Members of a Pro-Palestine encampment at the University of Melbourne
Anthony Albanese says social cohesion is being frayed over the conflict in the Middle East. Image by Joel Carrett/AAP PHOTOS
  • politics

Israel warned of ‘grave concerns’ as PM calls for unity

Andrew Brown May 6, 2024

Anthony Albanese is concerned about rising tensions on university campuses as student protesters clash over war in the Middle East and the foreign minister warns Israel against another ground invasion in Gaza.

Pro-Palestinian encampments have been set up at several universities following protests in the US, calling for tertiary institutions to divest funds from Israel and for a ceasefire in Gaza.

Tensions have heightened following the arrival of Israeli supporters near the sites.

“Social cohesion is being frayed at the moment, I’m very concerned at what we’ve seen,” the prime minister told reporters on Monday.

“There has been a rise in anti-Semitism, there has been a rise in Islamophobia.

“We need to make sure people in positions of authority use that authority to not promote division but to promote social cohesion.”

The pro-Palestine encampment at the University of Sydney.
 A pro-Palestine encampment at the University of Sydney. Image by Dean Lewins/AAP PHOTOS 

The university protests centre on Israel’s war on Gaza.

Hamas, considered a terrorist organisation by the federal government, attacked Israel on October 7, killing an estimated 1200 people and taking more than 250 hostages. 

In response, the Israeli military has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians and injured at least 77,000 others, according to the local health ministry.

The Israeli military has begun evacuating civilians in parts of Rafah before a planned ground invasion.

More than one million Palestinians are sheltering there after evacuating other parts of Gaza.

Foreign Minister Penny Wong said Australia had made it clear Israel “should not go down this path”.

“Australia is gravely concerned by the prospect of a major Israeli ground offensive into Rafah,” Senator Wong said.

“Australia, the G7 and so many countries have called on the Netanyahu government to change course.”

Members of the Jewish community gathered outside Melbourne uni.
 Members of the Jewish community gathered outside the University of Melbourne last week. Image by Joel Carrett/AAP PHOTOS 

Federal Education Minister Jason Clare has received reports of students afraid to attend campuses.

“If people feel afraid to go to university then that’s intolerable,” he said.

There would always be a place for protests in a democratic society, Mr Clare said. 

“What there’s no place for though is hate or violence or prejudice or discrimination, and certainly no place for anti‑Semitism or Islamophobia.”

Mr Clare repeated calls to lower the temperature of debate about the conflict.

“What’s happening on the other side of the world is trying to pull our country apart,” he said.

“We’ve got to work together – whether it’s politicians or religious leaders or community leaders, whether it’s the media or student representatives – to work to keep our country together, not let it get pulled apart.”

Opposition spokeswoman Sarah Henderson called for hate speech to be banned on university campuses, saying the government was not doing enough to stamp it out.

“The level of hate speech, intimidation and harassment against Jewish students and staff and visitors on university campuses is absolutely appalling,” she said.

“The encampments must go, the codes of conduct must be enforced.”

University vice-chancellors have rejected calls for police to break up the protests.