The ABC made the decision to not allow a live studio audience for Monday night’s Q+A program, as panellists engaged in tense discussions over the escalating Israeli-Hamas war.
Host Patricia Kavelas, who made the announcement at the beginning of the episode, acknowledged the “difficult and sensitive discussion” which would take place given the sensitive topic matter.
A “very significant police contingent” was also stationed outside the ABC Melbourne studios.
“We believe in your right to ask questions and that is a right we will always defend. Tonight our panellists will hear your questions through video link as we explore an issue rocking our diaspora Jewish and Arab communities,” she said.
“We will conduct a robust, healthy and respectful debate.”
The panel included Assistant Foreign Affairs Minister Tim Watts, former Australian ambassador to Israel and Dave Sharma, Australia Palestine Advocacy Network head Nasser Mashni, lawyer and national chair of the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council Mark Leibler, and United Nations Special Rapporteur on the occupied Palestinian territories Francesca Albanese.
The discussion was largely civil, but became tense of several occasions as Mr Leibler and Mr Mashni clashed over points including protests being held in Australia.
Protest chant dubbed ‘racist comment’
The panel was also asked if the popular chant heard at pro-Palestine rallies: “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” actually called to “eradicate Israel”.
Mr Leibler said the saying was a “racist comment,” and implied there was “no room for a state of Israel”.
He accused pro-Palestine protests of celebrating violence, however his comments were immediately criticised by Mr Mashni and Ms Albanese.
“This is not something in line with Jewish tradition. What do the Palestinians do? Whether it’s 9/11 or October 7, they hand out lollies and they celebrate when people are hacked to death. I don’t know. It is a fact. It is reality,” he said.
Mr Mashni said Mr Leibler was “besmirching our entire people”.
“We are killed, we’re blamed, we’re smeared,” he said.
“The reality is what we have is 75 years of oppression, 75 years of denial. Palestinians are human beings, too. We have rights like everybody else to live in peace and sanctity.”
Ms Albanese said Mr Mashni’s comments were “inappropriate and disrespectful”.
“Speaking of what Hamas has done – war crimes … I’ve condemned that as such,” he said.
“When it comes to the killing of Palestinians … these are war crimes and to an extent under international law, this may amount to crimes against humanity because so is the intentional starvation and intentional extermination.”
Monday night’s discussion comes as Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong has faced criticism after she called on Israel to “comply and observe international humanitarian law,” in regards to the government’s attack on civilians in the Gaza Strip.
“We know Hamas is a terrorist organisation. It has demonstrated it has no respect for international law, but Australia is a democracy and so too is Israel, and the standards that we seek and accept are higher,” she said on ABC’s Insiders on Sunday.
Mr Watts said that while a “call for humanitarian pause is the necessary first step,” much more needed to be done.
“What we’ve said is there needs to be release of hostages. Hamas needs to stop its rocket attacks on Israel,” he said.
“It needs to stop using civilians in Gaza as human shields and for a durable peace in the region, we need to dismantle Hamas.”
Mr Sharma, who was also the former MP for the federal seat of Wentworth which has a large Jewish population, said Hamas needed to be “ousted from political power”.
“War is a terrible thing, but we have to remember how this began which is the October 7th terrorist attacks,” he said.
“Hamas climbed in through the fence, slaughtered children in their holes. Killed parents in front of their children, raped, abducted, murdered, defiled any number of people.
“You leave them there, there will be further bloodshed, further loss of life and further conflict.”
More to come
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