The Jewish community in Bondi, Australia, was shocked after the city council denied the construction of a new synagogue. According to the council, having a synagogue less than a mile from Bondi's famous beaches could pose a terrorist threat to local residents and tourists.
Even more shocking to them was the Land and Environment Court's decision on Wednesday to uphold Bondi's ruling.
According to Jewish leaders, Bondi's decision stripped Jews of their right to freely practice their religion.
“The decision is unprecedented,” Rabbi Yehoram Ulman 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.”
Chief executive Vic Alhadeff of NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, the officially elected representative body for the Jewish community in South Wales, said he hasn't heard of other religions being denied a place of worship because extremist organizations are targeting them.
“It’s a very sad day for Australia if an established community, which needs a house of worship, is refused permission to build it because of fear that others may pose a threat,” Rabbi Ulman said. “This simply shows how we’re all losing our freedoms. Those who want us to be afraid are winning, and this ill-conceived judgment represents a dangerous precedent.”
The synagogue's proposal included a required risk assessment, which had security features built into it, including setback buildings and blast walls. Both the council and the court cited those security measures as a reason for denying the building.
“The proposed development should be refused as the site is not suitable for the proposed synagogue use as the Preliminary Threat and Risk Analysis relied on by the Applicant raises concerns as to the safety and security of future users of the Synagogue, nearby residents, motorists and pedestrians in Wellington Street and the physical measures proposed to deal with the identified threats will have an unacceptable impact on the streetscape and adjoining properties," the ruling stated.
According to the city council, if the design was changed to increase security it would be too unsightly, which would also be unacceptable.
When the proposal was put together, Jewish leaders commissioned a terrorism expert to review the plans. The Friends of Refugees from Eastern Europe, who challenged the council ruling, argued the expert didn't indicate any risk to those passing by.
“It would seem that a more sophisticated risk assessment process could be required for matters such as a potential terrorist threat,” Commissioner Graham Brown, who ruled on the case, said.
Rabbi Ulman said the decision threatened the Jewish religion's future in Australia.
"By pulling the terror threat argument they have shown that they are completely out of touch both with the reality and with needs of their constituency,” Ulman said.