In Bondi, Australia, the Jewish community was more than just astounded by the the city council’s decision to ban the construction of a new synagogue. They were dumbfounded, because according to the council’s report, placing a synagogue less than a mile from Bondi’s famous beaches could potentially pose a terrorist threat to local residents and tourists. To add even more to the shock factor was to the Land and Environment Court’s decision to uphold Bondi’s ruling on Wednesday.
The synagogue’s proposal included a required risk assessment test involving built-in security features, setback buildings, and blast walls. However, both the council and the court cited those security measures as a reason for denying the building in their ruling:
“The proposed development should be refused as the site is not suitable for the proposed synagogue use as the Preliminary Threat and Risk Analysis relied on by the Applicant raises concerns as to the safety and security of future users of the Synagogue, nearby residents, motorists and pedestrians in Wellington Street and the physical measures proposed to deal with the identified threats will have an unacceptable impact on the streetscape and adjoining properties.”
The city council adds that if the design was changed to increase security, it would be too unsightly, which in their eyes would also be unacceptable.
Jewish leaders are outraged to say the least, and many believe Bondi’s decision stripped Jews of their right to freely practice their religion without retaliation. Australian Rabbi Yehoram Ulman released a statement on the matter:
“The decision is unprecedented. Its implications are enormous. It basically implies that no Jewish organization should be allowed to exist in residential areas. It stands to stifle Jewish existence and activity in Sydney and indeed, by creating a precedent, the whole of Australia, and by extension rewarding terrorism.”
“It’s a very sad day for Australia if an established community, which needs a house of worship, is refused permission to build it because of fear that others may pose a threat. This simply shows how we’re all losing our freedoms. Those who want us to be afraid are winning, and this ill-conceived judgment represents a dangerous precedent.”
Rabbi Ulman also mentions the decision threatened the Jewish religion’s future in Australia: “By pulling the terror threat argument they have shown that they are completely out of touch both with the reality and with needs of their constituency.”
Chief executive Vic Alhadeff, who is an officially elected representative for the body of the Jewish community in South Wales’s Jewish Board of Deputies, states he hasn’t heard of other religions being rejected to create a place of worship because extremist organizations are targeting them.
When the proposal was put together, Jewish leaders commissioned a terrorism expert to review the plans and layout of the synagogue. The Friends of Refugees from Eastern Europe, who challenged the council’s ruling on the case, argued the expert didn’t indicate any risk to those passing by.
“It would seem that a more sophisticated risk assessment process could be required for matters such as a potential terrorist threat,” said Commissioner Graham Brown, who ruled on the case.
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