Although he applied a month ago, an American journalist and leading advocate of the Palestinian cause has not yet been granted a visa to visit Australia. But whether his visa has been delayed for political purposes or simple bureaucratic realities is unclear.

Ali Abunimah is a co-founder and managing editor of Electronic Intifada, a publication that since 2001 has worked to counter what it sees as pro-Israeli bias in the American media.

Friends of Palestine WA and Socialist Alternative invited Abunimah to participate in a national speaking tour of Australia and to speak at the Marxism 2016 Conference in Melbourne.

According to an email sent by Friends of Palestine WA to Fremantle MP Melissa Parke, Abunimah first applied for a Electronic Travel Authority visa to Australia in early January. According to Immigration’s website, this is a holiday visa and it does not allow the holder to undertake work of any kind. The website suggests those who wish to work in Australia on a non-ongoing basis apply for a Temporary Work (Short Stay Activity) visa (subclass 400), which entitles the holder to “participate in non-ongoing cultural or social activities at the invitation of an Australian organisation”.

Abunimah was told his application for an ETA was “not approved”. On January 29, he applied for a visitor visa through the Australian consulate in Ottawa. He was told the consulate could not proceed with this visa and was told to apply for a Temporary Work visa instead. He did this on February 13 and has received no response to his application. According to the Immigration Department, processing this kind of visa can take about a month, and sometimes more if health or character checks are required.

Friends of Palestine WA’s Nick Everett wrote:

“Upon telephoning the consulate, Mr Abunimah has been advised that his application ‘is being assessed’ and all he could do is ‘wait for communication from the department. No timeframe was offered for the assessment of his application and no guarantee was given he would even get an answer before his expected travel date.

“Mr. Abunimah has no criminal record and was previously granted a visa to travel to Australia in 2008. The Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection website provides no avenue for Mr. Abunimah to appeal an adverse decision or obtain further information on an undetermined application.”

Abunimah is booked to leave for Australia on Friday.

In an interview with New Matilda, Abunimah says he asked, by email, why it was so difficult to get a visa.

“I said ‘You know, I’m really not certain I want to proceed with an application given what appear to be arbitrary and discriminatory procedures, but can you clarify exactly which visa you want me to apply for?’”

He says he was told it wasn’t a case of discrimination, though he still queries why he was being asked to apply for a Temporary Work visa (the aforementioned subclass 400) given he isn’t being paid to appear in Australia (the conferences are paying for his airfares and expenses).

Crikey contacted the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, and was told it “can confirm it is currently assessing a visa application for this individual”.

“Beyond this, the Department cannot provide any further details regarding this ongoing application.”

Abunimah is a key advocate of a one-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. He’s also a supporter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which urges nations and consumers to place economic pressure on Israel as a way to force change (the movement has been decried as anti-Semitic, a charge its proponents have often denied). Abunimah was born in Washington D.C. and now lives in Chicago, where he’s a frequent commentator in the American media.

In a change.org petition calling on Immigration Minister Peter Dutton to grant Abunimah’s visa, Friends of Palestine WA said:

“The denial of an entry visa to enable Mr Abunimah to speak in Australia about the Israeli occupation of Palestine amounts to a denial of his right to freedom of speech.”

The group criticised what it sees as a double standard in granting a visa last month to retired Lieutenant General Benny Gantz, a former chief of staff to the Israel Defense Forces, who it said was in Australia to “fundraise for” and “promote” illegal settlements. It is unknown when Gantz applied for his visa and which visa he applied for.

The Australian Jewish News’ report report of Gantz’ sold-out session doesn’t mention any comments he made on illegal settlements. Gantz has, in the past, been criticised in Israel for overseeing the military at a time when it was providing security for such settlements.

He retired from his position in the Israeli military in 2015. A motion put by the Greens in the Senate about his visit wanted it noted that he “led the IDF through numerous military campaigns, including Operation Protective Edge in Gaza from July to August 2014”. That operation resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Palestinians.

In recent months controversial speakers have been denied visas to speak in Australia. Anti-abortion campaigner Troy Newman was deported after he flew into Australia following his visa cancellation. Musician Chris Brown, who has convictions for domestic violence, had his visa cancelled, and there were (unsuccessful) calls to cancel the visa of Dutch anti-immigration politician Geert Wilders.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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