Premier Mike Baird has publicly reprimanded the chair of the NSW Community Relations Commission, Vic Alhadeff, over “inappropriate” remarks that accuse Palestine of war crimes and appear to gloss over Israeli violence.
But critics say the rebuke to Mr Alhadeff, who is also chief executive of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, does not go far enough and say he should be removed from the government-appointed position.
The dispute has laid bare the deep fissures between Sydney’s Arabic and Jewish communities, and raises questions over Mr Alhadeff’s dual roles, which require him to both support the Jewish cause and promote community unity.
But Mr Alhadeff says he has “worked tirelessly with leaders across the Muslim and Arab communities” and “I stand on my track record of sowing harmony ... in NSW”.
In an email to members of the Jewish community this week, Mr Alhadeff condemned acts by Palestinian militant Islamist group Hamas during conflict ignited by the murders of three Israeli students last month.
The incidents triggered a suspected reprisal killing of a Palestinian teenager, followed by riots in East Jerusalem and the exchange of rockets between Israel and Gaza.
Mr Alhadeff's email, titled “Israel Under Fire”, criticised the “Hamas terror organisation” for launching rockets on Israeli towns, saying families had been forced into shelters and “children kept from summer camp”.
Israel would “do whatever is needed to defend its citizens. All options are on the table”, he said.
He accused Hamas of “war crimes” for “indiscriminately” attacking civilians, claiming in contrast, Israel uses “care to avoid civilian casualties” and “pinpoint technologies to hit the targeted infrastructure”.
The statement triggered outrage amongst Arab leaders in NSW, including Joseph Wakim, former Victorian Multicultural Affairs Commissioner and founder of the Australian Arabic Council, who described the views as “biased and provocative”.
He said Mr Alhadeff ignored the attack on the Palestinian teenager and failed to mention “air and sea strikes that have already killed 35 Palestinian civilians”.
“He has very clearly taken one side and said ‘here are the goodies and here are the baddies’,” Mr Wakim said.
“Do such statements build bridges and community relations, or wedge a wall between us and them?”
Mr Wakim said Mr Alhadeff’s appointment to the Community Relations Commission in December last year “should never have happened” because it created a serious conflict of interest. He called on Mr Alhadeff to relinquish one role.
A spokesman for Premier Mike Baird said Mr Alhadeff “has done an excellent job” as CRC chair but his statement "may be considered inconsistent” with promoting community harmony.
“[Mr Alhadeff] has acknowledged the need to focus on issues in NSW and avoid using inappropriate language regarding overseas conflicts,” the spokesman said.
He added: “Few people have done more to promote inter-faith engagement and understanding between the Jewish and Muslim communities in NSW than Mr Alhadeff".
Mr Alhadeff said he frequently spoke out to condemn racism against the Muslim community and “worked tirelessly with leaders across the Muslim and Arab communities”.
“Despite occasionally differing views on issues, surely we all share a determination to live peacefully and harmoniously together in a tolerant and inclusive NSW,” he said.
“The role of the CRC Chair is to fight racism, promote multiculturalism and ensure community harmony. This is what I have done passionately and will continue to do.”
Lebanese Muslim Association president Samier Dandan said Mr Alhadeff had “helped the Muslim community” in his role as chairman, such as contributing to establishing an Australian Muslim community foster care program.
"My engagement with Vic … has been a very positive engagement," Mr Dandan said.
But he cautioned that while Mr Alhadeff was entitled to a political opinion "he needs to be conscious, in his role as CRC chair, of only saying things that are very positive".
In a statement, co-convenors of the NSW Parliamentary Friends of Palestine, Labor MP Lynda Voltz and Greens MP David Shoebridge, said Mr Alhadeff’s comments were “deeply inappropriate” and unless they were withdrawn, his community relations role was “clearly untenable”.
The story Jewish leader Vic Alhadeff slammed over Hamas 'war crimes' remark first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.