Sydney Jewish leader reprimanded for email accusing Hamas of ‘war crimes’

Marcy Oster

SYDNEY, Australia (JTA) – A senior Jewish leader in Sydney, who also holds a government post, is under fire for an email that accuses Hamas of “war crimes” but avoids reference to Palestinian deaths from Israel’s operation in Gaza.

Vic Alhadeff, chief executive of the New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies and chair of the Community Relations Commission, was reprimanded by Mike Baird, the premier of New South Wales, the Sydney Morning Herald reported Saturday.

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In an email to the Jewish community last week titled “Israel Under Fire,” Alhadeff wrote that Hamas was guilty of “war crimes” while Israel “is operating with care to avoid civilian casualties.”

Israel had made it clear it would “do whatever is needed to defend its citizens,” he wrote. “All options are on the table.”

Ordinarily, Alhadeff’s email would have been expected from a local Jewish leader. But because he has served as  chair of the New South Wales Community Relations Commission since last December, his email provoked outrage from Arab leaders, and prompted Premier Mike Baird to brand his remarks as “inappropriate” for someone in a government-appointed position, according to Baird’s spokesman.

“Few people have done more to promote inter-faith engagement and understanding between the Jewish and Muslim communities in New South Wales than Mr. Alhadeff,” the spokesman also said according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

Joseph Wakim, a founder of the Australian Arabic Council, slammed Alhadeff’s email as “biased and provocative,” according to the newspaper.

“Do such statements build bridges and community relations, or wedge a wall between us and them,” Wakim asked.

Asked whether his Jewish post and multicultural post were mutually exclusive, Alhadeff told JTA: “Definitely not. We can agree to disagree on issues but we live in Australia as Australians, and should all be committed to our shared values … in a democratic multicultural society.”

Alhadeff added that “within minutes” of Mohammed Abu Khdeir being burnt to death last week, allegedly by Jewish extremists, he tweeted that it was “despicable.”

“The role of the CRC chair is to fight racism, promote multiculturalism and ensure community harmony,” Alhadeff told the Herald. “This is what I have done passionately and will continue to do.”

“I stand on my track record in terms of sowing harmony, not disharmony in New South Wales, including frequently speaking out to condemn racism against the Muslim community,” he said.