Albanese says MP office attack is a major escalation in local tensions over Gaza

Vandals smashing windows and using flammable liquid to set fires at the office of Jewish Labor MP Josh Burns represent a troubling escalation of radical pro-Palestinian activism in Australia,Prime Minister Anthony Albanese says.

Burns said he was worried about the safety of MPs and their staff after his Melbourne inner-city office was targeted at about 3.20am on Wednesday. Police said five people sprayed the St Kilda office with red paint,which has been used across Australia by activiststargeting a group of Labor MPs they regard as too close to Israel.

Vandals have targeted federal MP Josh Burns' office in Melbourne.

Burns held a press conference on Wednesday morning and said police inspectors found flammable chemicals on the office site. Two small fires were lit:one to the left of the office entrance and another outside the street-facing door to apartments on the floor above the office.

The attackers smashed the front windows and entered the office,the inside of which was sprayed with red paint.

Burns said the incident put the lives of the apartment residents at risk and said he was worried about the safety of his Labor colleagues,whose offices have also been targeted,and his staff.

“I’m nervous about someone getting hurt,or worse,” he said,adding that the vandalism was politically motivated. “How is this a peaceful act?”

Police at Josh Burns’ electorate office,which was vandalised overnight.

Police at Josh Burns’ electorate office,which was vandalised overnight.Chris Hopkins

“It didn’t bring about peace in the Middle East. If it did,I would have vandalised my own office.”

“Zionism is fascism” was scrawled on an image of Burns,and horns were drawn on his head. Independent MP Monique Ryan said the image amounted to antisemitism because of the trope of portraying Jews with demonic features.

The prime minister said the attack went further than any previous pro-Palestine attacks.

“This is an escalation of the attacks that we’ve seen. We’ve been talking about this,we’ve got to dial this down,” Albanese said on ABC Radio Melbourne.

“The people who were responsible for this attack should face the full force of the law,it is very distressing for Josh and for his staff. I spoke to Josh this morning,this is a pretty serious attack,windows broken,graffiti everywhere,fire.

“This has got to be seen as an attack on someone who’s a Jewish MP,someone who is running an office that looks after people’s interests.

“It does nothing,it undermines the cause that people purport to represent.”

In parliament earlier this month,Labor and the Coalition accused the Greens of lending support to sections of the pro-Palestinian movement that have blockaded and vandalised MPs’ offices.

Labor pointed to footage of Greens senator Mehreen Faruqi encouraging protests outside of Albanese’s office as proof of the party’s support,but the Greens argued Labor had misled the public to distract from criticism about its response to Israel’s military campaign in Gaza.

Greens leader Adam Bandt condemned the overnight attack on social media. He did not mention antisemitism.

“Violence has no place in our community&vandalism and damage like this are completely unacceptable,” Bandt said. “My thoughts are with Josh Burns,his team,and the local community. They have the right to feel safe.”

Burns has been one of Labor’s most pro-Israel voices. He criticised the Albanese government’s decision to vote for greater rights for Palestine at the United Nations as he fights to stave off a Greens challenge in his progressive electorate which has a large Jewish population.

This masthead reported earlier this week on vandalism at Melbourne University’s Baillieu Library inspired byLions’ Den,a Palestinian militant group that operates in the Israeli-occupied West Bank,and attempts by the Islamist groupHizb ut-Tahrir to infiltrate pro-Palestine protests at universities. It is not suggested that either group had anything to do with the office attack.

Former treasurer Josh Frydenberg,who recently led a Sky News documentary on antisemitism,said political leaders and law enforcement had not done enough to counter violent activism. Nobody has been arrested over a series of attacks on Labor MPs’ offices.

Frydenberg said a “mob” had “free rein since October 7 to act in a violent,hateful and un-Australian manner”.

“It is not just the Jewish community that is under attack its Australia’s social cohesion that is under attack and the very values that underpin it. This is Australia’s fight,” he said.

Executive Council of Australian Jewry co-CEO Alex Ryvchin said he was devastated,describing Burns as one of the most decent people he knew.

“Zionism is the idea that the Jews are a people bound by their history,their culture and traditions and have a right,like all peoples,to choose to live in peace in their own homeland. Josh is proudly Jewish and this is why he was targeted,” Ryvchin said.

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Paul Sakkal is federal political correspondent for The Age and Sydney Morning Herald who previously covered Victorian politics and has won two Walkley awards.

Olivia Ireland is a federal breaking news reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

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