NSW Police have revealed they did not use special powers given to them to crack down on demonstrators as thousands gather at anti-war rallies.
As many as 6000 people gathered in Sydney on Sunday for pro-Palestinian rallies, days after police requested use of “extraordinary powers”.
The provisions would have allowed officers to stop and search demonstrators, but faced pushback from the event organisers and activists.
NSW Police Assistant Commissioner Tony Cooke said more than 100 officers were out in Sydney on Sunday, but did not deploy the powers.
“It wasn’t necessary … Very clearly, based on the evidence of last Monday, there were serious concerns,” Ms Cooke said.
“That was very much on the forefront of our minds, which is why you saw a significant police presence rolled out.
“During the day I did not see it necessary to make the authorisation (to use the special powers)”.”
Mr Cooke said no arrests had been made during Sunday’s rallies, but defended the powers being “appropriated” after last weekend’s rally.
Demonstrators sparked uproar after they were caught on video chanting anti-Semitic slogans outside the Opera House last weekend.
Mr Cooke said that since the event police had had “fruitful” conversations with organisers, who said anti-Semitic ralliers were “not welcome”.
“I must say, discussions with those organising who had raised issues with us late in the week,” Mr Cooke said.
“They were fruitful in that not undertakings but assurances that they had made in relation to behaviours.
“There were people in the crowd that were providing the voice of reason to the members of their own communities .
“That is exactly what we would expect.”
Thousands of Australians turned out at pro-Palestine rallies in Sydney and Melbourne, defying calls for such protests to be called off.
More than 1000 police were deployed at the tense rallies, some of whom have demanded identification from attendees with face coverings.
The large crowds gathered on Sunday in support of Palestinians under siege as Israel prepares for a ground invasion on north Gaza within hours.
Huge crowds were seen at Sydney’s Hyde Park and in front of Melbourne’s State Library, many wearing red, green and white – the Palestinian flag colours.
Protesters in Melbourne were caught lighting flares against the wishes of police.
“From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” the crowds were heard chanting.
One speaker at the protest described the conflict as “disgusting”, condemning Israel’s orders for one million people to evacuate ahead of the ground invasion.
Dozens of police officers were seen moving through the masses of pro-Palestine signs, many calling for a boycott of “apartheid Israel” and to “stop the Palestinian genocide”.
Hundred of attendees packed out Sydney’s Hyde Park, many carrying Palestinian flags and banners calling for ‘Justice for Palestine’.
Speaking about the calls from NSW Premier Chris Minns for organisers to cancel the protest, fellow organiser Josh Lees drew passionate boos and cries of “shame”.
He said pro-Palestinian protesters did not support anti-Jewish sentiment, however he admitted it “did not help” that some attendees at Monday night’s protest began chanting anti-Semitic remarks.
“Anyone who even begins to chant such slogans, everyone around them will tell them to shut up,” he said.
— Olivia Jenkins (@byoliviajenkins) October 15, 2023
“Today, we must be disciplined, we must be very peaceful.”
He also announced another march slated for next Saturday at Sydney’s Town Hall and said organisers had already submitted paperwork to authorise the protest. However he said the result of Sunday’s protest would determine whether the demonstration would be allowed to go ahead.
In between speeches, Mr Lees asked supporters to not attend the demonstration with their faces covered.
Police were seen stopping and asking for the identification of several groups of protesters who attempted to cover their faces.
Officers allowed the groups to continue into the protest after they took off the face coverings.
Towards the end of the rally, one of the organisers lashed some attendees for allegedly making racist remarks.
“I’ve just had about enough with some of the crowd right now,” she said.
“I cannot believe that I am here to say that if I hear anything racist: get out of here!”
“How dare you weaponise the Palestinian struggle for your racist chant, I’ve had it!”
Her anti-racist stance was met with cheers from the audience.
Jewish Australian academic Associate Professor Peter Slezak said there was a large contingency of the Jewish community who denounced the actions of the Israeli government.
“Very many of us here and around the world who are distressed by what Israel has been doing in our name,” he said.
“We must be able to, as many Jews have been saying recently, to grieve and mourn both Palestinian and Israeli deaths.”
However, not everyone was supportive of the protests, with Executive Council of Australian Jewry co-CEO Alex Ryvchin declaring the rallies themselves, peaceful or not, an offence in themselves.
“The Palestinian ‘resistance’ was revealed in the horrors of October 7 and on the steps of the Opera House,” he said.
“The more disciplined among them have simply reverted to chanting in euphemisms calling for Israel’s destruction and the murder of civilians. The fact that these rallies are taking place just days after the deadliest slaughter of Jews for 80 years, says it all.”
Greens Senator Mehreen Faruqi and NSW Greens MP Jenny Leong also both attended the rally on Sunday.
Ms Faruqi said her thoughts were with the people mourning loved ones, and said all civilian deaths should be condemned.
“The truth is this: the atrocities being committed by Israel are war crimes,” she said.
“This is not new. In Gaza, civilians are on the precipice of annihilation.”
She also criticised the NSW government for their stance on the conflict.
“The NSW Police and NSW government have made shameful attempts to stop up from getting together,” she said.
“The truth is my friends, erasure of Palestinian suffering is a longstanding policy for both major parties in Australia.
“This enables Israel, the oppression of Palestinians with impunity and that is an utter disgrace.”
Speaking to the crowd, one Palestine Action Group organiser said there had been a global complicity in enabling Israel’s counter attack against Palestinians on the Gaza Strip.
Between speeches, organisers urged crowds to chant phrases like: “Free, free Palestine, from the river to the sea. Palestine will be free”.
Muslim, Christian and Jewish prayers were delivered during the protest, acknowledging the wide backgrounds of attendees.
Australian Palestinian Fahad Ali delivered an emotional address to the crowd and said Palestinians had a right to “defend ourselves from being slaughtered”.
“We need to be clear for more than ever, more than ever, we need to call for an end to the occupation as a call for the end to the blockade,” he said.
Mr Ali said politicians like Mr Minns had turned a “blind eye” to the struggle of Palestinians.
“My message to politicians is that Palestine will be free and a day of reckoning is coming,” he said.
“You will have to contend with the fact that a genocide was being perpetrated, and you did nothing.”
Sydney woman, Sereen Omran, 23 said there had been a lot of misrepresentation of Palestinians who have suffered a history of genocide and displacement.
Ms Omran, whose mother is a Palestinian refugee, said today’s demonstration was important for the community to show a united front.
“What we want to do specifically today is to showcase we’re fighting for human rights. We want to recognise Israel should be condemned for the violence they’re playing out in Gaza and on Palestine in general.”
Sundays protest in Sydney went ahead despite calls for the rallies to be cancelled amid high tensions over the conflict, with NSW Premier Chris Minns and police urging Sydneysiders not to attend after anti-Semitic chants were heard at a previous rally.
Mr Minns had a grim warning for Sydneysiders if the scenes at the protest on Monday were repeated on the weekend.
“That would be ruinous for Sydney‘s sense of cohesion, our multicultural, multi-faith community, we couldn’t have those scenes again and police have got every right to protect and ensure that those scenes aren’t repeated over the weekend,” he said.
NSW Police were given the option of using “extraordinary powers” such as searching protesters without reason and demanding they identify themselves on request.
“We intend to search people that we believe are likely to protest or have shown an interest in protesting, based on the fact that weapons and flares, the experiences of Monday night,” acting commissioner David Hudson said earlier in the week.
Group organisers put a list of demands on attendees in an attempt to avoid violence or anti-Semitism, including banning the use of flares, anti-Semitic chants and face coverings for non-religious purposes.
“We will not tolerate any person bringing flags or any items associated with Hezbollah or Hamas or any other item associated with designated terrorist organisations,” the group said in its list of requirements for protesters
“Having these flags in your possession is a criminal offence. You will be removed from the rally.”
Palestine Action Group also warned about inflammatory conduct from police and counter-protesters.
“There may be counter-protesters that show up at the rally with Israeli flags to provoke us. Do not under any circumstances approach them,” they wrote.
“We ask that you do not provoke police on the day, even if their conduct is inflammatory. This can lead to a quick escalation of violence that will put all protesters at risk.”
Police in Adelaide provided an escort for a march as part of a similar protest on Sunday afternoon.
In a statement, officers said they were “pleased with the conduct of the crowd, who behaved in a safe, orderly and lawful manner”.
“There were no reports or arrests made.”
Peaceful protests were also seen in Brisbane, Canberra and Perth on Friday night.