SYDNEY, Australia — Thousands of pro-Palestinian demonstrators rallied in Australia against Israel’s ground offensive in Gaza.
In Melbourne, about 2,000 anti-Israel protesters ground the city to a standstill Sunday as they marched from the State Library to Federation Square waving placards bearing slogans such as “Stop the Holocaust in Gaza” and “End the siege.”
In Sydney, several streets in the central business district were blocked off as about 3,000 pro-Palestinian protesters marched to Town Hall carrying coffins draped in the Palestinian flag.
Speakers at both rallies blasted Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s Labor government for failing to condemn Israel’s military invasion of Gaza, which began Saturday night. The Israelis have hit the Hamas-controlled strip with air strikes for a week.
Also Sunday, about 150 pro-Israel supporters gathered on the steps of Parliament House in Melbourne, chanting “no more terror” and “free Gaza of Hamas.” Among the speakers at the rally was Michael Danby, a Jewish member of Parliament in the Labor government.
“How would we react when faced by Islamist fanatics who would kill Australians in Bali, murder our tourists in Mumbai and do what they are doing to the Israelis on the edge of Gaza?” Danby asked.
More than 475 Palestinians have died in the conflict, with more than 2,000 injured, according to Palestinian sources. Five Israelis have been killed since the fighting began Dec. 27.
Meanwhile in New Zealand, a weekly columnist for the New Zealand Herald accused Israel of ordering its soldiers to “slaughter and mutilate hundreds of citizens trapped on the Gaza Strip.”
Matt McCarten in Sunday’s edition wrote, “The Nazis used a similar policy during World War II in their occupied territories. The Israelis are getting the same results the Nazis got – their victims increase their hatred and determination to seek revenge.”
Police made eight arrests during a demonstration by thousands against Israel in Berlin.
Berlin’s Jewish community also filed charges of incitement to hate based on posters displayed at a separate protest on Dec. 29.
An estimated 7,000 people turned out for Saturday’s march, one of several held in European cities over the weekend protesting Israel’s military operation in the Gaza Strip. In Berlin, some marchers demanded the right of return for Palestinians, referred to citizens in Gaza as prisoners, and charged Israel with blocking delivery of food and medicine.
Some clearly anti-Semitic posters were displayed, said Levi Salomon, who co-ordinates the task force against anti-Semitism for Berlin’s Jewish community. Salomon told JTA he saw a family with small children holding a sign that read “Israelis are child murderers.” Police arrested the adults at his urging, Salomon said, adding that what made the statement illegal was its condemnation of Israelis as a people.
Police spokesperson Michael Mass told JTA that while the demonstration was “for the most part peaceful,” arrests were made on charges that included incitement to hate, breach of peace and violating the right to assembly. Mass said
Calling a demonstration peaceful gives the press and public “a false idea,” Salomon said, and added that even some legal slogans “can be described as anti-Semitic.” For example, Salomon said, he saw and heard slogans at recent demonstrations including “’intifadah to the bitter end,” “Israel mass murderer,” “Zionists are fascists” and “Olmert is a murderer.”
Salomon said he filed a suit in Berlin on Jan. 2 in connection with a demonstration four days earlier during which protesters were reported to be carrying signs reading “death to Israel” and “Juden Raus,” or “kick out the Jews.”