Palestine debate widens despite council BDS backdown

BDS supporter outside the Marrickville Council meeting, April 19.

After months of pressure from apologists for apartheid Israel, eight Marrickville councillors, including two Greens councillors, voted on April 19 to rescind the Council’s near unanimous December 2010 decision to support the global boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel.

However, an important national discussion about Australia’s responsibilities to help Palestinians win their rights has begun.

Marrickville was the first local government body in Australia to pass such an ethical investment motion (although councils in Europe have done so).

But a massive intimidation campaign by the pro-Israel lobby, the two big parties and the Murdoch media, including death threats against the mayor, ensued.

Apologists for apartheid Israel avoided talking about the facts, instead arguing that councils shouldn’t stand up for human rights.

Unfortunately, two Greens councillors agreed — Max Phillips declared beforehand he would not support BDS (his own state party’s position).

Labor councillor Mary O’Sullivan moved that council resolve “not to pursue BDS against Israel in any shape or form”.

Greens councillor Peter Olive, who also opposed BDS, amended the motion to include the three tenets of the BDS call — to end the occupation of all Arab lands, to dismantle the apartheid wall, to ensure full equality for Palestinians living in Israel and to support the right of Palestinian refugees to return home.

But Sonja Karkar, from Australians for Palestine, said on April 22: “None of the councillors who opposed the BDS resolution seemed aware of the incongruity of now voting for a motion that included the very demands that BDS seeks, while refusing to do anything about it.”

During the debate — witnessed by 200 people from the local community — 18 people and all 12 councillors spoke.

Dr Peter Slezak of the Independent Australian Jewish Voices (IAJV), dismissed the argument that councillors should not stand up for human rights.

Antony Loewenstein, author and a co-founder of IAJV, reminded people that Israel, not Palestine, is the oppressor nation and that Israel acts with impunity because the West, including the US and Australia, support it.

Greens councillor Cathy Peters (while showing a slide of occupied Palestine), recounted the vice-chancellor of Bethlehem University, Brother Peter Bray's claim that the Israeli Defence Force was engaged in summary executions in Bethlehem.

She also listed the many European councils that have endorsed the BDS campaign, explaining that their state and federal MPs had not publicly denounced these councils or threatened to sack them.

Greens councillor Marika Kontillas said that councillors had received hundreds of emails in support of their BDS stand — including from journalist John Pilger and human rights lawyer Julian Burnside.

Independent councillor Dimitri Thanos refuted the corporate media’s claims that rate payers would be $3-4 million worse off, stating that council had a “duty” to pursue an ethical investment policy given it had already decided on a sister-sister relationship with Bethlehem in occupied Palestine.

The report by Gary Moore, the council's Director of Community Services, on how council could proceed with its BDS position made it clear that an ethical investment approach was indeed possible.

The council also had the option to proceed in a specific, targeted way that would not incur any costs to residents. But this was not discussed.

Rather than discuss the issue, anti-BDS speakers, such as Professor Alan Rosen, focused instead on the divisiveness that had been “caused” by the debate over BDS.

Former ALP mayor Sam Iskander was shamefaced when he said he still stood for social justice. “But we have to be sensible,” he said to loud jeers.

One person pulled off her shoe and turned her back before walking out of the meeting in disgust.

It was sad to hear the pathetic justifications for not supporting BDS from the other so-called left Councillors: “There are many residents who have issues in their lives and this is not one of them,” said Mary O’Sullivan; “Local government is not the place to deal with complex international issues,” said Laura Wright.

Yet, 12 years ago, when Labor held the majority on council (with then councillor, now ALP MP, Carmel Tebbutt), it successfully moved to refuse associations with firms that dealt with Myanmar (then known as Burma).

The campaign against Marrickville Council’s support for BDS shows just how worried apologists for Israel are about the growing global support for an ethical local policy towards Israel based on its treatment of Palestinians.

Samah Sabawi, a Palestinian from Gaza who addressed the meeting, summed it up when she said: “BDS is a call from an oppressed people to the world to act against tyranny.”

The challenge for Palestine supporters is to get better organised to demand the Australian government stand up to this tyranny.

[Pip Hinman is helping organise a meeting in Marrickville, "Boycotting Israel is the right thing to do: Why Murdoch's Australian is wrong over BDS", on May 13, at 7pm, Holy Trinity Church, 11 Herbert Street, Dulwich Hill.]


You would think that Pip Hinman being the leader of the socialist alliance in Sydney would spend some time thinking about the state of working class people in this country. But no, she is monomaniacally obsessed with the opposite end of the globe. Get real, Pip. Get out amongst the workers, the renters, the unemployed, the Aborigines, the disabled, the gays, and all the other oppressed groups in our own country.
20% of israeli citizens are voting muslim arabs 20% of israeli university students are muslim arabs 20% of israeli parliament members are muslim arabs 20% of israeli union members are muslim arabs those who accuse israel of being an apartheid state either don't know israel or don't know what apartheid is.
What is your evidence that Pip Hinman does not "spend... time thinking about the state of working class people in this country"? Did you do a bit of research about her areas of activism? Did you do an internet search on the issues she has covered in articles in Green Left Weekly? I don't think so. You just made up a false accusation like many other apologists for Israeli apartheid who have commented on the BDS debate. Sloppy slander by people who want to silence and close down the debate about Israel's sytematic discrimination and dispossession of the Palestinian people.
DId you people not see and understand the level of public strees and the hate being created by this BDS issue. The people that came to Marricville to support the BDS firstly have no right to be creating such negitivity in OUR local area. -------" Pip and Mark G" will be the reason for even more hate in Australia. The Middle East is not a good enough reason to make Australians fight on the streets. The BDS is over, the People have made this clear, not the newspapers as you keep commenting on. Try supporting the Coptic Christians being killed by Muslims in Egypt, or is it only Israel and Jews you have a problem with?