The ugly little Australian coalition against Palestinian rights (that will fail)

So this is how it works when advocating for Palestinian human rights. You’ll be smeared, accused of anti-Semitism and told you hate Jews. Anything to avoid discussion about what Israel is doing to the Palestinians; apartheid.

I wrote an article this week for New Matilda detailing the New South Wales Greens and its policy of backing boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel. A number of key figures were interviewed about the NSW election campaign, what went right and what went wrong.

Today’s Murdoch Australian leads with this laughable front page non “story”, essentially finding countless corporate politicians and Zionist lobby hacks to smear the NSW Greens Federal Senate member Lee Rhiannon for daring to support the “radical” BDS:

Greens leader Bob Brown is under mounting political and diplomatic pressure to pull his hard-left senator-elect Lee Rhiannon into line as she intensifies her support for a radical boycott of Israel.

Ms Rhiannon, who will take her Senate spot on July 1 when the Greens take the balance of power in the upper house, yesterday drew condemnation from Labor and the Coalition after expressing regret that the NSW Greens did not campaign harder for a boycott of Israeli goods and services at last weekend’s state election.

Trade Minister Craig Emerson said last night the policy was disgusting and he feared it represented an extremism that would make its way to Canberra.

Dr Emerson told The Australian: “Confirmation by senator-elect Rhiannon of this disgusting policy is reprehensible.”

He applauded voters in the inner-western Sydney seat of Marrickville, who returned erstwhile Labor deputy premier Carmel Tebbutt to parliament over Greens candidate Fiona Byrne, a supporter of an Israeli boycott.

“Good on the people of Marrickville for rejecting this Greens extremism, and I am confident that the rest of Australia will too.”

Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd said the Gillard government did not condone nor support any boycotts or sanctions against the Jewish state.

Senator Brown’s office said an Israeli boycott was not Greens national policy, but Coalition figures said they were concerned Ms Rhiannon would influence the party’s platform when she arrived in Canberra.

Ms Rhiannon was quoted on the online news site New Matilda as saying, in the wake of the Coalition’s landslide victory in NSW, that the Greens should have spent more time building support for the global BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement, particularly among academics, Arab communities and social justice groups.

“Months before the election we needed to explain why the Greens backed BDS and we needed to work closer with our allies on BDS – academics, the Arab community and social justice movements in Sydney and Melbourne,” Ms Rhiannon was quoted as saying.

“Collectively we didn’t do enough to amplify support for BDS and show that this is part of an international movement.”

An Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce spokesman warned yesterday that boycotts on Israeli goods could prevent access to potentially groundbreaking water-saving technology and telecommunications switches that may be picked up by the National Broadband Network.

Ms Rhiannon refused to return The Australian’s calls yesterday, as did all federal Greens MPs.

Tony Abbott denounced her position, calling on Julia Gillard to distance Labor from Ms Rhiannon’s views. “The Coalition completely rejects any campaign designed to weaken Israel and can’t understand why a supposed environmental party are involved in this nonsense,” the Opposition Leader told The Australian.

“Given the Greens are Labor’s political bedfellows, I call on the Prime Minister to pull her alliance partner into line.”

Other Liberal MPs expressed concern that Ms Rhiannon’s position would infect the federal Greens platform and contaminate government policy.

“I am particularly concerned that Lee Rhiannon, who is going to become a member of the governing Labor/Greens alliance federally, is going to bring those views into this alliance,” Liberal senator Mitch Fifield told The Australian.

But Senator Fifield also dismissed Dr Emerson’s attack on the Greens in light of the deal signed by Ms Gillard with Senator Brown last September to secure minority government. “The fact that Labor is prepared to be in a governing alliance with the Greens makes their denunciation of the (NSW) Greens’ Israel boycott ring a little hollow,” he said.

Opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman Julie Bishop said Ms Rhiannon’s comments were “extreme”, “highly prejudicial” and “deeply troubling”.

She said that, in light of Ms Rhiannon’s views, the Prime Minister needed to guarantee the Greens would not influence her government’s foreign policy.

“Given that the Greens do not support our alliance with the US either, the Prime Minister must guarantee the Greens will not influence Labor’s foreign policy in the same way as they have influenced Labor’s policy on a carbon tax,” Ms Bishop said.

A spokeswoman for Mr Rudd said last night: “Australia is firmly committed to Israel’s security and fully recognises the significant security challenges Israel faces.

“The Australian government has consistently supported a negotiated two-state solution to the Middle East peace process where Israel and a future Palestinian state live side by side in peace and security.”

Ms Rhiannon, who entered the NSW Legislative Council in March 1999 and is a former member of the Socialist Party of Australia, is one of four new Greens senators who will travel to Canberra in July.

They will take the number of Greens in the upper house to nine, securing the party the balance of power and greater influence over Labor’s legislative agenda.

It is official Greens policy to “support the rights of the Palestinian peoples to statehood through the creation of a viable state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel, based on the pre-1967 borders and the right of all peoples in the region to peace”.

In December, however, delegates from local NSW Greens groups unanimously endorsed a series of military, trade and services boycotts of Israel and the international BDS movement as a way of supporting Palestinian self-determination.

The proposal passed by the NSW Greens state council and, in a December 7 media release, called upon all Australians and “the Australian government to boycott Israeli goods, trading and military arrangements, and sporting, cultural and academic events as a contribution to the struggle to end Israel’s occupation and colonisation of Palestinian territory”.

At the time, Ms Rhiannon said the Greens were hopeful their “backing of the BDS movement will win more Australian support for this important cause”.

An Israeli embassy spokeswoman urged the Greens to engage in dialogue rather than support boycotts, suggesting such a path would embolden radicals.

“Those who are behind the policy of singling out Israel through a boycott are clearly showing their true colours,” she said. “The whole boycott program strengthens the radicals in a lot of ways.

“A lot of people who support the boycotts have never read the BDS charter which states Israel should be just a one-state country.

“It does not support negotiations at all.”

Jeremy Jones, the director of international affairs with the Australia/Israel Jewish Affairs Council, said the more Ms Rhiannon publicised her views on the BDS, the more it would harm the Greens.

“It is an extreme policy and it goes against any purported interest in reconciliation, peace or justice,” Mr Jones said. “The only possible impact (of a BDS) is to strengthen the hand of extremists on all sides of the equation.”

Mr Jones said he did not believe the federal Greens would accept a BDS as federal policy and suggested the policy had sparked a very strong negative reaction among the public in inner-city seats such as Marrickville.

This is “journalism”, Murdoch style. Find some opportunistic people to talk about anything except what Israel is doing in Palestine. It hasn’t worked globally and it won’t work here but this won’t stop lazy reporters making a story out of nothing. Of course, the fact that the paper didn’t mention that the New Matilda article from which they quote was written by me is simply the ethics-free zone in operation globally in the Murdoch empire.

Unfortunately, Greens leader Bob Brown has criticised Rhiannon, the sign of a leader who doesn’t really understand the Israel/Palestine conflict and is afraid to take on the Zionist lobby:

Greens leader Bob Brown has carpeted future Senate colleague Lee Rhiannon for her anti-Israel stance, telling her the policy was a mistake that cost the party votes in the NSW state election.

He has also accused Julia Gillard of insulting Australians by suggesting Greens voters do not have a love of family or their nation.

Senator Brown said the Israel boycott proposal was against his advice and had alienated NSW voters when the party should have been focusing on bread-and-butter issues.

He had conveyed his views to Greens senator-elect Ms Rhiannon in a “robust” phone call this morning.

Senator Brown said the federal Greens in no way endorsed the policy.

“The NSW Greens have taken to having their own shade of foreign policy,” Senator Brown said.

“It was a mistake. I differ from Lee on that, and so do the other components of the NSW Greens, who handled so badly that part of the campaign against my advice.

“I reiterate that the policy she and the NSW Greens had in the run to the NSW election was wrong emphasis.

“NSW voters wanted to hear about issues affecting them day-to-day, it’s one that has been rejected by the Australian Greens.”

The Victorian Greens also show themselves to be gutless in the face of Zionist pressure:

The Victorian Greens distanced themselves from their NSW counterparts’ controversial Israel boycott proposal today as a prominent Jewish federal MP attacked the policy as “absolutely extreme”.

Victorian Greens leader Greg Barber said the party’s state branch did not support the NSW branch’s BDS policy, which advocates a boycott, divestment and sanctions targeting Israel.

“We never have (considered it), it’s never even been put to any forum in Victoria as far as I am aware,’ he said of the policy, championed by NSW Greens senator-elect Lee Rhiannon.

Mr Barber said he was too far removed to say whether the BDS policy had hurt the party’s bid for the Sydney inner-city seats of Marrickville and Balmain.

“I’m just a state MP trying to get the trains running,” he said.

Labor’s Mark Dreyfus, the Parliamentary Secretary for Climate Change, said he was concerned at Ms Rhiannon’s views and their potential to damage Australian-Israeli relations.

“I’m concerned that we’ve got a senator coming in on the 1st of July who seems to have absolutely extreme views on Israel, that I’m confident that the vast majority of Australians don’t share,” he told ABC radio in Melbourne.

“She’s actually calling, as are her state Greens party colleagues in NSW, for a boycott of the state of Israel, when we have a warm, longstanding friendship with the state of Israel.

“We have trade relations with Israel and we have very fruitful academic exchanges with the state of Israel.

“Australia would be the poorer if we were, for no reason at all, to cut off relations with the state of Israel – which is ridiculously what Lee Rhiannon is calling for.”

Finally – and all courtesy of the Australian, that bastion of corporate “journalism” – another Israeli spokesman says the boycott is problematic:

Israeli trade commissioner Ehud Gonen has warned that the Greens-dominated Marrickville Council’s policy of boycotting Israeli goods could contravene international trade rules that Australia has signed up to.

Mr Gonen told The Australian Online that, under the World Trade Organisation charter, Australia was forbidden from discriminating against goods imported from another member.

Marrickville Council in Sydney’s inner west passed a motion in December pledging to effectively sever all commercial, sporting, cultural, academic and government links with Israel.

The council undertook to identify links with any organisations or companies that “support or profit from the Israeli military occupation of Palestine”, and then sever them.

But Mr Gonen said today that Australia and Israel were both members of the WTO and signatories to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.

“It’s not permitted within the WTO/GATT charter for elected bodies, including local governments, to do any boycott,” he said.

“Of course we know that Australia will respect its obligation. We think this boycott is illegal and it’s not going to happen.

“I personally take this, from a symbolic point of view, as very negative. But practically it makes no sense.”

So what does all this really mean? That the establishment is scared. Worried that BDS will take off in Australia like it has globally. Concerned that people will start looking more closely at a Zionist state that happily occupies Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. And where are the progressive Jews, unions and backers of Palestine speaking out in support of BDS? They need to raise their voices. Now.

Bottom line? This smear job will fail. And Israel will become increasingly internationally isolated. As it deserves. When you occupy another people for decades, you must pay a price. BDS is one answer.

These bullying tactics are even turning off many young Jews, something I hear all the time. For example, here’s Manny Waks, Zionist Australian, writing yesterday on J Wire:

Young Jews are regrettably alienated by prevailing approaches to the advocacy of Israel. I am unequivocally supportive of Israel—my birthplace and spiritual homeland—and at the age of 18 I travelled to Israel to serve in the Golani Brigade. I have also published widely in support of Israel and accept its centrality in the Jewish consciousness. However, and tragically, many young Jews are at best indifferent, and at worst antagonistic towards Israel.

In his 2010 article, The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment, Peter Beinart notes that, ”˜In recent years, several studies have revealed, in the words of Steven Cohen of Hebrew Union College and Ari Kelman of the University of California at Davis, that “non-Orthodox younger Jews, on the whole, feel much less attached to Israel than their elders,” with many professing “a near-total absence of positive feelings.”’ Inevitably, many within the younger demographic are alienated by the uncritical alignment with Israel of our structured communal roof bodies. National and State communal roof bodies should focus largely on matters that concern the local Jewish community. Advocacy of Israel should instead be the province of those organisations who unambiguously have this mandate. This would, to some extent, prevent the alienation of those Jews who do not have a favourable view of Israel.

We’ll be helping those splits grow even wider.

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