Australian mayor declines synagogue invitation citing Israel’s occupation

Henry Benjamin

SYDNEY (JTA) — The mayor of the Sydney municipality of Mosman has been accused of being an anti-Semite after he declined to attend the ceremonial Law Service at the city’s Great Synagogue, citing his opposition towards Israel’s actions in the West Bank.

Mayor Peter Abelson received a personal invitation to the annual event, held at the beginning of the new legal year, and in response wrote to Dr. Benjamin Elton, rabbi of the Great Synagogue:  “Thank you for your invitation to the Great Synagogue Law Service for 2017. I will 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 told SBS radio his uncle was killed by the Nazis for being Jewish.

“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. To infer from a view about occupation that someone is anti-Jewish…it’s just ridiculous,” Abelson said

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“The mayor is boycotting Australian Jews because he disagrees with policies of the Israeli government,” New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies CEO Vic Alhadeff told JTA. “Why is he wading into foreign policy and why is he holding Australian Jews responsible for policies of the government of Israel? 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 that 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,