The coalition continues to call for the immediate and safe release of all hostages. Last week we were reminded on a very personal level exactly why this must be our position. At a meeting of the Parliamentary Friends of Israel, mothers, uncles and friends who had made the long journey from their homes in Israel to share their stories told us about their loved ones.
Senator DEAN SMITH (Western Australia) (20:05): I rise once again to stress my support for the innocent Israelis illegally being held hostage by Hamas, my sympathy for those who have been brutally killed and my solidarity for the families and friends who remain. Grieving and uncertain, they find themselves in an unimaginable nightmare of a situation, and it is very far from over. Nearly two months after 7 October, and with a truce between Hamas and Israel having begun and ended, there remain more than 100 hostages. Some are elderly, some are highly vulnerable, and all are entirely innocent.
The coalition continues to call for the immediate and safe release of all hostages. Last week we were reminded on a very personal level exactly why this must be our position. At a meeting of the Parliamentary Friends of Israel, mothers, uncles and friends who had made the long journey from their homes in Israel to share their stories told us about their loved ones. Some are confirmed dead. Some remain unaccounted for. Many were or are young, with what should be promising futures ahead. Our Israeli guests held nothing back, right down to sharing their harrowing text message conversations as the conflict and hostage taking began. Their own bravery was matched by that of their loved ones.
Later I joined them and a large crowd, including the Israeli ambassador and my colleague the shadow foreign affairs minister, Simon Birmingham, on the lawn in front of Parliament House for a Bring Them Home rally. Behind them the cardboard silhouettes of men, women and children of all ages formed a striking, very sobering background. These are the people their families, friends and communities desperately want home. They have a right to be, without delay.
It was one of a number of Bring Them Home rallies I’ve attended in support of this critical cause, including in Perth in my home state of Western Australia. There I stood alongside and addressed members of our very valued Jewish community, which has always made and continues to make a remarkable contribution to the life of the city and the state. They do so in an environment of total respect and safety. This cannot be stressed enough.
The impact of this conflict reaches far beyond Gaza, Israel and the Middle East. It is taking a horrific toll on many in the suburbs of Perth in my home state and in the Jewish communities across our country. We’ve seen appalling scenes in Sydney, Melbourne and elsewhere. Not only are they concerned for the wellbeing of family and friends in Israel but they are being subject to a growing tide of antisemitism. It is frightening, unacceptable and un-Australian. Jewish communities are not feeling safe in our cities, and we must take immediate action to ensure that they do.
I’d like to share some frank concerns shared with me by my friend Mr Steve Lieblich, who is also Vice President of the Jewish Community Council of Western Australia. Referring to the reports of anti-Israel agitators storming the Melbourne hotel of a group of Israeli delegates whose families and friends were killed or taken hostage, resulting in them being forced to hide, he said:
Our community is alarmed and frightened. We’re living in a nightmare … can’t believe that this can happen in Australia.
And he pleads that the Australian government ‘will urgently and without delay act to make sure that such hateful, invasive intimidation is unequivocally banned and that Jews can feel safe in Australia’.
I join colleagues in this place and the thousands, even millions, of Australians who are condemning the antisemitism that has forced leaders to send desperate messages like this one to their parliamentary representatives. I will continue to do everything I can to support them at this most difficult of times. Of course, I will continue to pray for the immediate safe release of the hostages and those who wait for them, all of whom have done nothing to deserve the situation in which they now find themselves.