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Fire at Synagogue in Sydney is Fourth Arson in Six Weeks

March 7, 1991
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Australia, March 6 (JTA) — A shocked Jewish community demanded more police protection and effective anti-hate legislation after the fourth fire in six weeks to seriously damage synagogue property in Australia’s largest cities.

The latest target of unknown arsonists was the Bankstown and District War Memorial Synagogue, which was almost gutted by flames Tuesday. No arrests have been made.

A side door was forced open and flammable liquid splashed through the interior. Most of the furnishings were destroyed, but the Torah scrolls were rescued.

Max Platus, president of the congregation, removed them safely from the Ark while firefighters poured water into the blazing sanctuary.

Leslie Caplan, president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, described the fire as “the latest in a series of sickening attempts to damage and destroy Jewish places of worship.”

“The attacks are further evidence of the need for the Australian government to enact strong and effective legislation against racist violence and incitement to racial hatred,” he said.

The fire was the third in Sydney. The Sephardi Synagogue was damaged by a suspicious blaze on Feb. 26. Arsonists caused $80,000 to the North Shore Temple Emanuel kindergarten in suburban Chatswood earlier last month.

At about the same time, the North Eastern Jewish War Memorial Center in the Melbourne suburb of Doncaster was torched.

Gerald Falk, a former president of the Executive Council who has dealt with anti-Semitic outbreaks for more than 40 years, called the latest attacks unprecedented. “Even during the peak of *he strength of the Australian Nazi Party in the 1960s we did not envisage this level of violence against Jewish places of worship,” Falk told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Gerry Hand, the federal minister for immigration and ethnic affairs, said such attacks were “contrary to Australia’s democratic principles and our traditions of fairness and tolerance.” He said they would not be tolerated.

The Bankstown Synagogue serves a diminishing Jewish community in the center of a Sydney neighborhood now populated mainly by Arabs and Moslems. But there is no evidence yet linking the wave of arson to events in the Persian Gulf.

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