Sonja Karkar, Australians for Palestine, 29 march 2011
Fear and loathing in Marrickville did not end with the elections, even though a much-anticipated Greens win is likely to be trumped by Labor. The smear campaign against the Greens and its candidate Fiona Byrne has done its job, but not without a struggle. Not mentioned in the media is a major 7 per cent swing towards the Greens in the Marrickville seat, a noteworthy effort that under normal circumstances would have been highlighted. Instead, the focus has been on Ms Byrne’s “failure” which is attributed to her support as Mayor of Marrickville Council for the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) resolution against Israel and passed last year.
The newly elected Premier of NSW said that one of the first items on his government’s agenda would be to end “Marrickville Council’s embargo on Israel.” One newspaper wasted no time in describing the municipal council’s ethical decision to boycott Israel for its human rights abuses against Palestinians as a boycott of Jewish businesses, and therefore, “bordering on anti-Semitic”. The insinuation was deliberate. Too bad that BDS only targets businesses that trade with Israel, not Jewish businesses specifically. With such fear mongering, it may be the last time we see BDS raised in a local Council meeting for some time.
The paper further claimed that a senior Liberal had said, “certain powers can be invoked if a council is not behaving appropriately.” This is really extraordinary stuff from a government that has just been voted in to undo the years of damage done by intrigue and corruption under Labor. It should have the people of NSW asking how such concern for Israel has come to override the pressing needs of their state.
Some people have been quick to blame the BDS resolution for the Greens’ loss in Marrickville, but in truth, both Labor and Liberal would have found something else to pin on the Greens if the BDS motion had never been raised.
Forgotten is the fact that the Marrickville Council’s decision to boycott was predicated on the NSW Greens’ official policy on BDS. It is the Greens’ principled stand on numerous issues that has been a thorn in the side of the major parties who are both beholden to the interests of big business.
Enter the Murdoch press and how to kill two birds with one stone. The Greens and BDS in Marrickville provided the perfect opportunity.
BDS has been making headway in Australia and it threatens business interests with Israel as well as the cosy relationship Israel’s apologists have worked so hard to foster with our politicians. BDS motions are increasingly being raised and passed in union meetings, church committees, municipal business and academic agendas. Identifying and defeating them is hard work: far better that they never arise at all. And so, the age-old use of intimidation and fear mongering has been brought into play with the ugly spectre of anti-Semitism guaranteed to shut down debate.
Another detractor is the Reverend Fred Nile of the Christian Democrats who also has weighed in on the whole sordid Marrickville saga by supporting a “Day of Special Support for Israel” to counteract what he says is Fiona Byrne’s “hatemongering” and “anti-Semitic attack on Israel”. These outrageous slurs and innuendoes on a woman who was exercising her right to support a legitimate ethical stance should be dismissed out of hand for the garbage they are. It is a sad state of affairs that the new government will have to rely on this conservative minor party and another in the upper house, to ensure the safe passage of bills.
The gutter tactics used by the Murdoch press, the Israel Lobby and other interest groups smacks of desperation. They should remember how badly it backfired on them in 2003 when their 8-month long savage smear campaign against Palestinian spokesperson Hanan Ashrawi failed to have her disqualified from accepting the Sydney Peace Prize. Despite the same methods we are seeing used now – death threats, character assassination, false accusations of being anti-Semitic, supporters of terrorism, fascists and much more – they did not succeed in closing down the Sydney Peace Foundation nor did they discredit its courageous director, Emeritus Professor Stuart Rees. Australians have always had distaste for hyperbole, hypocrisy and thuggish vilification.
BDS is not going to go away. Israel’s apartheid policies and practices are facts on the ground, institutionalised and written into legislation. The Palestinians have been caught in this matrix of control for decades, and at every turn, denied their legitimate right to resist. The call for BDS by Palestinian civil society is a desperate plea for help from the world outside to stop Israel from violating international law, United Nations resolutions and universally held principals of human rights. A nonviolent and legitimate tactic, BDS is now gathering pace at a much faster rate than the boycott movement against Apartheid South Africa, perhaps due to the lessons learned from that shameful chapter of history when one racial group dominated another and systematically oppressed them while the world watched and profited.
South Africans today are at the forefront of global action against Apartheid Israel. Only last week, the University of Johannesburg decided to cut all financial and academic ties with Israel’s Ben Gurion University because of its “collaboration with military, occupation and apartheid practices”. South Africa’s largest trade union, COSATU has divested from and boycotted Israeli institutions and companies; and South African luminaries like Archbishop Tutu and Nelson Mandela, as well as many other eminent South Africans, have unequivocally said that what Israel is doing is apartheid.
While it is inevitable that some politicians will back pedal here in Australia for fear of losing votes, there is no doubt that Australia will eventually be swept up in the global maelstrom much like what happened during the last days of boycotts against Apartheid South Africa. By then, many more Australians will have turned to the Greens in protest against the sycophantic posturing of Labor and Liberal over Israel, and Marrickville’s stalwart support for BDS will be well and truly vindicated.
Sonja Karkar is the founder of Women for Palestine and a co-founder of Australians for Palestine as well as the editor of its news website. Her articles have been published in Australian and overseas publications. This article was contributed to RamallahOnline by the author. More articles by Sonja Karkar on RamallahOnline can be found here.