Anti-Semitic Murals in Melbourne Removed After Strong Community Backlash

The controversial artworks, deemed offensive by residents, will be taken down swiftly as the local authorities address concerns.
Anti-Semitic Murals in Melbourne Removed After Strong Community Backlash
A skyline and street scene in Melbourne, Australia, on Oct. 28, 2023. (Susan Mortimer/The Epoch Times)
Isabella Rayner

Murals above shop fronts in Melbourne's inner city suburb of Balaclava will be immediately removed following heavy community backlash.

The local council of Port Phillip funded the mural series on Carlisle Street before the Israeli government formally declared war against the terrorist group Hamas on Oct. 7.

However, artist Michael Porter's work was recently slammed for depicting anti-Semitic stereotypes of Jewish men.

Port Phillip Mayor Heather Cunsolo said the council would remove the portraits over the next few days from Nov. 17.

"We realise that regardless of the artist's intentions, the portraits have distraught and divided members of our community, and for that, we apologise," Ms. Cunsolo said.

"When the council was first made aware that the artist's figures could be interpreted as anti-Semitic, we reached out to several Jewish community leaders for advice ... the current [Israel-Hamas] conflict has understandably heightened sensitivities, and the council has no desire to add to the pain and distress many of our community are already feeling," she said.

She said the removal was about creating an environment where everybody feels welcome.

"These murals have achieved the opposite impact, and we are deeply regretful that that has occurred," she said.

She added processes would be tightened to prevent repeated distress and upset.

"We will be evaluating other art projects to ensure this situation isn't repeated and, where appropriate, discussing work in progress with relevant agencies," she said.

Meanwhile, City of Port Phillip Counsellor Marcus Pearl agreed the mural was very upsetting.

"I've received a number of complaints from members of our community who find this mural deeply offensive ... I was down there today speaking with local traders, and they don't like it either," Mr. Pearl told 3AW radio on Nov. 17.

"It's a very sensitive time at the moment; this [suburb] is the heart of the Melbourne Jewish community, and I was pretty shocked when I saw these murals," he said.

However, he defended Mr. Porter's artistic intentions.

"[Mr. Porter] has said there was no intention to have any political or religious ramifications of the murals."

'It's Disappointing': Leaders Express Their Dismay

Victorian Liberal MP David Southwick, whose electorate of Caulfield includes Balaclava, expressed his dismay in the council.
"When tensions are running high and the Jewish community is feeling vulnerable, it's disappointing that council didn't engage with [locals] before wasting ratepayers' money on something so inflammatory," Mr. Southwick said.

He added ratepayers contacted him, feeling "angry, hurt, and confused" about the mural which "shouldn’t have been commissioned in the first place."

"This was meant to activate an already struggling Carlisle Street, not offend people and turn them away," he said.

Still, he said "we must move forward and not let it divide us."

Meanwhile, Zionism Victoria Executive Director Zeddy Lawrence panned the council's decision to fund the mural.

“Someone somewhere may have made a very poor judgement call as to what would be appropriate to feature on the facades of Carlisle Street,” he said.

He added it was "incredibly unfortunate" the "comically grotesque images ... of monstrous antisemitic caricatures, appear as street art in such a notable Jewish neighbourhood."

Anti-Defamation Commissioner Dvir Abramovich likened the images to 1930s Nazi propaganda, often depicting Jewish people with exaggerated noses.

"I was thinking about holocausts survivors who shop here ... they pain and the grief that they were feeling," he said.

Therefore, he said he hoped the council would recognise they "messed up big time."

"They've insulted, they hurt the community and they have a lot of answers to give us," he said.

Australia Grapples with Escalating Tensions

It comes as Australia has been experiencing increased tension as the Israel-Hamas conflict continues to escalate.
 Members of the Australian Palestinian community hold flags and placards as they participate in a rally in Sydney on Oct. 29, 2023. (David Gray/AFP via Getty Images)
Members of the Australian Palestinian community hold flags and placards as they participate in a rally in Sydney on Oct. 29, 2023. (David Gray/AFP via Getty Images)

Victoria Police statistics show 164 reports of anti-Semitic or Islamophobic incidents had been reported across the state since the Israel-Hamas war started on Oct. 7, that resulted in 1,400 deaths, according to Israeli forces.

"Of those 164 reports, 78 related to Anti-semitic incidents, 16 related to Islamophobic incidents, 40 related to Pro-Palestine, and 5 related to pro-Israeli," a spokesperson said.

Six former prime ministers of Australia, except Paul Keating, issued a rare joint statement in response to the tension.

The former leaders said anti-Semitic hatred was the largest display of tenacious evil.

They said that whatever happens elsewhere, "No complaint or concern about international affairs justifies hate speech against any Australian or any Australian community."

"Our Australian Jewish community, directly affected by the terrible crimes of Hamas, not only has to endure the loss and suffering of their families in Israel but now sees these events being used by some to spread ancient hatreds which have inflicted so much suffering on the Jewish people for thousands of years."

The former leaders said defending Australian values, condemning hate speech, and respecting the diverse Australian people was the path to peace.

Isabella Rayner is a reporter based in Melbourne, Australia. She is an author and editor for WellBeing, WILD, and EatWell Magazines.