THE NSW Jewish Board of Deputies (JBOD) has thrown its support behind prominent Muslim community leader Dr Jamal Rifi after he became the target of threats due to his support of the charity Project Rozana.
Rifi is on the board of the organisation, founded by Jewish Australian businessman Ron Finkel, that transports ill Palestinian children to Israel for treatment in addition to facilitating the training of Palestinian doctors at Israeli hospitals.
Rifi, who spoke at the organisation’s Hand in Hand dinner last week, called police after being threatened, attacked online and being called a Zionist collaborator.
The Australian reported on Friday, “In the past two weeks, media outlets backed by the Iranian-aligned Hezbollah have smeared him as an agent of Israel and energised harassment of him in Sydney’s southwest.”
And according to The Daily Telegraph, Muslims who were seen talking to Jewish leaders at NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s Iftar dinner last week have also been threatened.
Rifi told The Australian, “To say that I’m working for the Zionists is like saying I am an enemy to my people … That by itself puts me at a greater risk.”
In an opinion piece in The Australian, he said, “These attacks are neither benign nor instructive but are vicious and debilitating. They have affected me and my family, yet I will not allow them to silence me.”
JBOD president Lesli Berger told The AJN, “The most disturbing aspect of these reported threats is that they are blatant attempts to quash not only positive Jewish-Muslim relationships, but a medical project which provides life-saving treatment to Palestinian children and elevates the health standards of Palestinian society.
“Full credit to Dr Jamal Rifi for not backing away from his involvement in this work and to all who refuse to be cowed by such disgusting intimidation.”
Finkel called the threats “un-Australian and dangerous”.
“The over-arching message our dinner and our mission is we are Australians supporting Israelis and Palestinians building bridges to better understanding through health,” he said.
“We’ve had the privilege of working with a lot of people who define themselves as Palestinian by what they’re trying to build and not what they’re against.”
Of those making the threats, he said, “They have no comprehension of what it means for a mother to be denied the possibility of lifesaving treatment for her innocent child.”
NSW Labor MP Jihad Dib, who is a patron of Project Rozana, told The AJN “this is not about politics, it’s about looking after people”.
“It’s awful that some people will choose something with such good intent and twist it in a way that is far beyond what the intent is,” he said.
“The politics is very complex and certainly people have a political option [but] medical support and training has to transcend everything else.
“People all over the world want to see a resolution to that issue around Israel and Palestine but until that gets resolved, we shouldn’t disengage.”
NSW shadow health minister and NSW Parliamentary Friends of Israel deputy chair Walt Secord said the attacks will “only make the charity stronger and its supporters even more committed to its aims”.
“I attended the event and there was so much goodwill in the room. Both the Israeli Embassy and the Palestinian authority were represented at the event,” Secord said.
“For a single night, hundreds of people came together, putting aside their political differences and uniting in a common cause – trying to reduce the suffering of tiny children needing medical attention.”