It was ironic, but only supporters of Palestine were clapping after a majority of Marrickville councillors decided on March 15 in favour of hiring a venue to a newly-formed local Jewish group that is hosting an Australian Rules Peace Team with connections to Israel.
Independent councillor Victor Macri, who had put the motion, did not look at all happy.
The council meeting chambers was packed with supporters of the council’s stand on the global Boycott, Divestment Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel. A smaller number of anti-BDS campaigners were also present, including some sporting pro-Israel paraphernalia.
Members of the Inner West Jewish Community and Friends Peace Alliance (a group formed to campaign against the council’s BDS decision) tried to argue that if the council allowed the booking, it would be contravening its own BDS decision. But this did not wash with the councillors or on the director of community services Gary Moore who was explicitly asked.
Father Dave Smith of the Holy Trinity Church, a supporter of council's BDS stand, made an impassioned speech. He said: “When peace comes to the Middle East, with Jews and Palestinians living together, let us remember that Marrickville council took an early stand, not the political leaders who will take credit.”
This promoted howls of indignation from Rosana Tyler, the Liberal candidate for Marrickville, a representative of the Australian Jewish News, and someone holding an Israeli flag among others.
Given the proximity of the state election, and Labor’s attacks on the Greens for promoting the BDS, several councillors noted the politicised nature of the motion. They also pointed out that normal procedure for the hire of council facilities simply involves making a booking through the administration.
Janet Kossy, secretary of the new Jewish group, put the line that it was “unfortunate” that the issue had “got caught up in the heat of the state election”. Yet it was Kossy, who had led the attack on Fiona Byrne, the Greens candidate for the seat of Marrickville, at a candidates' meeting several weeks ago claiming that council's support for the BDS campaign meant that it was anti-Israel.
However, Byrne said to The Drum on January 13, "The BDS is not an anti-Israel resolution. It is about identifying institutions that directly support the occupation of Palestine, and choosing not to do business with them.”