Below is an address to Marrickville Council meeting on BDS by Dr. Peter Slezak, associate professor in history and philosophy at the University of New South Wales, arguing against a motion on April 19 to rescind the council’s support for the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel.
Not long ago, moral opposition to the Vietnam War and opposition to our complicity in the crimes in East Timor received the same denunciation we witness now against Marrickville council.
Why would you abandon a largely symbolic policy of ethical investment and spending just because the usual suspects — Murdoch press, the government and the Israel lobby — give you a hard time?
This extraordinary campaign of vilification of Mayor Fiona Byrne and Marrickville councillors means that you are doing something right — and something important.
Since the real effect of a council BDS is not going to bring down the state of Israel, it’s important to understand what is perceived to be the threat that has unleashed this orchestrated campaign of denigration and abuse. It’s the threat of a good example.
This is the example of decent people taking a stand for justice, human rights and international law — through peaceful means — by exercising their choice of where to invest and spend their money.
This is not engaging in foreign affairs or bringing distant conflict to Australia, as critics keep repeating. It is acting locally to raise consciousness and to put pressure on our federal government. That’s what decent citizens do.
The point was made elegantly in a letter to the Sydney Morning Herald: “Of course Marrickville council should not be boycotting Israel. The federal government should be.”
If a protest for justice and human rights is supposed to bring foreign affairs into local communities, what are we to say about the many Zionist organisations such as the Jewish National Fund that send immense funds to the state of Israel in support of its discriminatory policies, the expropriation of Palestinian land, its military occupation and siege of Gaza?
In a different sense, however, the issue has, indeed, become more than a local matter. Letters of support show that the whole world is watching Marrickville to see whether it has the courage and the decency to withstand the predictable bullying from the predictable sources.
Marrickville Council has taken a lead and set a moral example. What is “nuts” about that — to quote foreign minister Kevin Rudd? What is “extremist” about that — to quote [Australian journalist] Greg Sheridan? And what term is appropriate for those who support the crimes of the state of Israel?
A 40-year, brutal military occupation, half a million illegal settlers, the theft of Palestinian land, the illegal separation wall on Palestinian land, thousands of home demolitions, regular shooting of unarmed non-violent demonstrators, and the collective punishment of Gaza in violation of international law.
Who are the extremists? Those who support all this or those who support justice and human rights through peaceful BDS protest?
You have the opportunity tonight in the eyes of the world to remain principled and resolute, or to look foolish and cowardly. If you rescind the BDS policy, you will lose the respect of those you have inspired here and around the world, but you will get no thanks, just contempt, from your detractors.
Councillors who opposed the original BDS resolution should now stand up for it in the face of the vicious attacks.
It’s not just a question of BDS, but also a question of the kind of society we should tolerate. To cave in to the intimidation would prove that vilification and bullying can silence moral protest.
Crucially, you must not tolerate, or be silenced by, the disgraceful charge of anti-Semitism levelled at decent people who criticize the state of Israel.
I speak as a Jew whose parents survived the Holocaust. My mother and grandmother were in Auschwitz.
Jews have a special obligation in this case to stand up for the victims of oppression and against violence committed in their name. That’s exactly why growing numbers of Jews here and around the world are speaking out in support of Palestinians.
With these Jews and so many others, Marrickville council should have the courage to uphold its stand, which is decent and just.
Resist the denigration so that your example can inspire others to help make a difference. Don’t let your fellow citizens down and, above all, don’t let the Palestinians down by abandoning or weakening your exemplary BDS campaign.