Soon after Sydney’s Marrickville council announced in December to embrace boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel to force the Jewish to abide by international law — Greens and Labor councillors supported the move — federal Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese entered the debate.
But neither he nor the Murdoch broadsheet saw it relevant to mention a key part of the story; Albanese’s wife, New South Wales deputy premier Carmel Tebbutt, is running in the upcoming election against the Greens mayor of Marrickville and Greens Marrickville candidate Fiona Byrne.
It was the kind of dishonesty all too apparent in this very public debate. Crikey has investigated the story and uncovered a litany of untruths told by the Labor Party, Jewish youth groups, the local Zionist lobby and the NSW Liberal Party against Byrne in a campaign she may well win on the March 26 election.
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Opponents have stooped to using push polling and fake phone surveys to discredit Byrne.
Putting aside the fact that BDS is a non-violent tactic increasingly adopted by civil society groups across the world, including in Australia, in the face of ongoing Zionist colonisation in the West Bank, a key criticism of Marrickville has been the supposed cost of debating and implementing the move. Wild figures have been thrown around.
NSW Liberal MP Chris Hartcher, the shadow special minister of state, issued a press release on March 3 that alleged Marrickville council “has wasted up to $40,000 on this silly, offensive endeavour. That is simply staggering.” He pledged, if his party won government, to use state legislation to stop local councils “wasting ratepayers’ money on this sort of thing”.
Crikey asked Hartcher for the source of his figure and he said that it was “an informed estimate given to us privately by council staff who have been involved in implementing the BDS”.
In fact, Marrickville council haven’t yet enforced BDS with its staff currently writing a report to be released in April on ways the council can implement the policy.
NSW Attorney-General John Hatzistergos tweeted the $40,000 amount in mid-February, letter writers to the Daily Telegraph repeated the number, a Telegraph columnist smeared Greens mayors for daring to care about issues beyond fixing potholes, and the Australian Jewish News simply rehashed Hartcher’s number.
However, there was a slight problem; the figure wasn’t true. Crikey has spoken to a Marrickville councillor and I attended this week’s council meeting to hear from the general manager about the issue. The general manager said that there has been “no expenditure spent on BDS, just a little staff time but it’s impossible to put a figure on it. The local media has made up any figures”.
When Crikey asked Hartcher about Marrickville’s previous embrace of a boycott against Burma, and whether he found this “offensive” as well, he told me that “Australia’s foreign affairs are the responsibility of the federal government, not local councils”.
During the dark days of apartheid South Africa, local, state and federal levels of government eventually took a stand against the regime there and nobody complained. Nor when Burma was targeted for its gross abuses.
The issue here is the perceived democratic nature of the Zionist state, despite its increasingly fascist actions against Arabs and Palestinians. This reality is ignored in the corridors of mainstream power. And the power of the Zionist lobby is legendary in the halls of power.
During Tuesday night’s Marrickville council meeting, when councillors considered an application for a new, local Jewish group to hire a space in the area to host an Australian Rules football team with connections to Israel, several Jewish speakers spoke passionately against Marrickville’s embrace of BDS.
One woman, an Israeli, said that she felt “threatened in my own community” and urged the council to “chose a more positive path” towards backing Middle East peace. Another women, also an Israeli, claimed that BDS was a “festering, infectious wound” and the council had to rescind BDS immediately.
Such comments suggest a fundamental misunderstanding of BDS. The local Zionist lobby has been spreading distortions against the policy, claiming Marrickville was anti-Semitic, anti-Jewish and anti-Israel. They fear the threat of a good example in Marrickville may catch with other councils (a real possibility in NSW and other states, Crikey has heard).
Federal Labor MP Michael Danby damned the BDS motion — he refused to answer questions from Crikey — and I understand that AUJS (the Australian Union of Jewish Students) were behind anti-Greens posters seen during Mardi Gras around Sydney.
One message read, “‘Do the NSW Greens oppose gay rights? By boycotting Israel, the NSW Greens are boycotting the only country in the Middle East where homos-xuality is not a capital offence or even a crime. Choose Freedom — Don’t Vote Greens on 26 March”.
Other signs included: “Do the Greens support terror?” “Do the Greens hate Christians?” “Do the Greens hate gays?”
These messages are condemned by many queer Israeli and Palestinian groups in Israel and Palestine, which accuse Zionist groups and Israel of attempting to normalise the Israeli occupation and anti-Arab discrimination.
Furthermore, anti-Muslim groups in Australia have joined in attacking Marrickville council over BDS and the Jewish establishment apparently has no issue siding with the far-right because the common love is Israel. No Zionist organisation has publicly condemned these anti-Muslim activists. One website calls Fiona Byrne a “Hamas harlot“.
This fits perfectly with the growing trend of Europe’s fascist parties being warmly embraced by Israel’s Zionist mainstream.
Against the backdrop of a vocal and bigoted minority, who demand local councils don’t take sides in the Middle East then back Zionist policies themselves, citizens across the world have backed Marrickville’s BDS decision and signed a petition in great numbers. Crikey has seen a list of signatories and supporting statements and they include key unionists, lawyers, writers and many residents of Marrickville.
Just this week it was announced that security firm G4S will no longer supply gear in occupied Palestinian territory. That’s because of consistent BDS pressure in Denmark.
During the Marrickville council meeting this week, prominent public campaigner Father Dave told the assembled crowd that BDS was essential in enabling justice and “when peace comes to the Middle East, with Jews and Palestinians living together, let us remember that Marrickville council took an early stand, not the political leaders who will take credit”.
*Antony Loewenstein is an independent journalist and author of My Israel Question and The Blogging Revolution.