Australian Jews have sharply criticized pro-gun lobbyists who have tried to use the Holocaust to bolster their campaign.
The debate over gun ownership has heated up in the wake of the April 28 massacre of 35 people in Port Arthur, Tasmania. A gunman opened fire on tourists in what has been described as the worst mass murder case in modern Australian history.
After Prime Minister John Howard declared his intention to strengthen controls on firearm ownership, Ian McNiven of the Firearm Owners’ Association made references to “Fuhrer Howard.”
He also claimed that “the first thing” that Adolf Hitler did as chancellor was “introduce the registration of guns.”
John Schuttloffel, chairman of the Military and Service Rifle Discipline of the mainstream Sporting Shooters’ Association, said the Australian government was “behaving like the Nazi Party” and compared the Australian population to the citizens of countries invaded by the Nazis during World War II.
Jewish community leaders voiced indignation over these remarks.
“It is obscene to compare Australia in the 1990s to Germany in the 1930s, and the Jewish community is disgusted that history should be misrepresented in such a manner,” said Diane Shteinman, president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry.
The council issued a statement saying that it was “appalled” at the claim that “the prime minister and others who seek to place restrictions on firearms ownership are in any way `like Hitler.’”
Shteinman also said, “The Jewish community is deeply concerned at the lack of adequate gun controls in this country.”
Another Jewish leader, Doron Ur of the Council of Western Australian Jewry, slammed “the connection between the rise of Hitler or the Holocaust and firearms.”
Ur, a Holocaust survivor, said in an interview that firearms not only “were shunned” by the general population in Europe, but even if Jews had been in possession of weapons, they would not have been effective against anti-Semites.
Synagogues and several Jewish organizations held memorial services for the massacre victims.
One of the victims, Zoe Hall, 28, was memorialized at a special service at Sydney’s Temple Emanuel, where several close relatives of the victim are members.