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Australia: Murdoch press demonises Greens over support for Palestinian rights

Racist vandalism of Greens’ election campaign billboards, Sydney. Photo: Peter Boyle.

By Samah Sabawi

April 10, 2011 -- Green Left Weekly -- While Palestinian, Israeli and international non-violent protesters who march against Israel’s policies in the Occupied Territories are literally showered in sewage, beaten, arbitrarily arrested and sometimes killed by Israeli forces, the battle against non-violent resistance has taken its own ugly form in Australia.

Supporters of the non-violent global boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement — especially members of the Greens — have been subjected to abuse in a deliberate national campaign of misinformation and slurs orchestrated against them. It has questioned their values and integrity and falsely accused them of anti-Semitism.

The war on BDS is part of a concerted effort to sabotage Palestinian and Israeli non-violent resistance against Israel’s 43-year-old illegal occupation and its 63 years of discrimination against non-Jewish Israeli citizens.

Our political elites here in Australia who profess their love for Israel and who have come out strongly against BDS have yet to offer Palestinians and Israelis any real alternative to alter Israel’s behaviour and to force it to comply with its obligations under international humanitarian law and the Universal Declarations of Human Rights.

Instead they stoop to play the old and abused anti-Semitism card to manipulate the discourse and to silence debate.

Recently, Federal Liberal Party MP Andrew Robb on ABC radio attacked the Greens accusing them of being anti-Semitic. Does Robb believe that all Jews are Israelis? Does he believe that Israel represents all Jews? Does he hold all Jews world wide collectively responsible for the actions of the state of Israel?

Is he telling us that Jews have a political monolithic view and follow one agenda? The idea of lumping all Jews in the world into one category is inherently a racist idea that must be seen for what it is.

The BDS campaign rejects all forms of stereotypes, all forms of discrimination and all forms of racism including the kind Robb has indulged himself with on air.

The call to boycott Israel did not come about because Israel has a Jewish population but because the state of Israel practises discrimination and apartheid policies. When Palestinian civil society initiated the calls for BDS, it could not care less if the state was Jewish, Muslim or Hindu.

The fact that Israel is a state that oppresses the Palestinians, that denies them their rights and colonises them is the reason they have issued this call.

Robb asked the question “what drives BDS?” If he were genuine in his thirst for knowledge, a quick online search would have pointed him to the three demands made by the BDS call.

The first demand is for an end to the systematic discrimination against Palestinians who are citizens of the state of Israel. Surely no Australian political party is against the idea of equality for all citizens of a state.

The second demand calls for the end to Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian land as per United Nations Security Council resolution 242.

This is completely in line with Australia’s stated foreign policy, which views the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as occupied land. Why is that considered extreme?

The third and final demand of the BDS movement calls on Israel to meet its obligations towards Palestinian refugees under international humanitarian law and UN Resolution 194.

How can any of these three demands be considered extreme or anti-Semitic?

Unfortunately, our right-wing press is telling our politicians that BDS is part of a campaign to delegitimise Israel, a state they say is based on the foundation of liberal democracy.

But you cannot have a state that has two sets of laws — one for Jews and one for non-Jews — and call that a liberal democracy. They claim that BDS demonises Jews, but this is incorrect.

Boycotts in South Africa were never put in place to demonise white people but to bring about change to a racist regime. BDS aims to delegitimise Israeli policies of discrimination and oppression and not, as some have claimed, to destroy Israel. The boycotts against South Africa did not destroy that country; they only dismantled its system of apartheid.

The Israeli government recognises the power of the BDS movement. It sees it as a threat to its current policies of discrimination and apartheid. As a result, it is cracking down on internal dissent and is in the process of making it illegal for Israeli citizens to support BDS.

This is not how democracies work. This is hardly the blueprint on which Australia should model itself.

BDS activists, Israelis and Palestinians are fighting an uphill battle in their quest for equality, freedom and civil liberties. Supporters of BDS in the Greens should be congratulated for supporting justice and equality in Palestine/Israel and for endorsing a movement that is rooted in international humanitarian law and the Universal Declarations of Human Rights.

[Samah Sabawi is a Palestinian-Australian writer, playwright, producer, political analyst, commentator and public speaker on human rights. Sabawi is the public advocate of the Australian advocacy group Australians for Palestine. To download the BDS manual visit www.australiansforpalestine.com.]

 

Who’s afraid of the green left?

By Peter Boyle

April 10, 2011 -- Green Left Weekly -- Rupert Murdoch’s The Australian is on the warpath against green and left “extremists”. It began by attacking the NSW Greens for supporting the global boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel's apartheid against Palestinians. The Greens are organised in independent parties in each state, but the Murdoch flagship demanded that Australian Greens leader, federal senator Bob Brown bring its most left-wing branch into line.

Labor Prime Minister Julia Gillard joined the fray, branding the Greens as “extremists who do not share the values of everyday Australians.” Former PMs Bob Hawke (Labor Party), John Howard (Liberal Party) and Kevin Rudd (Labor) were rolled out to attack the Greens. Former NSW Labor premier Bob Carr accused the Greens of being “overtaken by hardline leftist Greens”.

In some wild responses to an ABC Drum website opinion piece by Socialist Alliance Marrickville candidate Pip Hinman defending the Greens’ BDS stance, the Greens were accused of being taken over by the Socialist Alliance. This of course is a lie.

Then the April 2-3 Weekend Australian declared: “Brown puts Greens Left on notice.” It quoted Brown as saying the NSW Greens' BDS position had cost it votes in the March 26 NSW state election.

The attacks continued during the week and on April 8, The Australian quoted former Queensland Greens leader Drew Hutton and Tasmanian Greens co-founder Norm Sanders of having strayed from the party’s environmentalist roots.

According to The Australian, Hutton said there had always been “tension in the Greens between those who come from a Left background, and those who come from a green background.” The article ended with an outrageous quote from Sanders: “Bob and Christine are the only ones who’ve been on the barricades. They’re the only activists in the Greens. I don’t know where the rest come from.”

Why the fuss?

So what has stirred the right-wing hornets’ nest?

Ironically it is the silver (or should we say red-green?) lining to the dark cloud of the landslide Liberal-National Coalition victory in the NSW elections. The right-wing Coalition enjoyed a 13% swing as most angry voters punished the hated and corrupt former Labor state government. However, there was also a smaller but significant gain by progressive parties and independents who campaigned not just on environmental issues but also in opposition to privatisation, in support of workers’ rights and social justice.

The Greens won their first lower house seat in the state (Balmain) and increased their upper house representation from four to five. In addition, the Greens’ statewide vote increased from 9% to 11%.

In the seat of Marrickville, the Greens’ Fiona Byrne came just 700 votes short of knocking off former deputy premier Carmel Tebbutt (and Labor "left faction" member) despite a campaign full of dirty tricks and anti-Green smears.

Byrne was slandered as an "extremist", an anti-Semite and a Nazi-lover because, as Marrickville mayor, she, along with Greens and Labor councillors, had supported a resolution supporting the BDS campaign.

Initially, her attackers bragged that her support for Palestinian rights had cost her the seat. But their triumphalism soured when they realised she nearly won, despite a smear campaign amplified by right-wing radio shock jocks and big capitalist newspapers.

Although earlier polls had predicted a Greens state-wide vote as high as 19%, and only got to 11% on average, the Greens came second in primary votes in 12 seats. They won more than 19% of the primary vote in seven electorates and scored more than 10% in 34 (half of these in traditional Labor seats).

Most of the bigger Greens' votes were in electorates traditionally held by the Coalition parties, but its two highest votes were in Labor strongholds. While the Greens vote was about 5% or less in many western Sydney working-class electorates, there were however significant combined Green and left votes in a couple of working-class electorates.

Green-left support

The total primary vote for candidates to the left of the big parties in Marrickville was 39.01%, In Wollongong it was 39.08% (independent Gordon Bradbery won 29.51% of that) and in Newcastle it was 20.02%. The green-left combined primary vote in Marrickville, Balmain and Wollongong was great than that of the Labor candidate in each of these traditional ALP strongholds. We need to build on these important gains.

An article by Hall Greenland on Crikey.com said the Greens won Balmain because “nearly a third” disregarded Labor’s official how to vote and preferenced the Greens.

Despite the unease from more conservative elements in the Greens, the NSW election result shows a growth in the number of people looking for a left and green political alternative.

This is what has stirred the right-wing hornets’ nest. They are worried about this trend and are trying to shift the Greens to the right or isolate the left inside and outside the Greens.

They are afraid of the people being offered an alternative to the corporate-profits-first and imperialist agenda of the big parties.

This latest torrent of red baiting from the big business media and conservative politicians is a reminder that we live in a sharply class divided society.

A small minority monopolise the wealth in Australia and they use it not just to extract even more wealth by exploiting workers and the country’s resources, but to wield tremendous power.

The Merrill Lynch-Capgemini World Wealth Report, which tracks the fortunes of the world’s richest investors, revealed that the combined wealth of Australia’s "high-net-worth individuals" (who comprise just 0.8% of the Australian population) increased by almost 37% during 2010, from US$379.8 billion ($433.6bn) to US$519.4 bn.

The super rich have become fabulously richer, and they want to keep getting richer. Dare to question any part of their agenda and they set their hounds on you.

[Peter Boyle is national convenor of the Socialist Alliance.]

 

Israel apologists defend the indefensible

By Steve Katsineras

April 3, 2011 -- Green Left Weekly -- Things haven’t been going well for Israel's occupation over the past few years. Numerous Israeli atrocities, such as the invasion and blockade of Gaza and the killings of civilians on the aid flotilla, have made many people aware of the truly oppressive situation facing the occupied Palestinians.

Lately, Israel has hardened its repression against the Palestinians even further in response to the popular revolts breaking out in the surrounding Arab countries and the loss of its ally, the Mubarak regime in Egypt.

The regime in Jordan has also faced protests and disturbances. And the Palestinian territories are seething with discontent.

Then there is the increasingly effective boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel. With all this bad publicity and upheavals Israel is very anxious.

Pro-Israel commentators have had a busy job recently, trying to defend Israel and discredit the BDS campaign. An example of this is an article by Bruce Loudon in The Australian on March 25: “Green foolish to raise apartheid comparison.” The article attacked Fiona Byrne, the mayor of Marrickville and the Greens candidate for Marrickville in the recent NSW state election, for her support of the BDS campaign.

Loudon struggled to show that there are differences between the apartheid regime in South Africa and that in Israel, instead simply ignoring the systemic discrimination against Palestinians.

As a former anti-apartheid activist, from what I have seen and read of Israel, it is entirely appropriate to describe Israel as a colonialist and racist state.

It is also correct to condemn Israel’s actions as akin to those of the apartheid regime in South Africa.

Former leading opponent of apartheid in South Africa and Nobel peace laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu ought to know what he’s talking about. As a black person he lived under apartheid and has stated publicly that Israel practices apartheid against the Palestinians.


So, what is it about the exceptionalism of Israel that it can practice blatant racism and gross human rights abuses and people who would otherwise speak out against these terrible things do not?

 

In fact, they go out of their way to defend Israel. Every time someone dares to criticise Israel, commentators like Loudon write articles condemning those people concerned about the ongoing injustice in Palestine.

These commentators claim Israel is a democracy that only makes some mistakes. Well it’s not democratic or just if you are a Palestinian living under occupation.

These types of opinion articles are a way to distract attention from Israel’s immoral behaviour and to try to discredit people trying to do something worthwhile about it.

The reality is Israel has a sordid history of dispossessing and exiling the Palestinan people from their homeland, through the use of state terrorism and massacres. It continues to occupy and oppress those still in Israel and refuses to allow refugees to return to their homes and land.

Israel deserves harsh criticism, not because it makes “mistakes”, but because it is a state built on the suppression of an entire people.

The Israeli system is deliberately designed to obliterate a nation (Palestine), destroy a people’s culture, history and way of life and crush their legitimate resistance.

Israel practises routine methods of cruel subjugation that deny Palestinians their political, religious and national and human rights.

What these commentators are really saying to those people who care about injustice in the world is that Israel is an exception and beyond reproach. In doing so they are defending the indefensible, because according to them, no matter what Israel does, Israel is blameless.

These commentators are hypocritical by their selective compassion. They are in reality apologists for Israel. They ignore the plight of the Palestinians and excuse Israel’s crimes.

I and many others will continue to speak out and criticise Israel for practising apartheid towards the Palestinians, just as Archbishop Desmond Tutu and many other people have done.

 

Comments

Where are the Arab voices on the BDS coverage?

A few weeks after the start of the Iraq war in 2003, I talked to a senior editor at The Sydney Morning Herald and asked her why there were basically no Iraqi voices in the paper, either for or against the conflict. “I never thought of that”, she replied.

Eight years later, we still barely hear or see any Arabs in the Australian media.

I’ve been thinking about this recently during the created “scandal” by the Murdoch press over the NSW Greens embracing boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel, a grassroots Palestinian-led movement now backed by many groups globally.

There have been dozens of articles in the Australian recently calling the Greens “extremists”, implying the party is anti-Semitic, claiming BDS is akin to genocide, extensively quoting the Labor and Liberal parties (who unsurprisingly both condemn BDS) and the Zionist lobby (who again oppose it).

Today there are two more articles in the paper that only feature anti-BDS and Anglo voices and force Federal Human Services Minister Tanya Plibersek to distance herself from mildly critical comments she made against Israel many years ago.

Former Labor MP Julia Irwin was harassed and abused for simply daring to advocate Palestinian rights, as she told Crikey in 2010.

No dissent must be allowed in the Australian Parliament, uniformity of opinion is central to maintain the illusion of unqualified backing for Israel (despite public support moving in the opposite direction).

It’s comical to read today union leader Paul Howes – whose understanding of the Middle East has come from Zionist sponsored trips to Israel — condemn the Australian unions who support BDS as “divisive” when none of those unions are actually heard in the story.

Greens leader Bob Brown has also condemned BDS, in all likelihood because sees the issue as a risk politically, doesn’t want to take on the Zionist lobby, is not fully across the apartheid conditions suffered by Palestinians under Israeli occupation or isn’t listening to the wide section of the Australian community who have publicly backed BDS (including churches, civil society groups and major unions). Sadly, many of these people have remained publicly silent during the recent onslaught by the Murdoch press, despite being approached for comment.

The media coverage has neglected to mention the reality on the ground in Palestine, including pogroms against Arabs in the West Bank and the rise in Christian fundamentalists wanting to join the IDF and live in illegal colonies.

Palestinians or Arabs have been entirely absent from the discussion. Dissident Jews are nowhere to be found.

For example, the public advocate for Australians for Palestine, Palestinian Samah Sabawi, with a long track record of publishing related articles, has had none of her articles published. Last night’s ABC TV news reported the BDS story and ignored all Arab perspectives.

The Australian, which has led the demonization campaign against the Greens, Fairfax and most of the ABC have either pummelled the issue (in the case of the Murdoch broadsheet, while rejecting counter views) while the others are simply absent from the field. It’s a combination of gutlessness, reliance on the usual (read conservative, pro-Zionist and white) sources and continued refusal to feature the Arab voice.

Then there was yesterday’s story in The Australian and The Daily Telegraph on BDS in Sydney.

Marrickville council decided in December to back BDS and next week a report will be released outlining how the council can implement the policy. Both papers claimed residents of Marrickville would have to pay $4 million as a result of cutting ties with businesses linked to Israel. Mayor Fiona Byrne disputed the figurebut this didn’t stop a long line of critics, including NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell, coming out to slam the proposal.

The council is today being threatened with the sack unless it rescinds the plan.

The official council report simply provided only unrealistic and very expensive options and ignored the founding principles of BDS that any successful campaign must be strategic and achievable rather than heroic. The council must clearly take some responsibility for not better explaining and selling the BDS decision. The most expensive suggestions for boycott in the council report (such as Holden and Hewlett Packard) aren’t even a major focus of the BDS campaign.

Like a local council supporting a boycott of Burma – something pushed by Marrickville in years past – local government can continue to pursue BDS without any cost to the taxpayer. What remains vital is the original commitment to BDS and its support for non-violent resistance to Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine.

Want examples? Sanctions, such as refusing to meet with Israeli mayors (on the rare chance one comes to Marrickville) would cost nothing but have great moral power. Also cultural and sporting boycotts cost nothing and show solidarity with occupied Palestinians.

There are three key lessons from this story. The Murdoch press is determined to obsess over the Greens on almost every day in an attempt to paint the party as a group of disorganised, rabid loons, although internal party divisions over Middle East policy have been exposed.

How was this week’s front-page Australian story about NSW Greens Senator-elect Lee Rhiannon marching at a rally last year with Islamic cleric Taj Din al-Hilali even remotely a relevant story now? The “facts” in the article were known since the event occurred; media coverage at the time revealed all. Yesterday Rhiannon pledged tocontinue pushing BDS.

The Australian Jewish News also refuses to publish any dissenting opinions.

The ever-increasing line of politicians and journalists making their sponsored pilgrimage to the Zionist homeland — this week wasSydney Morning Herald international editor Peter Hartcher, “reporting” from Tel Aviv; he’s a repeat offender, as I wrote in Crikeyin 2009 — furthers throws the coverage into question.

BDS is now a major topic of discussion in the Jewish community and mainstream media in mature democracies, unlike ours.

The Australian media is revealed as a parochial bunch that prefers to mostly give air-time to white men from think-tanks, academia or the press (there are some exceptions). Today the Arab world is alive with new and exciting voices and yet where are the Iraqi, Afghan, Libyan, Egyptian, Tunisian, Palestinian or Syrian voices in our press, in their own voices, not filtered through a Western reporter’s lens?

Antony Loewenstein is an independent journalist and author of My Israel Question and The Blogging Revolution

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