Actors and doctors talk about building the Palestine campaign at work

February 24, 2024
Details of censorship were outlined at the forum. Photo: Trade Unionists for Palestine

Trade Unionists for Palestine hosted a forum on February 16 which discussed workers’ rights to stand in solidarity with Palestine in their workplaces.

Dr Rita Almohty, Australian and New Zealand Doctors for Palestine, spoke alongside Maryam Chekchok, Teachers and School Staff for Palestine and Violette Ayad, a Palestinian-Lebanese-Australian actor and member of the Media Entertainment Arts Alliance (MEAA).

Almohty reported that doctors were being told not to discuss genocide in their workplaces. She said it was hypocritical because “when it came to the war in Ukraine, we see no shutting down of discourse”.

“Approximately 39 doctors had been reported to the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency. I believe there are only 12 remaining, with the other complaints being dismissed. But AHPRA has still has not addressed the issue of vexatious complaints satisfactorily.”

She said APHRA must undertake anti-Arab, anti-Islamophobia workplace training to all doctors “to make our workplaces a safe place” those who are against the genocide of Palestinians. “The racism and bigotry is unacceptable.”

Chekchok said many teachers have been bullied at work for speaking out about Palestine.

“A teacher’s role is to empower young people and lead by example”, she said, telling the meeting she had been asked by management to “remain neutral”.

“But it isn’t just Palestine we need to be talking about; it is the war in Lebanon and Yemen”, Chekchok said.

She said it was thanks to Teachers for Palestine, organising in Naarm/Melbourne, that science teacher Jason Wong was able to keep his job after being threatened with misconduct.

More than 200 members of Teachers for Palestine across NSW are now organising “Watermelon Wednesdays”, bringing the fruit to school and wearing watermelon clothing.

She said they are asking the teacher’s union to help publicise the Families for Palestine vigil at Anthony Albanese’s office and the weekend rallies.

Ayad said the subject of Palestine is missing in theatres. Creatives for Palestine have been organising for four months, she said, and have found that it is not just the Sydney Theatre Company (STC) which reprimanded actors who wore the keffiyeh.

“The STC wasn’t a bad apple, this is systematic,” Ayad said. “They don’t want to be seen as censoring, but they don’t want to be seen as being in support for Palestine either.”

Three actors wore the keffiyeh for their final bows in a STC production of Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull and were later reprimanded by management.

She said at the same time as this happened, three theatre companies were performing “extremely progressive, anti-colonial and anti-imperialist work”. She was also acting in a play about wars in the Middle East and, when she and two others wore a keffiyeh, they were disciplined.

Ayad said it becomes hard to survive, working contract to contract, if you are blacklisted. “There is also no way of pinpointing if you get blacklisted: These are the ways artists are censored.”

While the MEAA released a support statement and helped with a lawyer, “they could have done a lot more”, she said. 

Creatives for Palestine organised a day of solidarity where workers wore Palestinian colours. Theatre managements tried to stop the action at the STC, citing “safety reasons”, but they were not deterred. “We have had a lot of guidance from the Arab Theatre Studio.”

A motion was passed calling on unions and the ACTU to defend union members rights to show support for Palestine; organise a national day of action for Palestine; campaign to remove all restrictions on the right to strike, including on social justice, against war and imperialism and the fight to free Palestine. Two accepted amendments included support for the Boycott, Divest, Sanctions campaign and to actively build the weekend Palestine rallies also passed.

[Follow Trade Unionists for Palestine here.]

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