Award of peace prize to Palestinian activist divides Sydney

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The Independent Online

The Palestinian activist Hanan Ashrawi will address a Sydney audience tonight on the subject of Middle East peace, with the city deeply divided over a decision to award her its prestigious peace prize.

Prominent Australian Jews have deplored the choice of Ms Ashrawi as recipient of a prize that, in the past, has honoured the South African archbishop Desmond Tutu and the former UN human rights commissioner Mary Robinson.

Lucy Turnbull, Sydney's Lord Mayor, has announced she will boycott tomorrow night's ceremony, despite the city being a principal sponsor.

Influential Jews have been lobbying against Ms Ashrawi, provoking claims that a "powerful Jewish lobby" is attempting to intimidate the prize's organisers, the Sydney Peace Foundation. Graffiti stating "Jews the new Nazis" has appeared on pavements in the city.

Mrs Turnbull's critics claim her stance is linked with a campaign waged by her husband, Malcolm, to secure selection in a Sydney parliamentary seat with a large Jewish population. Mr Turnbull, a barrister who defended the former MI5 agent Peter Wright in the Spycatcher case, has dismissed the notion as misogynistic and anti-Semitic.

The Sydney peace prize is awarded annually for "significant contributions to global peace". The choice of Ms Ashrawi, who will deliver the annual City of Sydney peace prize lecture to a sell-out audience tonight, has prompted fierce debate in the media.

Opponents claim Ms Ashrawi rejected the 1993 Oslo peace accords and in effect endorsed the extremist group Hamas by describing it as a political movement. Peter Wertheim, a former president of the New South Wales Board of Jewish Deputies, wrote that "hysterical references to the 'power of the Jewish lobby' are merely crude attempts to deflect attention away from the cold, hard facts of Ashrawi's public record".

John Howard, the Prime Minister and a political opponent of Mr Carr, said a more deserving Palestinian recipient was Abu Mazen, for his attempts to broker peace. He was replaced recently as Prime Minister after a power struggle with Yasser Arafat.