Pro-Palestinian demonstrators in Melbourne who forced an Israeli delegation of relatives of Israelis killed or abducted by Hamas to seek shelter in a police station are facing condemnation in Australia. The demonstrators stormed the lobby of the delegation’s hotel Wednesday waving banners and placing two bloodied dolls on the ground.
A group of Israelis whose relatives were kidnapped by Hamas during the militant group’s Oct. 7 attacks were followed to their hotel from a Wednesday meeting with members of the public and local politicians at a local college by about 20 pro-Palestinian protesters. Social media images and video show the protesters shouting pro-Palestinian slogans and holding banners, including one that read, “Stop arming Israel. Free Palestine.” The police were eventually called and moved the protesters from the hotel.
The Israelis are in Australia to meet with politicians and others as part of a global campaign to publicize the plight of Hamas hostages in Gaza.
The Israelis were reportedly ushered to a police station by private security guards. The Israeli Embassy in Canberra later said in a statement that the delegation was “made to feel unsafe” by the protest.
Jacinta Allan, the Victoria state premier, told local media that the behavior of the protesters was appalling.
“People who are suffering grief and loss as a consequence of the awful conflict that is going on in the Middle East deserve our respect and care and support,” she said.
In Canberra, the conservative opposition leader, Peter Dutton, told Parliament the pro-Palestinian protest was “an act of depravity.”
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese told lawmakers Thursday that the demonstrators’ actions were “beyond contempt.”
“This does nothing to advance the cause of the Palestinian people,” he said. “It does nothing to advance justice for Palestinians or peace in the region.”
Earlier this week, relatives and friends of some of Hamas’ hostages held a news conference at Parliament House in Canberra to call for their immediate release.
Australia has repeatedly affirmed its belief in Israel’s right to defend itself and respond to the Hamas attacks, when about 1,200 people were killed and 240 others were kidnapped.
The government has also urged Israel to follow the rules of war and prevent civilian deaths.
There have been dozens of protests by pro-Palestinian supporters across Australia in recent weeks, as well as pro-Israel rallies.
Officials have expressed concern over a rise of antisemitism and Islamophobia in Australia since the conflict erupted.
In October, two government ministers said Gaza civilians were being subjected to collective punishment “for Hamas’ barbarism” by Israel.
The two ministers, Industry Minister Ed Husic and Early Childhood Education Minister Anne Aly, are the only Muslims in Australia’s federal Cabinet.