Demonstrators target loved ones of Hamas hostages
Family members of hostages taken by Hamas met with Australian officials, including the PM. Photo: AAP
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has strongly condemned protesters in Melbourne who targeted visiting Israelis whose family members had been kidnapped or murdered by Hamas.
The Israelis, who are in Australia for meetings in Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne, were faced with pro-Palestinian supporters in a hotel lobby in Docklands on Wednesday night.
Albanese told Federal Parliament on Thursday that holding an anti-Israeli gathering where the grieving families were staying was “beyond my comprehension and beyond contempt”.
“I am appalled by the actions of these protesters and I condemn them. This does nothing to advance the cause of the Palestinian people,” he said.
“There is no excuse, no circumstances where people should organise a demonstration against grieving families. None. None. I call it out and I express on behalf of the Australian government our regret to those families who we met with.”
The group is visiting Australia to share their experiences with politicians and push for the hostages to be freed.
A group of pro-Palestine protesters gathered in the foyer of the Crowne Plaza on Wednesday night.
Victoria Police confirmed officers responded to the protest in Docklands but no arrests were made.
“It is understood approximately 20 people walked into a hotel lobby on Spencer Street with flags and signs about 10pm,” police said in a statement.
“The group were moved on by police.”
Deputy Head of Mission at the Israeli embassy Christian Cantor was with the group when the protest started.
“Unfortunately we observed a mob protesting, shouting,” Cantor told 3AW radio.
“A immediate reaction obviously is to take the families outside the hotel. We were led into a police station.”
He said the families found the protest shocking and surprising.
Albanese said the anti-Israeli protest against people such as a women who had lost her son was “not the Australian way”.
“People need to really think about where we are as a nation. We are a successful multicultural nation. There is no place in this country to try to bring conflict in that sort of way through that sort of action
here in Australia.
“Regardless of what views people might have about international politics. We should be respectful, we should have compassion, we should understand that people are hurting.
Opposition leader Peter Dutton said the protest was an “act of depravity” and intimidation and that it “has no place in our country whatsoever”.
An image of the protest showed more than a dozen people in what appeared to be a hotel lobby holding signs that included ‘Zionism is fascism’ and ‘Free Palestine’.
On Thursday morning, a group calling themselves Whistleblowers, Activists and Communities Alliance released a statement claiming to be from protesters who went to Crowne Plaza.
They said an autonomous group went to confront state officials from the Israeli Embassy, with the protest directed at both the officials and hotel because they hosted them.
Police Minister Anthony Carbines spoke to the Israeli ambassador to Australia and labelled the behaviour of protesters appalling, intimidating and bullying.
“People (were) wearing masks, staring down people who were in this parliament just yesterday,” he told reporters at parliament.
“To be intimidated, to have to endure that while guests and staying here in Melbourne is just unnecessary.”
Premier Jacinta Allan condemned targeting people who were grieving, saying all Victorians are expected to act with decency and humanity.
“I condemn the extreme behaviour on display last night, in the strongest possible terms,” Allan posted to X, formerly Twitter.
Allan also revealed that she had with a mother whose son was murdered.
“She – like so many others – has experienced the heartbreak that is every mother’s nightmare, at the hands of terrorists.”
Victorian Liberal MP David Southwick, who represents the electorate of Caulfield which has a strong Jewish cohort, said he had spoken to Israeli visitors while they were at a police station.
“They were horrified,” he said.
The group remained at the station until police deemed it safe for them to return.
Executive Council of Australian Jewry co-chief executive Alex Ryvchin said his organisation stood in solidarity with the families of hostages.
“It is difficult to imagine a more hateful and disgusting act than targeting families of Israeli hostages who are visiting our country to talk about their fear and trauma,” he said in a statement.
The Israeli embassy said the group of family and representatives were made to feel unsafe but would continue on their Australian tour.
It comes ahead of Thursday’s planned gathering to protest and mourn the deaths of thousands of children killed in Gaza, organised by a group calling themselves Teachers and School Staff for Palestine.