Wednesday.

A solidarity rally is scheduled for Caulfield Park in Melbourne at 5pm on Friday. JCCV President Daniel Aghion said Jewish community leadership was aware of reports from Israel encouraging additional security precautions but the rally would not be cancelled out of fear. “Led by the Community Security Group, we are working closely with Victoria Police, the Victorian Government and Victorian Opposition to take all precautions ahead of this evening’s rally for Israel. The rally will go ahead.”

The State Library of Victoria was due to open its Hebrew manuscripts exhibition on Thursday with media and VIP public events, tours, and banners displayed outside the museum.

But the library, which was the scene of a pro-Palestinian demonstration on Monday, has decided not to display banners outside advertising the exhibition – as it regularly does for exhibitions – or to hold events to promote it.

Library management was afraid the exhibition could be attacked if it was associated with Jewish culture and, in particular, that 37 priceless manuscripts on loan from the British Library, could be endangered, a source told Plus61J Media.

State Library of Victoria banners, which were due to feature a Hebrew manuscripts exhibition this week

The Jewish Museum of Australia, which has loaned 17 objects for the exhibition, also argued that it would be insensitive to hold a celebratory opening while the community is in mourning for 1200 victims of Hamas attacks.

The library will now open the exhibition without fanfare next week and will consider whether to display banners once tensions have settled.

Cultural consultant for the exhibition Paul Forgasz said he was in two minds about the decision to cancel the exhibition opening and publicity. While sensitivity to communal grief perhaps made it appropriate to cancel the opening events, it was important the community did not allow fear to prevent Jewish cultural life in Australia.

“We are a people who have never allowed them to knock us down. When we are hit we get up and we keep going. At the moment we are dealing with the shock and the trauma so I can understand that people don’t want to go ahead, but if fear becomes the prevailing ethos then the bastards have really got us.”


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Top photo: A section of the crowd who gathered in support of Israel in Sydney on Wednesday (Rotem Keidar)