Members of Sydney’s Jewish community have been left stunned after they were refused permission to build a new synagogue – over terror and security fears.
Plans for the new shul in the Bondi area were rejected by local councillors after a risk assessment, including consultation with a counter-terror expert.
The Friends of Refugees of Eastern Europe (Free) group had hoped to demolish tennis courts and construct the synagogue.
Rabbi Yehoram Ulman, Free spokesman, told media that the court’s refusal, based on concerns about security, came as a shock to the Jewish community.
“The decision is unprecedented. Its implications are enormous. It basically implies that no Jewish organisation should be allowed to exist in residential areas,” he said.
“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.”
Sydney’s Waverley Council had previously refused the development application for reasons including that the site was “unsuitable for a synagogue because of the potential risk to users and other members of the general public”.
But it also issued the following statement: "The Waverley community is enriched by our diverse faiths and places of worship including our synagogues. Waverley Council has a strong history of partnerships with the Jewish community and will continue to work closely with the Jewish community and Jewish organisations.”
Free lodged the original planning application last year and chose to seek a ruling from the Land and Environment Court. As part of the application, Free submitted a risk analysis prepared by a counter-terrorism consultant.
It outlined in some detail a range of risks and threats to the synagogue, its attendees and also to neighbouring properties and passers-by.
The Waverley authority has a number of Jewish councillors and said the site chosen by Free could still be used for a synagogue in the future, if the security concerns were fully addressed.
Leon Goltsman, one of the Jewish councillors, told the JC: “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.”