Sheik Taj Din al-Hilali accuses Israel of atrocities

The following story by Natalie O’Brien appears in today’s Australian newspaper:

Australia’s most outspoken Muslim leader, Sheik Taj Din al-Hilali, has compared the Israeli bombing of Gaza to the Holocaust, sparking outrage among Jewish groups.

Sheik Hilali, the imam of the nation’s biggest mosque at Lakemba, southwest Sydney, lashed out at the Israeli leaders, branding them as “butchers” whose “Zionist racism” was creating another Holocaust.

“When we remember the atrocities of the Holocaust – it seems that what we are seeing is another Holocaust,” Sheik Hilali said yesterday.

“It is not just about numbers of people killed – thousands as opposed to millions – but the atrocity itself, and here we have similar atrocities.”

His comments drew an angry response from NSW Jewish Board of Deputies chief executive Vic Alhadeff.

Mr Alhadeff said comparisons between Israel’s offensive in Gaza and the Holocaust were obscene and historically unsupportable.

“They trivialise the Holocaust and they falsify history,” he said. “The racial hatred and anti-Semitism which Sheikh Hilali has been expressing for 20 years has clearly not dissipated.”

Mr Alhadeff was referring to claims that Sheik Hilali gave an anti-Semitic lecture to a group of Muslim students at the University of Sydney in 1988, in which he was quoted as saying: “The Jews try to control the world through sex, then sexual perversion, then the promotion of espionage, treason and economic hoarding.”

Sheik Hilali was appointed the following year as Mufti of Australia by the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils in what was claimed to be a move designed to prevent him being thrown out of Australia over the comments.

Sheik Hilali hopes to lead a delegation into the Palestinian territory to deliver medical supplies to the wounded and to assess the situation.

The group, being co-ordinated by Melbourne-based group the Popular Committee for Palestine, has invited the attendance of Jewish journalist and the founder of Independent Australian Jewish Voices, Antony Loewenstein, who said yesterday he did not believe Sheik Hilali’s comments were anti-Semitic. Mr Loewenstein said it was important to make the distinction between anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli.

Sheik Hilali is waiting for permission for the delegation to enter Gaza via the Rafa crossing on Egypt’s border, and is planning to take a delivery of hundreds of wheelchairs and three ambulances.

The 15-strong delegation is expected to include five doctors and representatives of several Muslim organisations.

In the wake of the Israel-Lebanon war in 2007, Sheik Hilali travelled to Lebanon to deliver aid.

At the time, he was accused of diverting funds to an Islamic leader with links to Hezbollah. But an Australian Federal Police investigation cleared him of any wrongdoing.

In 2005, Sheik Hilali travelled to Iraq in an effort to help secure the release of Australian hostage Douglas Wood.

Sheik Hilali, who is a member of the Gaza Committee, which has been established by several prominent NSW community members and religious leaders, said he wanted to be able to see where the funds raised by Australians would most help the Palestinian people.

The Gaza Committee, along with other charities, is understood to have raised more than $2.5 million to send to the Palestinians. Sheik Hilali said the money would only be given to registered charities or hospitals, and would not go to any political organisation.

This is truly a non-story. A prominent Muslim leader makes comments against Israel’s war in Gaza, and rather than focusing on the Jewish state’s crimes in the occupied territories, our media obsesses over the “controversial” statements. Being highly critical of Israel isn’t anti-Semitic.

As for my own role, I was merely approached a few week’s ago – along with Independent Australian Jewish Voices co-founder Peter Slezak – about going to Gaza in the near future and little else said was said (would I go, could I go, should I go etc). I believe it’s important to show solidarity with the Palestinian people in Gaza at this time, though whether this is the right project to show such solidarity is another question entirely.