Pro-Palestinian protests mar Israel celebration in Melbourne


SYDNEY, Australia (JTA) – Pro-Palestinian demonstrators in Melbourne marred the annual celebration of Israel’s independence.

Guests at Tuesday night’s high-profile gathering of politicians, diplomats, bureaucrats and Jewish leaders had to walk past some 100 protesters brandishing banners that said "Israel – an apartheid state" and "Free Palestine." Police held back the demonstrators, who burned an effigy of Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu, the Australian Jewish News reported.

Inside the hotel, Baillieu defended the protesters’ right to express their views before adding, "The wonderful thing in this country is that you can have your view. The even better thing is I can stand here and say you’re wrong."

The newspaper quoted Baillieu as saying that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign, or BDS, should be renamed "Bigoted, Dangerous and Shameful."

His counterpart, Labor’s Daniel Andrews, said of the protests outside, "If we have to come through those scenes again [next year], then we’ll all do it with pride." 

In his address, Israeli Ambassador Yuval Rotem offered an olive branch to the Palestinians.

"We want to live with you and not die with you," he said. "We want to respect you as good neighbors and not fear you as a dreaded enemy."

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