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PM ‘concerned’ by social cohesion after uni protests

Anthony Albanese says social cohesion is being frayed over the conflict in the Middle East.

Anthony Albanese says social cohesion is being frayed over the conflict in the Middle East. Photo: AAP

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese admits he’s worried about frayed social cohesion following rising tensions at university campuses amid protests over the Middle Eastern conflict.

Pro-Palestinian encampments have been set up at several Australian universities, following wider protests in the US, calling for the tertiary institutions to divest funds from Israel and for a ceasefire in Gaza.

Tensions have heightened in recent days following the arrival of Israeli supporters near the encampments.

Albanese is alarmed by the divisions in Australian society over the conflict in the Middle East.

“Social cohesion is being frayed at the moment, I’m very concerned at what we’ve seen,” he said in Canberra on Monday.

“There has been a rise in anti-Semitism, there has been a rise in Islamophobia, we need to make sure that people in positions of authority use that authority to not promote division but to promote social cohesion.

“It’s really important also that people don’t seek to bring conflict, which is here in Australia.

“Overwhelmingly Australians don’t want that.”

University vice-chancellors last week rejected calls for police to break up the protests on their campuses.

Federal Education Minister Jason Clare said he had heard reports of students being fearful of attending campus due to the protest activity.

“If people feel afraid to go to university then that’s intolerable. I want more people to go to university, not less,” he told ABC Radio on Monday.

“There’s always going to be protests in a democracy. That’s part of being a democracy.

“What there’s no place for though is hate or violence or prejudice or discrimination, and certainly no place for anti‑Semitism or Islamophobia.”

Clare also repeated calls for the temperature of debate around the conflict to be lowered.

“What’s happening on the other side of the world is trying to pull our country apart,” he said.

“We’ve got to work together, whether it’s politicians or religious leaders or community leaders, whether it’s the media or student representatives to work to keep our country together, not let it get pulled apart.”

The university protests follow renewed conflict in the Middle East after Hamas, which has been deemed a terrorist organisation by the federal government, attacked Israel on October 7, killing an estimated 1200 people and taking more than 250 people hostage.

Israel’s military response to the attacks has left more than 34,000 Palestinians dead and more than 77,000 wounded, according to Gaza’s health ministry.

– AAP

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