Wentworth independent candidate Allegra Spender has condemned the actions of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and affirmed her support for Israel, amid criticisms of antisemitism that have marred her campaign.
Ms Spender said that although she was not Jewish and had never served as “ambassador to Israel”, she had been a “friend to Israel” and had strong ties to the Jewish community, in a campaign debate co-hosted by the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, NSW Jewish Board of Deputies and Australasian Union of Jewish Students on Sunday night.
The teal independent – who is facing off with Liberal MP Dave Sharma to take the seat of Wentworth which has one of the nation’s largest Jewish populations – has come under criticism for her link to climate activist Blair Palese who has expressed support for BDS on social media.
“Yes, I’ve heard the rumours, and I wish to respond,” she said.
“My family and I have been subjected to some serious and baseless claims. Regardless of what happens in the election, I will continue living in this community and our kids will continue to go to school together. So I want to set the record straight.
“I have been a strong friend of Israel and have quite literally lived around the corner of the many in the Jewish community my entire life.”
Ms Palese was listed as one of the four core members of Wentworth Independents when the group outlined its policy platform and desire for a new federal MP, and has since been involved in developing policy for Ms Spender since she was selected to run.
Ms Palese has shared articles and tweets advocating the boycott of the Sydney Festival over a $20,000 grant from the Israeli embassy for “accepting money from apartheid Israel”.
“Blair was an early supporter of Wentworth Independents. I met her after I decided to run,” Ms Spender said. “She’s an expert in climate issues. so I spoke to her a couple of times about climate change. I did not know her views on BDS and Israel because we never discussed them.”
Ms Spender also confirmed her support for a strong Israel and the two-states solution. “That is why I strongly believe in the existence of a strong Israel which has the right to self-defence while it pursues its two-state solution,” she said.
“That’s why I have come out strongly and repeatedly against BDS, when it presents it around the Sydney Festival.”
Mr Sharma said it was “the easiest thing in the world” to stand in front of the Jewish community and “tell them what they want to hear”. He also said that he had lived through the horror of terror attacks in Israel.
“I’ve lived through this, visited the scene after the terrorist attacks,” he said. “I’ve been to see the injured and wounded in hospital. I’ve been to the funerals of some of those killed.”
Mr Sharma also spoke of the importance of Wentworth in deciding the outcome of the May 21 election. “If Wentworth stays liberal, you’re much more likely to have a Liberal government, but if it’s not liberal you’ll almost certainly get a Labor-Greens government supported by independents,” he said.
“As a former prime minister once famously said, if you change the government you change the country. Well, that’s true.
“You get a different outcome for our economy, you get a different outcome for our national defence, and you’ll also get a different outcome in terms of support for Israel and the Jewish community.”
The debate – which also included Labor MP Matt Thistlethwaite – comes after another day of bitter campaigning in the well-moneyed seat, after Ms Spender’s campaign was accused of mounting corflutes on telephone poles.
And Mr Sharma denied two men reportedly seen tearing down Greens Senate candidate David Shoebridge’s posters were associated with his campaign.