PM condemns protest targeting Hamas hostages’ group

Rachael Ward and Callum Godde |

Family members of hostages taken by Hamas met with Australian officials, including the PM.
Family members of hostages taken by Hamas met with Australian officials, including the PM.

Both sides of Australian politics have condemned demonstrators in Melbourne who targeted the loved ones of people held hostage or killed by Hamas.

The group is visiting Australia to share their experiences with politicians and push for the hostages to be freed.

A group of pro-Palestine protesters gathered in the foyer of the Crowne Plaza on Wednesday night.

Victoria Police confirmed officers responded to the protest in Docklands but no arrests were made.

“It is understood approximately 20 people walked into a hotel lobby on Spencer Street with flags and signs about 10pm,” police said in a statement.

“The group were moved on by police.”

Family members and representatives of Israelis who were kidnapped or murdered on October 7 are in Australia for meetings in Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne.

Anthony Albanese condemned the protesters, saying the demonstration went beyond the right to protest peacefully and did nothing to advance justice for Palestinians or peace in the region.

“There is no excuse, no circumstances where people should organise a demonstration against grieving families,” the prime minister told federal parliament.

“I call it out and I express on behalf of the Australian government our regret to those families who we met with.”

Deputy Head of Mission at the Israeli embassy Christian Cantor was with the group when the protest started.

The families found the protest shocking and surprising, he told 3AW radio.

An image of the protest circulated in local media showed more than a dozen people in what appeared to be a hotel lobby holding signs that included “Zionism is fascism” and “Free Palestine”.

On Thursday morning, a group calling themselves Whistleblowers, Activists and Communities Alliance released a statement claiming to be from protesters who went to the hotel. 

It said an autonomous group went to confront state officials from the Israeli Embassy, with the protest directed at the officials and hotel because they hosted them.

“The Israeli delegation came seeking military support and war,” the statement reads.

Police Minister Anthony Carbines spoke to the Israeli ambassador to Australia and labelled the behaviour of protesters appalling, intimidating and bullying.

Standing orders were suspended in state parliament’s lower house on Thursday afternoon to allow Premier Jacinta Allan and deputy Liberal leader David Southwick to condemn the protest.

Ms Allan said she had met with a mother on Wednesday whose son was murdered by Hamas, a young woman whose brother remains a hostage and an uncle whose niece was killed.

Anthony Carbines
Police Minister Anthony Carbines says the protest was appalling, intimidating and bullying. (Con Chronis/AAP PHOTOS)

“In their moment of grief and trauma, these people found the courage to travel to the other side of the world and tell their story,” she said.

“They went home to rest and were confronted with a disgusting display.”

Mr Southwick, who represents the electorate of Caulfield which has a strong Jewish cohort, said he had spoken with the Israeli visitors while they were at a police station where they stayed until the protesters were removed.

“They are gutless cowards that have no place here,” he said.

The Executive Council of Australian Jewry issued a statement of solidarity with the families of hostages.

“It is difficult to imagine a more hateful and disgusting act than targeting families of Israeli hostages who are visiting our country to talk about their fear and trauma,” co-chief executive Alex Ryvchin said.

The Israeli embassy said the group was made to feel unsafe but would continue its Australian tour. 

It comes ahead of a planned gathering to protest and mourn the deaths of thousands of children killed in Gaza, organised by a group called Teachers and School Staff for Palestine.