Sydney's Marrickville council is coming under increasing pressure to overturn a resolution it passed in December in support of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel.
NSW Liberal Premier Barry O’Farrell has threatened to use his powers under the Local Government Act to sack the council unless the resolution is overturned.
On April 15, The Daily Telegraph said that O’Farrell wrote to Greens Marrickville mayor Fiona Byrne saying: “The NSW government will consider the range of options available to it. I strongly suggest that council rescind the resolution.”
O’Farrell gave the council a 28-day deadline.
Two independent councillors, Victor Macri and Morris Hanna, will put forward a new motion on April 19 to have the policy overturned.
Four Labor councillors — who supported the original boycott motion alongside five Greens and one independent councillor — may now join with the independents to overturn the policy.
In the lead up to the March 26 NSW elections, a huge smear campaign was unleashed against Byrne, who stood as the Greens candidate for the seat of Marrickville. Byrne was branded an anti-Semite because of her support for the BDS resolution.
Byrne has also received death threats for her stance.
An internal report commissioned by the council has indicated the sanctions could cost the council up to $3.7 million if all recommendations in the report were adopted.
The April 15 Sydney Morning Herald said: “More than $3 million of that would come from replacing the council’s Hewlett-Packard computers, which the BDS website claims are used at Israeli military checkpoints that restrict the movement of Palestinians.”
However, Byrne said on April 14 that the council would not support all the recommendations in the report such as the retroactive refitting of the council’s infrastructure, and therefore the BDS would not cost ratepayers any money.
Marrickville council already has a boycott on Burma, enacted under former mayor and current Labor MP for Marrickville, Carmel Tebbutt.
“The Burma boycott shows that councils can take a stand on human rights issues, like the occupation of the Palestinian territories, without having a negative financial impact on residents,” Byrne said.
Greens councillor Cathy Peters told Green Left Weekly that the council had not made any decision about how the boycott would be carried out.
“All we have done is said that we would like to support a human-rights based, ethical purchasing philosophy in regards to Israel.
“No councillor wants to take any action that has any financial impact on residents of Marrickville.”
Peters said there had been a complete misrepresentation of the processes of council in the media.
“The intense media beat up is indicative of a disturbing trend in Australia to silence any discussion on Australia’s relations with countries that have a strong record of human rights abuses,” she said.
“Barry O’Farrell seems to be weighing in on this when he has not sought any information from council.”
The Socialist Alliance candidate for Marrickville in the NSW elections, Pip Hinman, said O’Farrell’s attack on the council was outrageous.
“What right has Barry O’Farrell got to sack a council that was democratically elected by the community?” she asked.
“The council should be commended for taking a strong stand in support of social justice. O’Farrell’s threat is politically motivated.”