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Rabbi pans Sydney mayor’s anti-Israel ‘boycott’

The Australian, 16 January 2017

Sam Buckingham-Jones

A Sydney mayor has refused a personal invitation to attend the annual Great Synagogue Law Service, citing Israel’s “illegal” actions in the West Bank, which he says “will cause endless ­terrorism across the globe, includ­ing here”.

Peter Abelson, the Mayor of Mosman on Sydney’s lower North Shore, has in return been accused of anti-Semitism by the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, which said he was not effectively representing Jewish residents in the area.

“Thank you for your invitation to the Great Synagogue Law Service for 2017. I will not be attending,” Dr Abelson wrote to the synagogue’s rabbi, Benjamin Elton, earlier this month.

“I should express my deep personal concern about the gross and illegal occupation of the West Bank which creates intense international division and bitterness and, unresolved, will cause endless terrorism across the globe, including here.”

Writing in response to Dr Abelson, NSW Jewish Board of Deputies chief executive Vic Alhadeff said: “We are appalled that you would refuse to represent the Jewish constituents of your ward because of your views on the Israel-Palestine conflict.”

Mr Alhadeff’s letter accused the mayor of anti-Semitism, citing the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition, a section of which defines the term as “holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel”.

He also rejected Dr Abelson’s characterisation of Israel’s ­actions.

Dr Elton, who has invited nearby mayors and all NSW federal and state parliamentarians to the event, was shocked by Dr Abelson’s response: “Sometimes people decline with thanks, but to receive a reply with a stark message that attacked Israel’s policies ... I’m astonished, really.

“The policies of the state of Israel is another discussion. To boycott a Jewish event in Sydney because of the actions of Israel, that’s a form of anti-Semitism.”

Dr Abelson, a PhD in economics who has spent time in northern Israel and worked as an adviser to the NSW Treasury, said he attended all the events he could within his council area and described accusations of anti-Semitism as “nonsense”.

“There are large numbers of people, Jews around the world, who respect Jews and Jewishness, who are critical of the occupation of the West Bank. To say someone who is critical of the West Bank is anti-Jewish is just nonsense ... My father’s family was wholly Jewish,” he said.

“I don’t think my views are that important. I’m mayor, I run Mosman for the interest for the people of Mosman. There is no discrimination against Jewish or any other race in Mosman.”

The Law Service at the Great Synagogue is an annual event held at the beginning of the new legal year.

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