3 July 2024

'Un-Australian and un-Wagga-like': McCormack tells pro-Palestine campaigner to mind his language

| Chris Roe
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Michael McCormack has labelled a Wagga poster campaign 'anti-Semitic'.

Michael McCormack has labelled a Wagga poster campaign ‘anti-Semitic’. Photo: Supplied.

The Federal Member for Riverina, Michael McCormack has clapped back at local political provocateur Michael Agzarian following a sustained anti-Israel campaign in the window of his prominent Fitzmaurice Street shopfront.

“The provocative display of anti-Semitic commentary on the Middle East conflict in a #WaggaWagga shop front is a flagrant disregard of community standards. Freedom of speech comes with an inherent responsibility and duty of care for the community,” he wrote on social media late on Monday night (1 July).

While he did not name Mr Agzarian or his design business Advision, the post was accompanied by a photo of a poster in the shop window depicting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with the heading and the conclusion of the line “Netanyahu is a …” blacked out.

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The uncensored version of the poster uses a four-letter expletive (c—) and labels the Israeli Prime Minister a “war criminal”.

“It is disgracefully un-Australian and un-Wagga-like and this kind of morally repugnant language does not belong in a publicly facing shop front where children can read it … or anyone else anywhere for that matter,” Mr McCormack declared in a media release.

“Everyone bears a responsibility to hold our society to a high level to maintain the lifestyle that, evidently, some in our community take for granted.

“Protest and vouch for what you think is right – it is a fundamental right – but please do so in a respectful way that does not cause further rifts in what is a predominantly peaceful community.”

In response to the Member for the Riverina’s complaint, Mr Agzarian sighed and said that he had “missed the point”.

“To be honest, if he’s offended by four letters, then he’s obviously not seen the bloodshed in Israel, in Gaza,” he said.

“It seems he’s quite happy to see thousands of children being massacred and killed, but he gets worked up about four letters in a poster.”

Michael Agzarian and some of the posters that have been displayed in his window. Photo: Advision.

He also rejected Mr McCormack’s claim that the protest is “anti-Semitic”, clarifying that his statements are not anti-Jewish but are instead directed at the state of Israel and its controversial Prime Minister.

Mr Agzarian has a long history of leading provocative political campaigns through art, and posters dating back to the last federal election can still be seen on bins around Wagga featuring Mr McCormack.

Since the war broke out in Gaza following the 7 October Hamas terror attacks on Israel, his shop front has displayed a rotating lineup of posters.

They range from calls for an end to the conflict, a ceasefire and freedom for Palestine to condemnation of Israel and Netanyahu.

The posters have attracted a string of complaints to police and council, but Mr Agzarian maintains that they are intended to provoke a response and to confront the public with the greater offence of the ongoing bloodshed.

According to figures from the United Nations, more than 35,000 Palestinians have been killed with hundreds of thousands more injured in the war.

The Hamas attacks killed more than one thousand Israelis with dozens of hostages still being held in Gaza and more than 300 IDF troops have been killed since the invasion.

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While Mr McCormack told Region that he was “upset by the deaths of children in Gaza” and “the death of children in Israel”, he said that “we’re not going to solve the Middle East situation from Fitzmaurice Street” and that public decorum should be maintained in the discussion.

“I’m a big believer in free speech, I used to edit the newspaper after all and I’ve served in the parliament for nearly 14 years, but I think definitely with freedom of speech comes responsibility, and I think you have to exercise judgement,” he said.

“I’ve had complaints from parents with children and I don’t think young people need to be exposed to that sort of thing so blatantly and so flagrantly.

“I don’t believe he’s exercising good judgement by putting that word on in his window.”

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If the worst thing that happens to our kids is seeing a rude word on a sign on private property, then we truly are fortunate, privileged people. The children of Gaza are facing horrors beyond belief and McCormack is out here clutching his pearls at a rude word. Meanwhile, the Nats passed a motion at their AGM to officially stand with Israel and were thanked publicly by the AJA – the group responsible for doctoring the footage of the Oct 9 protests in Sydney – and then has the gall to suggest we won’t solve the conflict from Fitzmaurice st, as if he isn’t actively condoning it. Snake.

I agree. That is not anti-semitism, it’s anti-war. Yes, Israel had every right to go after Hamas and destroy them for what they did. However, brutally killing 40,000 civilians, men, women and children is not the way to do it. Perhaps if McCormack had seen war dead and mortally wounded children, he might have had a different viewpoint. Yes, the c..word was poor taste, but it’s on tv often enough, so ban it there too. As for McCormack’s outburst, he’s just another politician.

While I do not agree with Mr Agzarian’s views on many things, who appointed Michael McCormack the arbiter of what is Australian and Wagga like?
Mr McCormack only approves of free speech when he agrees with what is being said.
I could claim it is Un-Australian and non-Wagga like to pretend to stand up for rural workers, shearers and town workers and act friendly to them at election time, yet be a member of a Party that has opposed every pay rise and improvement in working conditions, since its inception as the Country Party.

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