Greens leader should back BDS because oppressed Palestinians ask for it

The last week has seen a barrage of Murdoch attention on the NSW Greens and its embrace of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel. It’s a principled and mature position to take, backed by countless groups globally.

Last night on ABC TV Lateline saw Greens leader Bob Brown discuss the issue and sadly he seemed a) unclear what’s actually happening on the ground in Palestine, b) afraid to take on the Zionist lobby or c) doesn’t believe there’s increasingly mainstream support for BDS in Australia. He can do much better and should lead on this important human rights question rather than simply following a predictable (and misguided) convention:

ALI MOORE: Well, I want to look at the issue of a carbon tax and a carbon price in a minute, but first of all if we can look at the Greens, and of course your performance in the NSW state election in the past two weeks. You picked up a seat in the Lower House for the first time, but many expected you to do better and the fact that you didn’t was put down to the support of the Greens in New South Wales for a series of military trade and services boycotts against Israel. You’ve said you don’t agree with the New South Wales Greens, “… who handled so badly that part of the campaign against my advice.” What were you telling the Greens in New South Wales? What didn’t they listen to?

BOB BROWN: Well if you’re talking about that advice, my advice is that you leave national matters to the national arena, and that includes foreign policy. But also if you see an attack coming down the line and a real effort to pursue this issue, as we saw with The Australian newspaper, then you deal with it early. Fiona Byrne in Marrickville is a lovely person and she didn’t deserve what happened and I think the Greens strategists …

ALI MOORE: But do you support the policy? Do you support the policy that New South Wales Greens have for a boycott?

BOB BROWN: No, I don’t and I’ve said this before publicly, Ali, that it was rejected by the Australian Greens Council last year. And I’ve been talking with Jamie Parker, the new Lower House member for the Greens, who’s made this fantastic breakthrough. He’s the Mayor of Leichhardt. He’s going into the Parliament as a Greens voice in the Lower House.

ALI MOORE: And he supports the policy.

BOB BROWN: He said – he told me today there is no way that he will be bringing this policy into the New South Wales Parliament, that he expects me to be looking after foreign policy and that he’s got very important issues other than that that he’ll be taking into the New South Wales Parliament. He won’t be taking this issue into the New South Wales Parliament.

ALI MOORE: Well, given your view, in the Senate just a couple of days before the New South Wales state election, Senator Fifield moved to condemn the boycott of Israel instigated by Marrickville Council. And of course your candidate Fiona Byrne was the mayor of Marrickville Council. You didn’t support that motion. You wanted the opposition of the Greens recorded. Why?

BOB BROWN: Because the motion was not in the interests of the people of Israel or of Palestine. It was a very politically-loaded motion, and I note that Eric Abetz now says, of all people, that he’s going to bring a motion about this into the next parliament. Look, you know, that’s the way the far right in politics works here. But, I would say …

ALI MOORE: But will you be comfortable putting your opposition to this policy on the record?

BOB BROWN: I’ve just done so and so has our national council. But let me tell you, Ali, that the Greens do have a policy on an independent and self-governing state for both Israel and for Palestine living next to each other, for support for the UN motions that have gone through on this, for a non-violent trajectory towards the independent state of Palestine in the future. And neither of the other parties have a policy. You go looking for it, you won’t find one, but the Greens have had – been through the rigour of developing this policy and we stand by it.

ALI MOORE: And this policy that the New South Wales Greens stand by, do you have the power as the federal party to intervene in a state branch if there’s a policy that you don’t agree with, and indeed, what will happen with Lee Rhiannon? The New South Wales senator takes up her position in July. Will she have to recount state policy – or recant state policy in order to take up her position in the Senate and serve under me?

BOB BROWN: No, neither of those things. We’re not in the business of censuring every member of the Greens or branch or state party, but it is pretty obvious, isn’t it, that the national party looks after foreign affairs. I’m the spokesperson for the national Greens on foreign affairs. I know where my party room stand on that. They’re not going to promote this policy. It has been rejected by the Australian Greens and that’s where we stand. And so, if New South Wales Greens wish to maintain the policy, they’ve got nowhere to go with it. And, you know, so be it. What they do …

ALI MOORE: Is it difficult though to, I suppose, have a united party when you have very decisive issues actually dividing the party on state and federal lines in this instance?

BOB BROWN: Like every party, and I can tell you who prevails here: the Australian Greens do. I have discussed this with my party room. There’s no way that this policy is going to be promoted by us in the Parliament, but we stand strongly by the policy I’ve just outlined. And …

ALI MOORE: But what happens if Lee Rhiannon stands up in the Senate and speaks to that policy and supports it?

BOB BROWN: Well, should she be prevented from doing as she wishes? I’m not in the business of suppressing people, but I think you’ll find that Lee will make up her own mind about that, but she – the party room has made a decision that that policy’s not going – and the Australian Greens party rejected the policy so…

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