Vic Alhadeff apologises over Gaza comments as Mike Baird pledges ‘full confidence’

He may have been fasting on Thursday “out of respect for his Muslim friends”, but Premier Mike Baird would not withdraw support for embattled Community Relations Commission chairman Vic Alhadeff.

Mr Alhadeff, who is also chief executive of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, issued an apology on Thursday for offending Sydney’s Muslim community by defending Israel’s actions in the deadly conflict with Gaza.

Mr Baird said Mr Alhadeff has his “full confidence”.

However, Arab community leader Joseph Wakim said that while he welcomed the statement, Mr Alhadeff was “dragged screaming” to apologise and his community relations role remains untenable.

Mr Alhadeff’s controversial remarks were contained in an email to the Jewish community two weeks ago.

They appeared to underplay Israel’s contribution to the conflict, in which more than 600 Palestinians and 29 Israelis have now been killed.

In a statement to Fairfax Media, Mr Alhadeff said, “I regret that some took umbrage at the content” of the email.

“I am sorry if the comments in the briefing served inadvertently to offend members of some communities in NSW, because I agree with [Mr Baird] that the role of the CRC … is to work with all faiths and cultures in promoting multiculturalism and harmony,” he said.

Mr Alhadeff said every civilian death was “a tragedy” and he was committed to his role on the Community Relation Commission – a part-time, $35,000-a-year role.

The apology came just hours before Mr Baird was due to host an iftar dinner at NSW Parliament House to mark the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, which Mr Alhadeff is attending.

Arab and Muslim groups intend to boycott the event, saying they will not “break bread” and celebrate interfaith harmony while Mr Alhadeff remains head of the commission.

Labor MP Shaoquett Moselmane, the first Muslim elected to the NSW Parliament, has also pulled out of the event, along with Canterbury Labor councillor Karl Saleh.

Mr Baird on Thursday reiterated his support for Mr Alhadeff, saying “he has apologised and he understands that the role of the CRC is to work with all faiths and cultures”.

A spokesman later said Mr Baird was “fasting today out of respect for his Muslim friends”, adding that Iftar “is an occasion for people to come together to recognise the importance of forgiveness and harmony”.

Mr Baird would not say how many guests have pulled out of the Iftar dinner.

Mr Wakim, a former Victorian Multicultural Affairs Commissioner and founder of the Australian Arabic Council, welcomed the apology.

But he claimed Mr Alhadeff had long been “a mouthpiece for the Israeli government, who many regard as an occupying force. That cannot change with one apology.”

The Australian National Imams Council, which represents Muslim clerics in every state and territory, has also expressed concern over Mr Alhadeff’s “divisive and one-sided comments [that have] incited disharmony and intolerance.”

The council called on Mr Alhadeff to be sacked.

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