The question of whether or not Greens parties and their candidates should explicitly spruik the Israel BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanctions) campaign does not turn, per se, on whether the right-wing media can use it as to slam Green “extremism”. Nor does it turn on whether the policy is tough to defend. It turns on whether the policy issues consistently from a core worldview and the program it implies. The idea that the Greens should have nothing but environmental politics is absurd — they’re not a lobby group. But it is equally absurd for a party to have a program that becomes little more than an enormous series of causes, bolted on together, until the whole thing falls over sideways.

The ethical core of Green politics is that collectively and democratically, people should have control over those parts of human existence that are intrinsically shared and universal — external nature is the most important of these, but not the only one. The position also dictates a commitment to universal healthcare, to flexible and comprehensive childcare and parental leave, for example — affirming these features of life to be not merely one choice among many, but things — good health, relationship with children — that are, collectively, essential to human flourishing, meaningful existence and the pursuit of happiness.

The theoretical complement to this is an argument that a global society based on open-ended growth, by its very character, cannot fulfil these human needs and desires, and eventually undermines the capacity for life to be lived in a meaningful way. Environmental disasters are the most visible measure of this — the fact that one incident at one Japanese nuclear reactor can undermine any confidence in the basic safety of essential elements of life, such as drinking water, is a good example — but the politics can also ground a broader cultural critique.

The dominant cultural feature of an “autonomous growth” society, for example, is to equate consumption with identity, selfhood and meaning. The result is a society that quickly passes through personal liberation into anomie and atomisation. Social order is then “recouped” through state social and cultural technologies, from CCTVs to, say, therapeutic control and behavioural management exercised by public health psychiatrists.

When you bring those two principles together, two things happen: one, you generate a solid and consistent politics, in which each specific policy expresses the general principle from which it is drawn. Two, it becomes clearer which issues and causes are “intractable”, i.e. those that cannot be drawn back to any core principle within the Green philosophy. Some of these are intractable in principle, others strategic terms.

The Israel BDS movement is one of the latter. A Green philosophy can pretty consistently and clearly state that Israel is, in the last analysis, the result of a colonial process, oppressing an indigenous population, the dispossession occurring within living memory. That event, and the manner in which Israel claims, and gets,  legitimacy and material support for it as an expression of the West, makes it a situation that demands specific attention.

But beyond that observation, there’s no line that is clearly generated. One state, two states, a new Transjordan state, an autonomous Gaza, non-violent resistance, armed struggle? These are fundamentally questions for the people of the region, and to go from support for the Palestinians, in the last analysis, to identifying with particular strategies, tactics and political manoeuvres, is to go from a support consistent with a political philosophy, to a projection into someone else’s politics.

The Israel BDS movement is the best example of that irreducible complexity. Whatever the uses of talking about Israeli apartheid, the situation — a combination of external occupation, blockading and internal discrimination — doesn’t match the South African situation by type. There the boycott was aimed at forcing the regime to include 80% of its populations as full citizens, and to refuse legitimacy to it until it complied. Hence the boycott movement was a key and prominent part of the ANC’s strategy.

In the current situation, the Palestinian Authority cannot support that full refusal of legitimacy, because it has already legitimated Israel as an entity to deal with. That makes it unclear as to exactly what the agency and focus of BDS actually is. Is it the occupation of the West Bank? Is it discrimination against Israeli Arabs? The PA have to a degree washed their hands of the latter as a cause, in pursuit of a solution to the former issue?

The effect of the BDS movement is to define the West Bank as inside and outside Israel, something it should have no involvement in, and something it should take responsibility for. That “calling to account” is always the political import of a boycott, which is why it is not usually applied to campaigns against foreign occupations, and perhaps why the PA is not leading with it, in the manner that the ANC did.

That doesn’t mean there should be no BDS campaign, but it does mean that a party such as the Greens shouldn’t make it a party cause and a party issue. Not out of fear of having the fight with either the right, the Israel lobby, or even with liberal Zionists who would otherwise be Greens supporters, but because it is a strategy that does not articulate a clear principle, and because it does not subsume to a clear first priority campaign by the Palestinian leadership.

Absent of that, the BDS campaign becomes something else, especially when taken on by a party — it becomes an expression of the projection of politics into foreign situations, a process that seems to have as much to do with the need to attach to a stark, visceral, heroic/tragic cause as anything else. The issue of BDS comes up as a legitimate hot issue at, say, a university with Israeli investments, but does Marrickville Council really have a lot of commerce with Israel?

I don’t doubt that the Marrickville Greens have been wholly misrepresented in this matter by the right-wing media, but the very move strikes me as a political error, not because it exposes one to debate and attack, but because the attacks are then over a largely or wholly symbolic and projective political move, rather than a real one.

Surely, the focus of a Greens-controlled council should be connecting the global to the local in terms that relate to the core Greens critique — i.e. that the dominant political culture is undermining the capacity for flourishing human existence, at any level of life. That doesn’t rule out taking a position on international issues at the local level, but to advance what is a de facto foreign policy at the council level, is not to connect the local, but to subsume it to the global — to negate the political character of more mundane matters, such as consumption, waste, bins, etc, as “not really politics”. Steve Jolly, the Yarra city (Richmond, etc) Socialist Party councillor, who has focused on connecting a left politics to genuine local issues — such as exploitation of casual labour, or damage from cheap drugs — once amusedly remarked that the first thing a comrade “from another grouping” do on being elected was to twin Yarra with Gaza. That is exactly the wrong type of global-localism, and it leaves one exposed to political damage not because of the “fearsome” power of the right-wing media, but because it lacks the internal consistency and logic to be robustly and confidently defended and advanced as a principle.

The symbolic nature of such moves ensures that they mirror the right’s overvaluation of Israel as an issue generating political purpose and meaning. That is exactly the wrong approach. Given a global economic collapse, an out-of-control nuclear reactor and a catastrophically warming planet, the Greens should be emphasising the manner in which these separate things are connected by a core common error — that the things we all value will be destroyed by the politics and philosophy espoused by both major parties.

Because ultimately, it is the major parties who are so encumbered with political baggage that they can be made to look ridiculous. The Coalition is committed to free trade and rural subsidies, civil liberties and drug testing for building workers, the battlers and Workchoices. Labor is committed to fighting global warming and growth, family life and security and free trade, high-tech doo-dah and the internet firewall, and so on. Increasingly tormented by the contradictions of their inherited positions, they and their tame pundits are particularly exposed to attack from a consistent political party.

That is perforce true of the Israel issue, in which the lion’s share of the hysteria is on the side of the right. If the object is to support the Palestinians, the best thing that can be done by them is to continue to emphasise that it is the Palestinians who are demanding the respect and recognition due to them as human beings, while it is Israel and its supporters who continue to make themselves the exceptional case — demanding special consideration and rights based on the history of Jewish oppression. As the years have gone by, and the occupation has continued, these claims have taken Zionism away from the stream of general global citizenship, rather than towards it. That accounts for its increasingly bizarre moves — such as the unfathomable decision to respond to the nihilistic and apolitical murder of the Fogel family with an announcement that it would build 500 new settler houses. The move took an act that everyone could agree was an attack on human existence, and instead drew it into the political maw, gave it an equivalency.

Whatever air of defiance they might have thought it would generate, the real effect was itself nihilistic. To the question, what is the life of a Jewish child worth?, the Israeli government had given an answer: 100 houses. It is a more extreme version of other Zionist political kitsch, by which a one-time nationalist movement appears to have dedicated itself to the cause of reghettoisation. Take the recent decision to expel thousands of families — Filipinos and others — who took on guest-worker jobs in Israel during various times when Palestinians were excluded. Many of these families now have children and teenagers, who speak Hebrew as a first language and know no other home. A generous, confident movement would welcome this small number of people as part of an expanded sense of what Israel is — but acknowledging claims other than Jewishness would open up the whole question as who has a claim on the land and why.

Surely the right political move now is to clarify that the special political character of the Palestine/Israel issue does not imply that Israel can claim a morally exceptional status — plucky little nation, doughty little, hum theme from Exodus, etc — and to calmly and relentlessly insist that it isn’t and has to be judged by the common standards of humanity. That as much involves an old anti-imperialist left, focused on Cold War era struggles, weaning itself off political projection, as it does targeting the right’s desperate attachment to Israel — one that not only deforms their attempt to create a rational politics but leaves them increasingly exposed at a time when most Australians are far more willing to think critically about the matter than they were at any time in past decades.