Australian municipality: Don’t blame us for banning synagogue on terror grounds

SYDNEY, Australia (JTA) – A municipal council in a suburb of Australia’s largest city said it was not to blame for a decision to ban the construction of a synagogue because it could become the target of a terrorist attack.

In a statement Friday, the Waverley Council asserted that the decision to reject the synagogue was made by a local land use court, which said the congregation had not addressed the security concerns raised by the congregation in its own development application.

“Waverley Council did not refuse this development application,” it said in a statement Friday. “It was a decision of the Land and Environment Court and confirms that a synagogue is a permitted use at this location.”

The congregation, known as Friends of Refugees of Eastern Europe, or FREE, sought to build a synagogue near the popular Bondi beach. It called the application’s rejection, on the grounds that it posed a “potential risk to users and other members of the general public,” a reward for terrorism.

According to the council, as part of their development application, FREE submitted a risk analysis report prepared by a counter-terrorism consultant. It described a number of potential risks and threats to the synagogue. The council noted that FREE sought a ruling from the Land and Environment Court, which ruled that the potential risks were not sufficiently addressed.

“The Waverley community is enriched by our diverse faiths and places of worship including our synagogues,” the council said in a statement. “Waverley Council has a strong history of partnerships with the Jewish community and will continue to work closely with the Jewish community and Jewish organizations.”

One of Waverley’s three Jewish councillors, Leon Goltsman, told JTA: “The record shows exactly how much this council actually does for the Jewish community, and it’s distressing the way mainstream media is so quick to jump onto a story without first researching the facts.”

Community leaders were nevertheless shocked at the decision.

“The decision is unprecedented,” Rabbi Yehoram Ulman, a spokesman for FREE, told news.com.au. “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.”

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