SYDNEY, Australia (JTA) — Several dozen pro-Palestinian supporters protested a speech in Sydney by Israel’s deputy prime minister.
Waving signs denouncing Israel as “an apartheid state,” the protesters demonstrated Thursday evening against Silvan Shalom outside an inner-city hotel.
In front of 750 guests, including Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, Foreign Minister Stephen Smith and Treasurer Wayne Swan, Shalom lauded the Australian government for boycotting the United Nations’ anti-racism conference in Geneva in April and for opposing the “bias” of the Goldstone report on Israel’s Gaza offensive last January.
“We feel at home here,” said Shalom, who is leading what is believed to be the largest official delegation of Israelis ever to visit Australia.
More than 20 officials, including lawmakers, power brokers and leading media personalities, are in Sydney to participate in the second Australia Israel Leadership Forum, a closed conference scheduled for Sunday and Monday. The forum aims to address issues of strategic mutual relevance, according to conference founder Albert Dadon, the chair of the Australia Israel Cultural Exchange.
Shalom used his address to urge sanctions on Iran, saying that Tehran “will never abandon its dream to hold nuclear power.”
Opposition Liberal leader Tony Abbott, who earlier in the week had wrested power from Israel loyalist Malcolm Turnbull, said that while Israel may have stronger allies militarily, “I would like to think that nowhere in the world do you have a stauncher friend than us.”
Among the Israeli delegates who joined Shalom are Knesset members Ronit Tirosh, Nachman Shai, Ronnie Bar-On and Danny Danon, as well as counter-terror expert Boaz Ganor.