Merri-bek Council votes to fly the Palestinian flag

November 9, 2023
Merri-bek councillors with supporters after the successful vote. Photo: supplied

An extraordinary meeting of Merri-bek City Council, in Melbourne's north, on November 8 condemned Israel’s genocide against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. Merri-bek is the first Victorian council to fly the Palestinian flag.

The motion was moved by Socialist Alliance Councillor Sue Bolton and supported by independent Councillors Monica Harte and James Conlan, who helped draft it. Council will now write to the prime minister and foreign minister urging them to join the global call for an immediate ceasefire. Bolton told Green Left she believes it is a win for all those “standing up against genocide”.

The motion calls for: an immediate ceasefire; for the siege on Gaza to be lifted to allow access to food, water, fuel, electricity, medical supplies and construction materials; all Palestinian and Israeli hostages to be released; a political resolution to the decades-long conflict; and an end to all military, economic, political and diplomatic ties with Israel until it complies with its obligations under international law.


Socialist Alliance councillor Sue Bolton. Photo: Chloe DS

It also asked the council to explore options to cancel contracts with any companies that support or profit from Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine.

A packed gallery erupted in a standing ovation when the motion was passed 6–4, with Bolton, Harte, Conlan and Greens councillors Angelica Panopoulos, Adam Pulford and Mark Riley voting in favour.

Labor Councillor Lambros Tapinos and three right-wing independents Oscar Yildiz, Helen Davidson and Helen Pavlidis voted against.

“It was clear from the reactions today that this motion is so important on a deep emotional level”, Bolton said. “This is one of the most marginalised communities in Australia, and people feel that their lives don’t matter as much as others.”

A spirited community rally beforehand drew hundreds. Many residents spoke, including Palestinian-Australians Tanya Abo-Shaban and Omar Jaber Tafesh Na’Wal, Lebanese community leader Leila Alloush, unionist Mick Bull and Jewish resident James Crafti.

Residents marched to Coburg Town Hall, where police only allowed 50 people in to observe the meeting.

There were several impassioned speeches in support of Bolton’s motion. Palestinian and Brunswick resident Catherine Wave said she feels “alone and abandoned” by the government for its “inaction and complicity” with Israel.

Zane, a Palestinian resident in Coburg, spoke of his “grief” for his home country and family who are now “scattered in south Gaza and unable to meet their basic needs”. Zane’s family are in the Gaza strip and were driven out of their original homes by Zionist militias in 1948.

Jordana Silverstein, a Jewish resident from Brunswick, said she is “devastated” by Israel’s war. “My Jewishness is built around solidarity, justice and love … How do we say to Palestinians in Gaza that we have not forgotten them? That we will also share the horror of what is happening to civilians and use words like ‘genocide’ and ‘war crimes’.

“Raising the Palestinian flag tells Palestinians that we know that this is a flag of justice and anti-racism and solidarity and that we are proud to be alongside Palestinians and, seeing it fly, will make all of us safer.”

Hadfield resident David Glanz, also Jewish, said: “It is not antisemitic to condemn ethnic cleansing, the bombing of children and women, hospitals and to fly the Palestinian flag”.

Tapinos argued that the “issue” is “very complicated” and that Australia’s response should be “left to the federal government”.

Yildiz argued councils should focus on “roads, rates and rubbish”, and said: “We are not the United Nations”.

Harte reminded Yildiz that he supported a motion condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine at last year’s Australian Local Government Association conference.

Harte, originally from Ireland, reflected on that country’s partition, saying that while it remains divided, “they have peace, while Palestine is seeing genocide”. She said standing up for justice is “council business”. This debate “would never happen in an Irish council, because they have known repression and the country is full of Palestinian flags”.

“While there are historical complexities, the basic issues are not complex,” Bolton said. “You don’t need a university degree to know you shouldn’t kill civilians. But Israel appears to be trying to kill as many Palestinians in Gaza as it can, until world opinion forces them to stop.”

How many civilians the West will allow Israel to kill before it says enough, is the macabre question.

“Like many peace movements, ordinary people are rising up to call on Israel to stop carrying out genocide and call on the governments to stop supporting genocide,” said Bolton.

She pointed to the “history of councils supporting peace”, citing East Timor’s independence struggle against Suharto’s military and militias.

“Peace is everyone’s business. When countries’ leaders refuse to call for a ceasefire and an end to the genocide, communities have to demand they do. That means unions, local councils and many other organisations.”

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