Jewish Australians are “scared to speak Hebrew” or wear their religious garments and have taken to Parliament House to warn that history “might repeat itself”.
At a “bring them home” rally on Tuesday morning, posters of the 239 Israelis taken hostage by Hamas on October 7 lay on the lawns alongside pairs of shoes with red balloons attached, which organisers said signified the “real people” who had been taken.
Organiser Noy Miran said the Israeli hostages had now been held for 38 days, and “this message isn’t out there enough”.
“People don’t speak about the human lives that are out there. There are people with cancer that can’t get their treatment,” she said.
“We want the government in Australia to put pressure to bring them back home, which is our main message.”
Deputy Liberal leader Sussan Ley was among the politicians there and called the rally a “powerful representation” of a part of the ongoing conflict that “is not as prominent as it should be”.
Jewish Australians in attendance spoke about how they are “scared to speak Hebrew” or wear their religious garments and have taken to Parliament House to warn that history “might repeat itself”.
Among the crowd of dozens were Jewish Australians who told of their fears of appearing Jewish and said the Palestinian flag “is the new Nazi flag”.
They spoke about how fearful they had become since October 7 and said those concerns had been heightened since a violent clash in Caulfield in Victoria on Friday night.
They asked Australians to stop blaming Israel “for Hamas” and urged them to learn to discern between good and evil.
The vigil came a day after a pro-Palestinian rally was held on the same lawn, where hundreds of protesters called for an end to the “genocide in Gaza” and a “ceasefire now”.
Both demonstrations came after Foreign Minister Penny Wong on Sunday called for Israel and Hamas to both make steps towards a ceasefire.
Senator Wong called on Israel to halt its attacks on Palestinian hospitals amid a climbing death toll, comments that have drawn the ire of the opposition.
Ms Ley said the people she had spoken to at the vigil were explaining to her that a ceasefire “is not the answer”.
“The answer is to destroy a terrorist organisation,” she said.
Ms Miran said Australia’s humanitarian aid to Palestine should have been contingent on signs of life from the hostages.
“They could have said we want to know … give us any sign of life on how they are doing. We don’t know if they are OK,” she said.
Ms Miran said she was “very concerned” by the rise of anti-Semitism in Australia.
“How is Australia letting this happen? Didn’t we learn anything that happened in the Holocaust?” she said.
“This is how it all started. Open the history books … If you don’t act now, history might repeat itself.”
Inside Parliament House later in the day, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese stood by Senator Wong after she raised the prospect of a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.
On Sunday, Senator Wong urged Israel to stop attacks on Gazan hospitals and said “we all want to take the next steps towards a ceasefire, but it cannot be one-sided.”
The comment was quickly seized upon by Opposition Leader Peter Dutton, who called the remarks “reckless”.
According to a spokesperson, Mr Albanese said Mr Dutton had been nothing but “opportunistic” since the crisis began.
No Labor MPs raised any questions about Senator Wong’s remarks in the caucus meeting.
But a question from the crowd was critical of the conduct of the Greens, who are pushing for the government to call for a ceasefire, and accused the minor party of using the conflict to “vote harvest”.
Mr Albanese said claims Australia troops were fighting in Gaza and the government was providing weapons to Israel were untrue.
Mr Albanese told MPs Jewish, Muslim, and Palestinian Australians are really hurting at the moment, and politicians had a responsibility to de-escalate tensions domestically.
He said while the government has been unequivocal in its opposition to the October 7 attacks, there have been “too many” civilian deaths in Gaza.
The Prime Minister also conceded that some Palestinian Australians have felt there has not been enough of a focus on the death toll of civilians in Gaza.
He told the caucus meeting he had been “an advocate for the rights of Palestinians my entire political life”.
Some 11,000 civilians, including more than 4000 children, have died since October 7.
But the impact Australia can have is “limited,” he said.
“The concept Australia is a direct participant is absurd but what we’ve done is conduct ourselves consistently with the humanitarian position,” Mr Albanese said, according to a Labor spokesperson.