Melbourne’s leading Jewish organisation has received a $500,000 government grant towards “blast proofing” a suburban community centre with a purpose-built security wall, amid heightened terror concerns.
The funding comes as a Melbourne teenager, arrested after counter-terrorism police raided his family’s home on Friday, faces two terrorism-related charges. Police allege the 17-year-old planned to use a homemade explosive device at a public event this week.
The Andrews government announced funding in last week’s budget for security upgrades to the Jewish community’s main building in Melbourne, the Beth Weizmann Community Centre, which will go towards a $1.3 million wall to make the building bomb-resistant.
Owned by the Zionist Council of Victoria, the Jewish centre in Caulfield is home to 25 Jewish organisations and the Lamm Jewish Library of Australia.
Sam Tatarka, chairman of the centre, said the building had been subjected to threats and was recognised by authorities as a high-profile target. He said there was a public responsibility to tackle extremist violence, and the funding was recognition of that.
“The prominence of the building has brought it to the attention of people who are unfriendly towards us and it has been identified on far-right websites as being the ‘home of the Jews’,” he said.
Mr Tatarka, who is also president of the Zionist Council of Victoria, called on the Commonwealth to make up the funding shortfall, saying Jewish facilities in Australia and overseas were a “prominent, vulnerable and long-standing target” of terrorist attacks.
The Jewish community and Israeli interests worldwide have been subject to threats and violence. The Age has previously reported that the Weizmann Centre was identified as the target of a potentially devastating terrorist attack, prompting the community to bolster security at schools, offices and religious buildings.
Mr Tatarka said the Beth Weizmann centre had received hate mail, hoax packages and anti-Semitic vandalism, and also had a problem with intruders trying to get into the building. A number of community groups based at the building had been threatened, he said.
Asked why taxpayers should pay for security upgrades to privately owned cultural and religious buildings, Mr Tatarka said funding should be made available to vulnerable groups.
“It is unreasonable in a multicultural society to expect a particularly vulnerable group of whatever description to have to fend for itself when what we’re facing is a community-wide problem,” he said.
“If we recognise that extremism is a community issue, rather than a particular segment of the community issue, then tackling extremism ought to be a communal responsibility, not a segmented responsibility.”
Premier Daniel Andrews has been lobbying Prime Minister Tony Abbott to match Victoria’s funding to the Beth Weizmann centre in response to security threats. The state’s Multicultural Affairs Minister Robin Scott said the investment would ensure safety and strengthen “social cohesion”.
The state government also announced funding for an Indian cultural precinct in Melbourne and a feasibility study for a Vietnamese community museum.
The federal government in March announced funding over three years for 54 schools at risk of attack or violence stemming from racial or religious intolerance. Jewish schools were the biggest recipients, with 17 institutions sharing in $7.5 million to help with the cost of security guards and CCTV. Fifteen Islamic schools received a total of $4.4 million and 22 government and independent schools shared in $4.6 million.
Treasurer Joe Hockey’s office did not respond to a request for comment about funding for the centre.
Source: The Age