Dep. PM. Silvan Shalom
Dep. PM. Silvan ShalomIsrael news photo

Guests at an event that featured the two second-highest officials in Australia and Israel as keynote speakers were forced to use a side entrance to attend the gathering due to a pro-Palestinian Authority riot blocking the main entrance at the venue in Melbourne on Sunday.

The gathering, a joint Australia-Israel Leadership Forum being held at the Park Hyatt Hotel in East Melbourne, featured speeches by Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom and Australian Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

But the event also became the scene of a violent demonstration that forced guests to enter through a side door, while police were forced to spray a mob of screaming rioters at the front of the hotel with pepper spray in order to push them back.

They said it was going to be peaceful and in the end they've forced the issue and we've had to force them back.

The pro-Arab protestors, who continued to try to force their way into the lobby, waved placards and pounded on the door, shouting "Free Palestine!" and various epithets. Three rioters managed to break through the line of police officers and forced their way in to the foyer, where according to Australian media, "punches were thrown and [they] were wrestled to the ground." 

Police mounted on horseback were also brought in to force back the mob, which was estimated at approximately 200 and reportedly included women and children.

Police said they were dismayed that the demonstrators had not kept their word to maintain order. "We're disappointed that the protestors broke their agreement," Sergeant Steve Burke told the Australia Network News (ANN). "They said it was going to be peaceful and in the end they've forced the issue and we've had to force them back."

Three protestors were arrested in the melee and later released on their own recognizance.

At the event, Australian Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard met with Israel's Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom and others, including MKs Avi Dichter, Nachman Shai and Ronit Tirosh (all members of Kadima), Daniel Ben-Simon (Labor) and Danny Danon who also is World Likud chairman.

Gillard expressed her country's firm support for the Jewish State, but made no specific mention of the chaos outside the hotel. "Australia's support for Israel remains strong and remains bipartisan in this country," she asserted.

One of the protestors, Hisham Moustafa, told ANN the demonstrators were trying to send a message to the Australian deputy prime minister. "I don't think she would be supporting Hamas coming to Australia," Moustafa said. "So we expect more from our representatives, and we think that Julia Gillard, by entertaining the Israeli politicians at the moment, sends a message that the Palestinian people are just being forgotten by Australia."

Another demonstrator, Michael Shaik, said his group -- the Australians for Palestine -- was outraged by the "hosting of an Israeli delegation at a time when Israel is coming under huge pressure from the rest of the international community to investigate war crime charges regarding its conduct in Gaza and to freeze settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem."

Similar demonstrations have dogged the heels of the Israeli delegation since Wednesday night, when Deputy Prime Minister Shalom met with Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in Sydney.

Protestors called on Australia's leaders to cut ties with Israel, which they referred to as an "apartheid state" and shouted for Jerusalem to lift the naval blockade on the Hamas terrorist-ruled Gaza region. Ignoring the protestors, Rudd called for strengthening ties with Israel, as did Gillard on Sunday.