The Greens and BDS caught up in Israel’s theatre of the absurd

[Editor’s Note: BDS = Campaign of boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it complies with international law and Palestinian rights]

by Sonja Karkar

Australians for Palestine
1 April 2011

“Extreme” seems to be the catchword of the day as federal politicians from both major parties weigh into the Marrickville saga in the aftermath of the New South Wales elections, egged on by Israel’s apologists.  If it were not so seriously damaging to the good reputation and careers of two very decent and honourable women – defeated Greens candidate for the Marrickville seat Fiona Byrne and Greens Senator-elect to the Federal Parliament, Lee Rhiannon – one would be tempted to laugh at the nonsense being spun out of Israel’s hasbara (propaganda) machine.

Now that the elections are over and Fiona Byrne has lost the race for the seat of Marrickville to a Labor candidate one would have thought that would be the end of the matter, but instead the heat has been turned up and it is Lee Rhiannon who is in the cross-hairs while the barbs of “disgusting”, “reprehensible”, “highly prejudicial”, “deeply troubling”, and of course, “extreme” come at her from all sides.

And for what?  Supporting an ethical policy that seeks human rights for an oppressed people? The Greens have numerous ethical policies that might antagonise certain interest groups, but they are entitled to hold them even if they offend any of our foreign friends. Our system of government allows these issues to be rigorously debated, but putting a gag on debate by deliberately vilifying those who support an issue, is not the Australian way. In Israel itself, there is much heated debate and critical inquiry about Israel’s apartheid policies, although as the far right increasingly dominates the official discourse, that too is diminishing. It seems as though an invisible force controls what can and cannot be said and our government ministers and the opposition are dancing to that tune.  For the watching public, it is yet another instance in a long line of Australian politicians giving unconditional support to Israel while the oppressed indigenous population are ignored.

Tony Abbott, the Federal opposition leader made it clear that his party “rejects any campaign designed to weaken Israel” and called for Ms Rhiannon to be pulled into line while Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd said that his government “did not condone nor support any boycotts or sanctions against the Jewish State.”  The Trade Minister Craig Emerson took a good swipe at Ms Rhiannon, the Greens and BDS when he said “confirmation . . . of this disgusting policy is reprehensible” and praised the Marrickville voters for rejecting this “Greens extremism”.

Perhaps the only positive thing out of all this is that the intensity of the attacks means Israel must be seriously worried about BDS.  Not that BDS represents any security threat to Israel as implied by our foreign minister Kevin Rudd, but rather that it might succeed in forcing Israel to operate within the boundaries of international law, UN resolutions and human rights conventions. While Australia, as a High Contracting Party to the Fourth Geneva Convention, has an obligation to call Israel to account, it has not done so.

There is absolutely nothing in the BDS Call by Palestinian Civil Society of 2005, or the “BDS Charter” as it is referred to by an Israeli embassy spokeswoman, that says “Israel should be just a one-state country”.  In fact, the statement merely says that BDS “should be maintained until Israel meets its obligations to recognise the Palestinian people’s inalienable right to self-determination”.  Neither does it dismiss negotiations, but clearly states that there is no alternative but to call for such non-violent punitive measures since “all forms of international intervention and peace-making have until now failed to convince or force Israel to comply” with its obligations under international law.

How that could be considered an “extreme” policy or one that goes against reconciliation, peace or justice, makes the mind boggle.   But that’s precisely the theatre of the absurd into which Australia has fallen.

The inspiration for that initial call came from the South African struggle against apartheid, a struggle against injustice and oppression. And in case Australians have not heard what eminent South Africans have had to say about Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians through all the fog of misinformation and hysteria, it bears repeating that Archbishop Tutu, Nelson Mandela, former government minister Ronnie Kasrils, former UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights, Professor John Dugard, former head of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), Willie Madisha, and also the current one, Sidumo Diamini have all said that what Israel is doing to the Palestinians is worse than anything that was done in South Africa.  It is apartheid.

A Jewish South African, Denis Goldberg who had been imprisoned for “conspiring to overthrow the apartheid regime” and ended up an exile in Israel through the intercession of top Israeli officials including the Israeli president in 1985, soon saw that both regimes were implementing similar apartheid policies and practices and that Israel was South Africa’s major ally.   He called for a total economic boycott of South Africa and left Israel because he could not live in a country that supported an apartheid regime.  He is not the only Jew or Israeli who has used the term apartheid to describe Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians.

BDS then is neither extreme nor likely to “strengthen the hand of extremists”.  It is Israel’s reactions to BDS that are extreme. When two women have already been subjected to virulent attacks for their support of BDS, one has to wonder how much of this smear campaign is to neutralise the Greens and how much to quash the BDS campaign against Israel for good in Australia.

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