Australian mayor declines synagogue invitation, cites Israel’s ‘gross and illegal occupation’


SYDNEY (JTA) — The mayor of a Sydney suburb who said he is half-Jewish declined to attend a ceremonial service at the city’s Great Synagogue, citing his opposition to Israel’s actions in the West Bank.

Mayor Peter Abelson of the Mosman municipality thanked Rabbi Benjamin Elton for the invitation to the annual Law Service but said he would not be attending.

“I should express my deep personal concern about the gross and illegal occupation of the West Bank which creates intense international division and bitterness and, unresolved, will cause endless terrorism around the globe, including here,” Abelson wrote.

Abelson told SBS radio his uncle was killed by the Nazis for being Jewish and ridiculed those who labeled him anti-Semitic.

“Many people hold very strong views about, in this case the occupation of the West Bank. Many people who are indeed Jewish do so, and I am myself half-Jewish,” he said. “To infer from a view about occupation that someone is anti-Jewish … it’s just ridiculous.”

New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies CEO Vic Alhadeff, speaking with JTA, said Abelson was boycotting Australian Jews because he disagrees with the policies of the Israeli government.

“Why is he wading into foreign policy, and why is he holding Australian Jews responsible for policies of the government of Israel?” Alhadeff asked. “He has a responsibility to represent his Jewish constituents; it is inappropriate for him to shun them by refusing to attend a Jewish community event.”

Elton said Abelson “is entitled to criticize the State of Israel. He might well not be anti-Semitic, but what is anti-Semitic is when you hold Jews around the world accountable for the actions of the Israeli government. … Boycotting a shul because you object to the current policies of the State of Israel is totally unreasonable.”

Other local mayors and New South Wales federal and state parliamentarians were invited to the event.

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