Footage of participants at an October 9 anti-Israel rally outside the Sydney Opera House chanting "Gas the Jews," "F**k the Jews," and "Allahu Akbar" sent shockwaves around the globe, revealing a troubling side of Australia, a nation not previously known for having widespread and public issues stemming from Islamist antisemitism.
The rally organizer, Palestine Action Group, which describes itself as an "activist organization committed to supporting Palestine and opposing Israeli apartheid," condemned the chants as having been made by "vile antisemitic attendees who showed up to the Opera House for an event unrelated to the demonstration we organized." There's just one problem: the anti-Israel rally was held two days after Hamas terrorists beheaded babies, burned children alive, kidnapped around 200 Israelis and foreign nationals (including babies and Holocaust survivors), and reportedly raped women next to their dead friends' bodies. As of writing, the attack has left more than 1,400 Israelis dead. Given the protest's timing and anti-Israel rallies's global reputation as hotspots for antisemitic incitement, the organizers should perhaps not have been surprised that it would attract such reprehensible bedfellows.
The rally's timing and chants of Allahu Akbar raise concerns about the impact of Islamist organizations on Australia's civil society. These concerns deepen in light of how these groups responded to the attack.
One of the more troubling responses came from the Australian branch of Hizb ut-Tahrir. A global Islamist organization that operates across multiple continents and has been banned in at least 13 countries, it aims to re-establish a caliphate and implement Sharia law. Part of its self-described mission in Western nations is to "resist forced assimilation of Muslims... under the pretext of 'counter-terrorism.'"
Responding to Hamas's attack, the group published an October 8 press release praising Hamas's "resistance efforts," while claiming that "the Muslims of Palestine have exposed the fragility of the Jewish occupation." That same day, it held an "Emergency Gathering for Palestine" in Lakemba, a south-western Sydney suburb. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, "hundreds of people [at the rally] were expressing support for the attack."
"I'm smiling and I'm happy. I'm elated. It's a day of courage. It's a day of pride. It's a day of victory," Sheikh Ibrahim Dadoun passionately told the crowd, which responded multiple times with cries of Allahu Akbar. "This is the day we've been waiting for."
"What yesterday happened [sic]," Sheikh Dadoun declared, "was the first time our brothers and sisters broke through the largest prison on earth."
During the rally, a car bearing Palestinian flags was seen setting off red and green fireworks, in apparent celebration of Hamas's attack. Multiple attendees also brought signs to the rally, one of which read, "the Khilafah [Califate] will be the true response."
The next day, Hizb ut-Tahrir praised the rally as "resoundingly successful," while slamming the "predictable rhetoric and lies from politicians spewed out as it always does when Muslims struggle for their rights." On October 14, Hizb ut-Tahrir held another pro-Palestinian event in Lakemba, titled, "Palestine — The Cornerstone of the War between Islam and Kufr."
After the Australian public and politicians responded with shock to the antisemitic chants at the Sydney Opera House, police sought extraordinary stop and search powers prior to Sydney's October 15 rally out of fears it could turn violent. "The scenes that we saw on Monday night [at the Sydney Opera House] couldn't be repeated over the weekend," NSW Premier Chris Minns said, "and police have got every right to protect and ensure that those scenes aren't repeated."
The Australian branch of Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jama'ah (ASWJ), another local Islamist organization that, although legally operating in Australia, has been linked to numerous jihadists over the years, also released a statement on October 12 following the outbreak of violence between Israel and Hamas. While it did not explicitly praise Hamas's attack, the statement expressed ASWJ's "unwavering solidarity with the Palestinian people," while also asserting, "We defend the rights of the Palestinian people to defend themselves and use any means available."
Despite their vocal support for Palestinians, however, neither ASWJ, Hizb ut-Tahrir, nor any other radical Islamist groups appear to have played any key public role in the major anti-Israel rallies that took place in Australia's two largest cities, Melbourne and Sydney, on October 15, which, according to police, attracted around 10,000 and 6,000 attendees respectively.
Islamist chants were nevertheless heard at the rallies, indicating that Islamists were present. At the Melbourne rally, cries of "Khaybar Khaybar ya yahud, jaish Muhammad soufa ya'oud," could be heard. The Arabic chant, which refers to the massacre of the Khaybar Jewish community in 628 CE by Muhammad's forces, is often heard at pro-Palestinian rallies around the globe, and is widely understood as a threat to kill Jews. It translates as "Khaybar Khaybar oh Jews, Muhammad's army will return." In April this year, two British men were charged with a hate crime for their use of the chant at a London protest in 2021. If convicted, they face up to seven years in prison.
In what was likely a response to the Australian public's disgust towards the antisemitism displayed on October 9, a joint statement from Australia's Muslim community was released on October 12. Cosigned by 54 organizations, including peak bodies such as the Australian National Imams Council, it reiterated the Australian Muslim community's solidarity with the Palestinian people, while at the same time "condemn[ing] all calls and incitement to violence and hatred of any people. This includes conduct that is antisemitic."
Among the list of signatories was ASWJ Australia. Hizb ut-Tahrir's name was absent.
Josh Feldman is an Australian writer who focuses primarily on Israeli and Jewish issues. Twitter: @joshrfeldman