Questions about Australian union support for Palestine a smokescreen

My following investigation appears in Online Opinion:

Union Aid Abroad – APHEDA… does essential work in many corners of the globe. But its focus in Palestine has caused the local Israel lobby to pressure the Australian government to sever ties to the group. This isn’t likely but once again highlights the aim of the Zionist mainstream against any assistance to the occupied Palestinians.

During a recent parliamentary committee in Canberra, Liberal Senator Eric Abetz asked AusAID what exactly it was backing in the Middle East.

There’s no problem with such questions in theory but the aim was twofold: do the Zionist lobby’s bidding and attempt to demonise any kind of support for Palestinians; and frame Israel as a benevolent power in Palestine.

A recent report… from the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC), stated:

“At the October 2010 Estimates hearings, Senator Eric Abetz questioned AusAID on elements of its funding dispensed to APHEDA. Senator Abetz asked AusAID whether it funded organisations associated with BDS [boycott, divestment and sanctions] or the APHEDA ”˜study tours’ to the Middle East. AusAID responded that “no AusAID or other Australian Development Assistance funds are provided to any groups for the BDS campaign” and that “AusAID does not provide any funding for the [APHEDA] study trips.” However, regarding Ma’an Development Centre AusAID conceded that while “AusAID does not directly fund Ma’an Development Centre”¦ under the Australian Middle East NGO Cooperation Agreement (AMENCA) AusAID provides funding to Union Aid Abroad APHEDA.””

APHEDA released a statement clearly explaining that, “no AusAID funds or resources are used to support campaigning by MA’AN or APHEDA.” AIJAC apparently doesn’t understand the concept of independent Palestinian organisers making independent decisions about policies without Australian NGO or government direction.

AIJAC continued:

“Senator Abetz returned to these issues at the 2 June 2011 Estimates hearings, eliciting yet more revelations. Abetz asked AusAID: “What are the safeguards in place that prevent AusAID funding being used by APHEDA or any of the other in a manner that contravenes Australian government policy on Israel? Let us just pluck an example out of the air like BDS?” AusAID replied simply: “We have no information that any of the NGOs we are supporting”¦are involved with that program.”

“But Senator Abetz then pointed out to AusAID that: “According to APHEDA’s annual reports all of APHEDA’s funds for Middle East projects originate from AusAID,” which would seem to imply that it must be AusAID’s tax dollars being given to the Ma’an Development Centre by APHEDA. In response, AusAID did not contest this claim, merely re-stating its position that no AusAID funds are contributed towards organisations that support BDS. The AusAID representative offered no concrete assurances that the Australian taxpayer money apparently being given to the Ma’an Development Centre via APHEDA is not being used for BDS activities.”

Again, AIJAC fails to understand the realities in Palestine itself. Officially Australia claims to be opposed to the illegal colonies in the West Bank but also states its opposition to the BDS movement. These are inherently contradictory positions on the ground because there are no Palestinian groups of importance that aren’t engaged in some kind of political or economic opposition to creeping settlement expansion. In other words, AIJAC is calling for the severing of assistance to all Palestinian groups because they dare to protest against the illegal colonies.

The Gillard government has thus far avoided tackling this question, simply calling BDS “nuts” but offering no alternative to a non-existent peace process in the region.

AIJAC concludes:

“Given the information revealed in these hearings, there now seems ample reason to raise such questions about the AusAID funding to APHEDA. Given AusAID’s inability to provide adequate answers to Senator Abetz’s questions, the ball must now move to the court of Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd, as AusAID implied. There is now a good basis for expecting a review of his department’s funding of APHEDA in light of these revelations and the fact that on 1 April 2011, Mr. Rudd assured Australians that his government “did not condone nor support any boycotts or sanctions against the Jewish state.””

It is interesting how the other three relevant Australian NGOs (CARE, World Vision and Actionaid) did not get questioned and odd also how their Palestinian partner NGOs (like just about every Palestinian… NGO, according to an aid insider who spoke to me) have equally signed up to the 2005 BDS call, yet it is the APHEDA partner that gets singled out.

The Palestinian NGO Network (PNGO Network) is signed up to the BDS and all the Australian NGOs have at least one Palestinian NGO partner who is a member of the PNGO Network. If the Australian government (or AIJAC) were really serious about severing connection with any Palestinian group that backs BDS, then the Palestinian Authority would also have to be shunned because it has implemented partial BDS against settlement goods.

The Australian union movement is increasingly backing BDS against a recalcitrant Zionist state. There are a handful of prominent unionists, such as ACTU Assistant Secretary, Michael Borowick, an Orthodox Jew, who opposes BDS and organises Zionist lobby trips to Israel and Palestine but they are a dwindling minority.

An aid insider tells me that a number of key unionists continue to bully APHEDA behind the scenes in an attempt to stop its work in Palestine, including the successful study tours led by APHEDA. The pressure has singularly failed.

These trips are seen as a threat because they refuse to follow the path set by AIJAC, Albert Dadon and other Zionist lobbyists who take politicians and journalists on propaganda tours around Israel (with five minutes in Ramallah). The Greens recently obtained a long list of media and political elite figures that took the Dadon trip last year… and this proved that both major political parties and corporate press are ideologically compromised by such visits.

For those who know the reality in the region, advocating for Palestinian rights under occupation has become unavoidably and necessarily linked to some form of BDS endorsement.

It is ironic that the right-wing Israeli Knesset is making it illegal for Israeli’s to support BDS and yet this is the “democratic” state that Zionists argue we must uncritically support.

Even in Australia, it’s apparently illegal… to simply protest outside a shop, Max Brenner, which supports the Israeli army. It is not, as claimed by blind defenders of Zionism, an attack on Jewish businesses… but rather a non-violent and legitimate form of protest, like what occurred against companies and individuals who supported apartheid in South Africa.

Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd is always… quoting the fact that Australia has “greatly” increased aid to the Palestinians to $56m in 2011-12 and the important activities the aid is doing. However, he uses this “fact” to erroneously answer questions about Australia’s support of Palestinian aspirations (statehood, refugee right of return, end the occupation, human rights etc)… for peace. In a political conflict such as this, providing aid is only half the answer: it must also be coupled with… the insistence that Israel comply with relevant international, humanitarian law. The Australian government is silent on law enforcement against its great friend and ally.

Following the ripple effect of the Marrickville BDS campaign… and rising public support for the Palestinians, there is growing scrutiny in Parliament on AusAID’s Palestine program. It’s tragic that Palestine, with the least resources available to it and under siege, has to answer for the world’s ills and people’s petty prejudices.

APHEDA’s Middle East project officer Lisa Arnold tells me: “Gaza is a man-made disaster of more than five times the scale of the Indian Ocean tsunami; it’s just that the deaths… and… destruction… occur over the course of decades, not minutes.”

The reality remains that APHEDA operates vitally important programs across Palestine – a few years ago I visited one of its programs at Gaza’s only rehabilitation hospital – and the Zionist lobby with its corporate and media mates should not be allowed to threaten this life-line to a people under occupation.

It is not the right of the Australian Senate to pry into what APHEDA or their Palestinian partners do with their own monies or other donor funds. What AIJAC and its lobby friends desperately want to avoid is any examination of what Israel is doing in the West Bank and Gaza and why hysteria… against any critics of Zionist policies is now par for the course by its Israeli government masters.

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