Middle East

Apr 7, 2011

Chewing up the Greens — the Israel boycott backlash

The Greens have been labelled, in media and political discourse, as “extremists” for the NSW arm's position on BDS. But how reasonable and representative is the mainstream debate on this issue, asks Associate Professor Jake Lynch?

Some of the NSW Greens are peeling away, as leaves from a lettuce, from support for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, the people’s campaign launched in response to Israel’s serial violations of international law, and the quiescence of governments. What should they do instead? Reframe the issue. Appearing to ditch principles for expediency would rob the Greens of their USP: the equivalent, in political communication, of Dutch elm disease. They have been labelled, in media and political discourse, as “extremists”. So, turn the tables: put the focus on “mainstream” debate on the Israel-Palestine conflict, here in Australia, and ask just how reasonable and representative it is. How did BDS arise in the first place? There’s a clue in the exhaustive coverage by the Murdoch press over this past week. Of all the thousands of words shovelled over the NSW Greens, one is conspicuous by its absence: "occupation". Israel’s ongoing, illegal occupation of Palestinian territory is the most salient single fact about the conflict. To succeed in making out BDS advocates to be "the problem" requires readers and audiences (in other words, voters) to be bamboozled into ignoring the elephant in the room. That’s only the start of a long list, of course: there’s the ongoing siege of Gaza, which violates the Geneva Conventions forbidding collective punishments; the building of Israel’s illegal "apartheid wall", which bit off yet more Palestinian land, and the well-attested allegations of war crimes in "Operation Cast Lead", the attack on Gaza in 2008-9. Pro-Israel lobbies have predictably crowed over Judge Richard Goldstone’s conciliatory gesture in accepting that one particular incident in which civilians were killed in "Cast Lead" arose out of a mistake rather than an explicit order to target them. But the substantive elements of his report still stand, along with its key findings, that both Hamas and Israel were guilty of indiscriminate fire: "...the conduct of the Israeli armed forces constitute grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention in respect of wilful killings and wilfully causing great suffering to protected persons”. Then foreign minister Stephen Smith criticised the Goldstone Report for paying “insufficient attention to Hamas’ actions prior to the conflict, especially rocket attacks”. The report itself disposed of this canard, clearly identifying a cross-border raid by Israeli commandoes as ending a six-month-old ceasefire, but Smith’s response then is typical of the Canberra line, and it has placed Australia at the extreme pro-Israeli fringe of world political opinion. On November 30, 2010, it was one of a “hard core” of seven countries to oppose a motion at the UN General Assembly, which:
"Reaffirmed the illegality of Israeli actions intended to change the status of Jerusalem …  [and] Reaffirmed [the GA’s] commitment to the two-State solution of Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace and security within recognized borders, the Assembly also stressed the need for Israel to withdraw from Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem."
The only other countries to have voted against this motion were Israel itself, the US and four Pacific micro-states whose votes have, essentially, been bought -- the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru and Palau. Given that President Obama, on behalf of the United States, has called for the blockade on Gaza to be lifted, and identified Israel’s illegal settlements on Palestinian territory as obstacles to peace, Australia arguably takes a more one-sided view of this question than any other major country. This stance by the Australian government is also out of step with Australian public opinion. We are being very poorly represented on this question. An online survey by Research Now of 1021 Australians last year, by Griffith University researchers Eulalia Han and Halim Rane, showed: "The majority (55%) understand the Israel-Palestine conflict to be about ‘Palestinians trying to end Israel’s occupation and form their own state'." The UN General Assembly motion precisely reflects this view -- but Australia opposed it. Earlier, the present prime minister (then deputy PM) Julia Gillard characterised "Operation Cast Lead" as no more than Israel exercising its "right to defend itself". But a separate opinion poll, conducted by the Roy Morgan organisation for the Coalition for Justice and Peace in Palestine, found that more Australians rejected this view, then supported it. BDS is a non-violent campaign, launched in response to appeals from Palestinian civil society, which has seen decades of internationally sponsored "peace initiatives" fail to stem the systematic dispossession and subjugation of the Palestinian people. Opponents should say what they would do instead, to bring about the two-state solution everyone claims to support, on internationally recognised borders. As a peace researcher, I hold no brief for the Greens, or any other political party. But prospects for peace, in general terms, depend on public figures being prepared to act on principle, and stand up to bullying. When people have a chance to understand the issues in the Israel-Palestine conflict, they are more likely to agree that action is needed to oppose Israeli oppression and lawlessness. Where governments refuse to act, the onus passes to a responsible citizenry, to continue to explain the issues, and to take our own action where appropriate, including through local councils and political parties. *Associate Professor Jake Lynch is Director of the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Sydney -- the views expressed are his own

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13 thoughts on “Chewing up the Greens — the Israel boycott backlash

  1. Delerious

    There are so many things a majority of Australian’s feel strongly about but isn’t reflected by our Government. I suppose this explains the disillusionment of the voter when lobby groups have more power over controlling the government opinions. So come to the next election we will again treat the two primary parties with the contempt they deserve.

  2. David Hand

    As a “peace researcher”, who clearly represents yourself as someone knowledgable about the Arab / Israeli conflicts, perhaps you might comment on what Palastinian Authorities should do to help bring about peace in the region. Does Israel have a right to exist, for example?

  3. SBH

    excellent work Jake. only one nit pick this line – “the US and four Pacific micro-states whose votes have, essentially, been bought ” probably should have been “the US and the four other Pacific micro-states whose votes have, essentially, been bought ”

    Australia – into the room of mirrors for a red hot look at your self – your a disgrace.

  4. Flicka

    @David Hand,

    I don’t think the article quibbles with the fundamental question of whether Israel has a ‘right to exist’. Not to put too fine a point on it, but it’s an outdated and irrelevant question (by about 50 years). Of course Israel has a ‘right’ to exist: more saliently, it DOES exist, and makes its existence very much felt. This plaintive cry of whether the international community will agree that Israel has a ‘right’ to exist is supremely frustrating: Israel was created by an international covenant and treaty law. It therefore derides its right to exist from international law. There can hardly be any greater ‘right’ to exist.

    Responding to denial rhetoric by hardline Arab nations about the desire to ‘eradicate Israel’ is as pointless as it is facetious, and presents no useful direction on the relevant questions of what to do about the Israel-Palestine conflict. If you are going to put a pro-Israeli viewpoint, please at least move past the politics of 1967. Which, incidentally, I thought Jake Lynch did very well.

  5. tinman_au

    This is just one more example of how lobby groups have more power over “our” politicians than the Australian people do…

  6. Mike R

    I think the problem is not so much the’ elephant in the room’ but the ‘whale in the room’, i.e., the arrant hypocrisy of those who support a BDS against Israel while studiously ignoring the vast array of human right abuse elsewhere. I assume the good professor must have some minimal awareness of ongoing human right abuses right throughout the Middle-East and elsewhere. For the sake of consistency, I would like to see him display the same amount of enthusiasm for a BDS against China for suppression of human rights and the invasion and annexation of Tibet. There is no shortage of similar examples, for those enthusiastic for a BDS, if they put their minds to it.

    Maybe Australians are less tolerant than most to such obvious displays of hypocrisy. In light of this, it is interesting to see the Greens leadership backing away furiously from support of the BDS as policy.

  7. michaelwholohan1

    @ David Hand
    Not much the Palastinians can do about the OCCUPATION. whats the matter ? Can”t read?

  8. Kevin Herbert

    The by now hysterical on-going repsonse by The Australian over the past 2 weeks I am reliably informed is a clear indication that one K. R Murdoch has personally directed Chris Mitchell to give the Greens a shellacking.

    Murdoch has been intensely lobbied for his support by various of the local ‘Israel no matter the costs’
    push of assorted frock floggers & real estate developers et al.

    The greater the hysteria in the Oz, clearly the greater the impact of the BDS is obviously starting to have both here & globally.

    How sweet it is.

  9. CML

    I have never been able to understand why the Federal Govt (of either persuasion) continues with its blind support for Israel in the face of countless “polls” of the Australian population showing the majority of those surveyed have a very different view. I thought everyone, worldwide, with half a brain knows that Israel is a rogue state.
    Apart from their abominable treatment of the Palestinian people, what other civilised country sends their death squads around the world to assassinate people they don’t like? No hint of arrest, charge, trial – in other words, no justice. And their assassins use passports stolen from the citizens of other nations, INCLUDING AUSTRALIA, in the hope that they won’t be identified as Mossad agents.
    Some friends!! A cynic would say that money, and lots of it, must change hands to buy the support that Israel enjoys, especially in the USA.

  10. David Hand

    The usual abuse. Yawn.
    No point in having a discussion here.
    Carry on in your moral certainty. As the Greens do that, they’ll stay on the fringe of Australian political life.

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