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Fears for Pillars of Light


Jewish leaders are warning authorities that a failure to protect a major CBD community event will signal to the world that Jews are no longer safe in Victoria.

Members of the Jewish community are fearing an annual Hanukkah event at Fed Square this week, Pillars of Light, will become a target for pro-Palestine protesters as the war in Gaza rolls into its third month.

Prominent community leader Jeremy Leibler is understood to have sent a letter to Police Minister Anthony Carbines this week warning that major disruptions or a cancellation of the event due to security concerns will justify Israel’s recent warning to its citizens about travelling to Australia.

Israel raised its travel warning levels on Monday, advising Jewish travellers to “exercise increased precaution” in several countries, including Australia, France and Germany, due to a spike in anti-Semitic incidents and attempted attacks.

Jewish community leader Jeremy Leibler is understood to have sent a letter to police minister Anthony Carbines flagging his concerns. Picture: Stuart McEvoy.

The test for Victoria Police comes just one week after activists ambushed the loved ones of victims of Hamas’ October 7 massacre at the Crowne Plaza during their visit to Melbourne and one month after a synagogue service was evacuated due to a pro-Palestine rally in Caulfield that turned violent.

A heavy police presence was noted at the event’s opening night on Thursday.

Executive Director at Zionism Victoria Zeddy Lawrence said if the Hanukkah event comes under the threat of being cancelled, members of the community “will be wondering where in Melbourne we are allowed to be Jewish without fear of being moved on”.

“Those who seek to deny the Jewish claim to Israel should know that Hanukkah celebrates the Jewish people defeating the invaders who tried to stop them practising Judaism in their homeland, Israel, 2200 years ago,” he said.

“If Jews are now forced to cancel a festival that celebrates their freedom to practice Judaism it would not just be ironic, it would be tragic.”

Mr Lawrence noted that protesters had already “been allowed to force us out of a synagogue and force us out of a hotel”.

Rabbi Gabi Kaltmann, who runs the annual Hanukkah festival, said it would be a shame if the cultural festival “was disturbed in any way.”

“The event aims to foster cohesion here in our wonderful city,” he said.

“Many in the Jewish community are feeling anxious and stressed about the situation in Israel. But this is a multicultural festival.”

A government spokesperson said Mr Carbines was aware of the concerns but that it was up to Victoria Police to deploy appropriate resources.

“We have heard the concerns from Jewish community leaders and the Minister for Police is in regular conversation with Victoria Police on these matters,” they said.

“The deployment of police resources is a matter for Victoria Police who put the safety of all Victorians as their top priority.”