SYDNEY, Australia (JTA) – A Jerusalem rabbi visiting Australia was threatened and verbally abused by a gang of teenagers at a Perth shopping mall.
On Monday, Rabbi Avraham Shalom Halberstam and his assistant were set upon by as many as six teens, according to an eyewitness assisting the rabbi on his trip. Halberstam, who is known as the Stropkover rebbe, is in Australia for a lecture tour.
“They were surrounding him, so I raced over to get him into the car and they surrounded the car screaming, ‘You are killing babies in Gaza,’ ” the witness, Danny Mayer of Perth, told JTA on Tuesday.
Mayer said the teenage gang got “very agitated” and started banging and spitting on the car.
“I’ve been in Israel for seven years,” he said, “and it wasn’t too far from being in an Arab village and trapped in a car. We absolutely felt threatened.
“The rebbe is shaken but OK,” Mayer added.
Mayer, who acknowledged that he was shaken by the incident, said the youths ran away when he started taking photos on his phone.
“The wider community needs to know that Jews around the world are being affected because they are Jews,” he said.
The incident has been reported to police; closed-circuit TV footage is being checked.
Ian Britza, a state lawmaker in Western Australia, said the state government should publicly condemn the incident and offer the rebbe a public apology.
“I was absolutely horrified,” Britza said. “I condemn it in the highest possible terms.”
Halberstam, who runs several yeshivas in Israel, leads the Hasidic sect that originates from Stropkov, a town in Slovakia.
The incident comes less than two weeks after the walls of Perth’s only Jewish school were painted with graffiti that read “Zionist scum.” It also comes in the wake of police confirming a Perth-based Islamic preacher who described Jews as “filthy rapists” won’t be prosecuted under the state’s race hate laws.