Muslim leader resigns over Premier’s support of Israel

A Muslim community leader has resigned from the state’s peak multicultural board and refuses to answer calls from Premier Peter Malinauskas, saying the state government has chosen one community over another around the bloody conflict in Gaza.

Oct 17, 2023, updated Oct 17, 2023
A rally in Adelaide supporting Palestine during the current conflict. Photo: Facebook

A rally in Adelaide supporting Palestine during the current conflict. Photo: Facebook

Ahmed Zreika said a recent rally in support of Palestine that was held in Adelaide sent sympathy to the Jewish community in a peaceful protest but he felt “disappointed, very upset, very sad” about the state government’s actions.

After the militant Hamas group attacked Israel over a week ago killing more than 1000 civilians and taking hostages, the state government illuminated key Adelaide landmarks in solidarity with Israel.

Since then, Israel has launched retaliatory attacks on Palestinian people in the Gaza strip, dropping thousands of bombs.

Zreika, who is president of the Islamic Society of South Australia, is currently trying to find a South Australian family that had reportedly lost four family members in the violence.

This morning, Malinauskas introduced a motion to Parliament that “acknowledges the devastating loss of Israeli and Palestinian life and that innocent civilians on all sides are suffering as a result of the attacks by Hamas and the subsequent conflict” and showing that “this Parliament stands for peace”.

Zreika said another Adelaide family was trapped in Gaza and he hoped they would be among those able to escape the region after the border between Egypt and Gaza was opened today.

“We condemn all kinds of violence for any civilians regardless of their background or race, but the government has not condemned this on both sides,” he said.

“I sent the Premier a letter and I phoned him to ask him to light up the buildings in the same way… I gave him a chance to light up the flag of Palestine.

“He is the Premier and he has a lot of advisers. If he is brave enough to fix this he can condemn the Israelis in the same way he condemned Hamas and to light up the Palestinian flag to condemn Israelis for killing the children in Gaza.

“Almost 20 years we have been working with the government and the wider community to bridge the gap between both communities but unfortunately the government is breaking those bridges.”

A first Adelaide rally to support Palestine has been held, with another planned for this Sunday, but Zreika said his community group has not yet decided if it will support the event.

Zreika said the South Australian government “reacted very rapidly without thinking about the community here and now they don’t know how to fix the problem”.

He said the local Islamic community was expecting a statement from the Premier but until then “there is no reason for us to talk”.

Zreika was one of 15 members of the South Australian Multicultural Commission that the state government describes as playing “an important role in raising awareness and understanding of multiculturalism and interculturalism in our South Australian community”.

“It draws on the cultural diversity, skills and experience of its members to provide independent advice to the South Australian government about the advancement of multiculturalism,” its website said.

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Among its key roles is to “promote unity, understanding and harmony among all communities”.

Zreika also served on the former South Australian Multicultural and Ethnic Affairs Commission.

The motion introduced by Malinauskas today “unequivocally condemns the attacks on Israel by Hamas, which are the heinous acts of terrorists, and have encompassed the targeting and murder of civilians, including women and children, the taking of hostages, and indiscriminate rocket fire”.

It said the parliament stood with “Israel and recognises its inherent right to defend itself” and also “condemns antisemitism and recognises that generations of Jewish people have been subjected to this hateful prejudice”.

While the motion called for the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages, it also recognised that Hamas does not represent the Palestinian people, nor their legitimate needs and aspirations.

It “acknowledges the devastating loss of Israeli and Palestinian life and that innocent civilians on all sides are suffering as a result of the attacks by Hamas and the subsequent conflict” and “supports justice and freedom for Israelis and Palestinians alike”.

The motion also acknowledged “what has unfolded is deeply distressing for many in the South Australian community, close to the heart of many, and it is important that we maintain respect for each other here at home as people express their views”.

It condemned all forms of hate speech and violent extremist activity, including Antisemitism and Islamophobia.

Opposition Leader David Speirs supported the motion saying “we must turn our minds to the innocent people who are caught up in this” but condemned the act of terrorism on Israel by Hamas.

A short time ago, Malinauskas responded to Zreika’s concerns, telling InDaily that he “had a good working relationship with Ahmed over many years”.

“He’s a good person and represents his community effectively and with integrity,” Malinauskas said.

“I respect his position, but we made a decision to light up buildings and monuments, as other states did, because we’re opposed to terrorism.

“But we also recognise that Hamas does not represent the Palestinian people, and that civilians on both sides of this conflict are suffering.”

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