Labor needs to step up support for Palestine, meeting hears

September 7, 2023
At the Great Hall. Bob Carr is on the podium and Rawan Arraf is seated. Photo: Rachel Evans

Discussion at the “The Palestinian Catastrophe” public meeting on September 5 was lively, and participants and speakers agreed that Labor needed to step up support for Palestine.

The meeting, presented by Conversation at the Crossroads in association with the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Sydney, attracted 400 attendees in person and on line.

Bob Carr, a former Labor foreign minister and NSW premier, was joined by Sophie McNeill, former researcher for Human Rights Watch (HRW) and journalist for the ABC and Rawan Arraf, a Palestinian-Australian lawyer and executive director of the Australian Centre for International Justice.

Carr started by recalling when Palestinian representative Hanan Ashrawi, in the early 2000s, was banned from speaking there. The University caved under pressure from the Zionist lobby. “The Israel lobby aims to bully and intimidate pro-Palestinian voices.”

Carr spoke on the themes of occupation, settlement and Apartheid. Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands is a “cruel mistreatment aimed at excluding the Palestinian people”, he said.

“Settlement of the West Bank is the creeping annexation of Palestinian land … Some 1800 Israeli military orders govern Palestinians in the West Bank. This is Apartheid.”

McNeill started by saying Israeli forces have “killed more Palestinians in the West Bank this year than ever before,” adding “this includes many children”.

A 2021 HRW reportA Threshold Crossed: Israeli Authorities and the Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution, noted that: “A 54-year occupation cannot be described as ‘temporary’. HRW calls on all governments to ban trade with the Israeli settlements.”

McNeill said: “Palestinian civil society groups have been outlawed by Israel. All this means is that support for Palestine is a true litmus test for international leadership today.”


Arraf called on those present to “demand that the Australian government take a clear stand on Palestine and Israel” and to “take effective measures, including sanctions and divestment from those carrying out crimes on behalf of Israel”.

She described it as “absurd” that Labor is “following the previous Coalition in continuing to pursue a possible Free Trade Agreement with Israel”.

Australia should “recognise that the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land is illegal” and “call on Israel to end the blockade of Gaza”.

Araff called on Labor to support a United Nations investigation into Israeli crimes against humanity, noting that Australia’s voting record at the UN had not changed sufficiently.

The “two-state solution” to the Palestine-Israel conflict was raised during a lively discussion. According to Carr, “We need to salvage the two-state solution. A single state would be a Jewish state.”

Arraf replied that “Israel has effectively killed off the possibility of a two-state solution”, adding: “A two-state solution is not achievable now, and would not be desirable, as it would justify the historic expulsion of the majority of the Palestinian people.”

The key issues of Palestinian refugees and the Palestinian people’s right to resist Israeli aggression were also discussed.

“The movement, around the world, to recognise and condemn Israeli Apartheid is growing and we should take confidence from this development,” McNeill concluded.

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