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Australians, Kiwis demonstrate for, against Israel

SYDNEY, Australia (JTA) – Australians in Sydney demonstrated their solidarity with Israel after thousands throughout the country protested against the Gaza conflict.

In a solemn ceremony Sunday evening at Sydney’s Central Synagogue that included Hebrew prayers and the recital of psalms, Robert Goot, the president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, told the more than 2,000 participants that Hamas’ use of women and children as human shields was “a war crime — nothing more, nothing less."

“If Israel laid down its arms there would be no Israel. If Hamas and Hezbollah lay down their arms there would be peace,” he said to thunderous applause.

Eli Yerushalmi, the deputy chef of mission of the Israeli Embassy in Canberra, told the crowd that Israel’s conflict is not against the Palestinian people. “Hamas has turned the Gaza Strip into a large ammunition depot,” he said.

Robin Margo, the president of the New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies, said the purpose of the solidarity rally was “not to fan the flames of conflict," but to support Israel’s “just, defensive war."

It was the largest pro-Israel rally in the country so far; A smaller rally was held in Melbourne last week.

The rally came one day after hundreds of pro-Palestinian protesters marched in Canberra to the Israeli, American and Egyptian embassies. Outside Parliament House they lit more than 4,000 candles in white paper bags spelling out “Save Gaza Now."

Also on Saturday, more than 2,000 pro-Palestinian supporters marched in Brisbane and about 500 in Adelaide.

In New Zealand, about 1,000 pro-Palestinian supporters marched through Auckland Saturday to the U.S. consulate, where they threw dozens of shoes, burned Israeli and U.S. flags and waved placards bearing swastikas.

Meanwhile, a letter to New Zealand’s largest newspaper from a senior Catholic bishop who criticized a fellow priest for desecrating a memorial to Yitzhak Rabin was discovered to be a hoax.

The letter said to be from the Catholic Bishop of Auckland, Patrick Dunn, was published in the New Zealand Herald on Friday, and blasted Father Gerard Burns’ actions, urging him to apologize to the Jewish community.

On Saturday, the Wellington Palestine Group took responsibility for Father Burns’ stunt, in which he smeared red paint mixed with drops of his own blood on the plaque of a memorial to slain Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin to protest Israel’s operation in Gaza.

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