What changed to justify back flip on support for Palestine?

April 28, 2011

“What changed in Palestine between December and April that made you change your mind?” yelled someone in the crowd, as the April 19 Marrickville Council meeting voted to overturn its previously stated support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against apartheid Israel.

Despite many others asking similar questions, none of the councillors that had voted in favour for the December 14 motion answered this simple question.

If we look at how the individual councillors voted, we can see that while the three independent candidates maintained their original position (one in favour, two opposed to the BDS), all four ALP councillors did a back flip.

And while three Greens councillors stood firm in their support of BDS, two Greens councillors changed their position to vote against it, ensuring that the policy was overturned. If these two Greens councillors had maintained their original position, the vote would have been tied (6-6), with pro-BDS Greens Mayor Fiona Byrne holding the casting vote.

So what changed in Palestine between December 14, 2010, and April 19, 2011, to justify a reversal in support for the international campaign against apartheid Israel?

The answer is nothing: Israel is still bombing and blockading Gaza, the illegal settlements continue to expand in the West Bank and Jerusalem, and more and more Palestinians are being dispossessed.

The explanation for the shift can instead be found in what changed here in Australia.

Three days after the meeting, Vic Alhadeff, chief executive of the NSW Jewish Board was quoted by the Sydney Morning Herald as say “Byrne did not understand the gravity of the policy she was supporting. To take on such policy as a serious proposal, these behind it, should not be surprise at the response that it generates…..it warranted a very serious response”.

In more simpler and clear terms, what Alhadeff meant was no one messes with Israel.

And so it was. Shortly after the original motion was passed, all of Israel’s friends came out to defend it. Kevin Rudd, Barry O’Farrell, Anthony Albanese, the Murdoch press, the usual shock jocks, and many others, all called on the council to reverse its position.

Even Greens Senator Bob Brown criticised the motion, making a point of noting it was “not Greens policy.”

With Byrne running as Greens candidate for the NSW seat of Marrickville, ALP members, Zionist youth groups and right wing organisations and individuals, like those that have been promoting the “ban the burqa” mural in Newtown, all came out to defend Israel and attack Byrne.

We also know that the Australian Labor Party leadership put a lot of pressure on its councillors to reverse their position.

While I’m not in a position to be able to fairly question the commitment that each individual ALP councillor has towards Palestine, I am convinced that the ALP as a party supported the original BDS motion not because of any supposed support for Palestine, but simply as a way of appearing more progressive, at least in Marrickville and probably in Leichhardt, in order to save these seats when faced with the looming bloodbath that was the NSW state elections.

None of the other reasons given can explain the sudden change from passionate support for Palestine on December 14 to furious back flip on April 19.

Put plainly, the only explanation is that this support was an opportunistic attempt to use sympathy for the terrifying experience of the Palestinian people to shore up support for their candidates in the state election.

What about the two Greens councillors who changed their votes? They should also be asked what they believe changed in Palestine to justify their turn around?

And while they are at it, perhaps they could answer a few more questions, like: How do they know the level of community support for the BDS? What did they do to help build or maintain support in the community for a campaign they supposedly supported? Why were they unwilling to directly confront the lies peddled against BDS?

Similarly, how do they intend to confront other conflictive issues where, without doubt, the two main parties will once again try and use the conservative side of Australian society to maintain the “status quo”?

These are questions that all Greens members should be asking of them.

In any case as an old supporter of the Palestinian cause, and particularly the BDS campaign, I am very grateful to the Greens in the Marrickville council for publicising the BDS campaign much more than the combined efforts of all the other actions carried out by numerous groups in Australia over many years in support of BDS.

At the council meeting, Byrne likened the vicious campaign against the BDS motion to using a sledgehammer to crack an egg. The explanation for this response is that the BDS movement has been growing internationally, mainly in response to the growing list of war crimes and human rights abuses perpetrated by Israel over recent years

For the supporters of Palestine, nothing has changed, and we will continue our campaign to ensure that Israeli apartheid is finally defeated, that the Palestinians get the right to return to their land, that blockade on Gaza ends and that justice is finally achieved.

As it was in South Africa, apartheid will be defeated in Israel because the Palestinian people have the same courage and determination that the South African people demonstrated during their struggle.

For the people of Palestine, nothing has changed, and nothing will until they finally win a free Palestine.

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