Best-selling journalist Antony Loewenstein trav­els across Afghanistan, Pakistan, Haiti, Papua New Guinea, the United States, Britain, Greece, and Australia to witness the reality of disaster capitalism. He discovers how companies such as G4S, Serco, and Halliburton cash in on or­ganized misery in a hidden world of privatized detention centers, militarized private security, aid profiteering, and destructive mining.

Disaster has become big business. Talking to immigrants stuck in limbo in Britain or visiting immigration centers in America, Loewenstein maps the secret networks formed to help cor­porations bleed what profits they can from economic crisis. He debates with Western contractors in Afghanistan, meets the locals in post-earthquake Haiti, and in Greece finds a country at the mercy of vulture profiteers. In Papua New Guinea, he sees a local commu­nity forced to rebel against predatory resource companies and NGOs.

What emerges through Loewenstein’s re­porting is a dark history of multinational corpo­rations that, with the aid of media and political elites, have grown more powerful than national governments. In the twenty-first century, the vulnerable have become the world’s most valu­able commodity. Disaster Capitalism is published by Verso in 2015 and in paperback in January 2017.

Profits_of_doom_cover_350Vulture capitalism has seen the corporation become more powerful than the state, and yet its work is often done by stealth, supported by political and media elites. The result is privatised wars and outsourced detention centres, mining companies pillaging precious land in developing countries and struggling nations invaded by NGOs and the corporate dollar. Best-selling journalist Antony Loewenstein travels to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Haiti, Papua New Guinea and across Australia to witness the reality of this largely hidden world of privatised detention centres, outsourced aid, destructive resource wars and militarized private security. Who is involved and why? Can it be stopped? What are the alternatives in a globalised world? Profits of Doom, published in 2013 and released in an updated edition in 2014, challenges the fundamentals of our unsustainable way of life and the money-making imperatives driving it. It is released in an updated edition in 2014.
forgodssakecover Four Australian thinkers come together to ask and answer the big questions, such as: What is the nature of the universe? Doesn't religion cause most of the conflict in the world? And Where do we find hope?   We are introduced to different belief systems – Judaism, Christianity, Islam – and to the argument that atheism, like organised religion, has its own compelling logic. And we gain insight into the life events that led each author to their current position.   Jane Caro flirted briefly with spiritual belief, inspired by 19th century literary heroines such as Elizabeth Gaskell and the Bronte sisters. Antony Loewenstein is proudly culturally, yet unconventionally, Jewish. Simon Smart is firmly and resolutely a Christian, but one who has had some of his most profound spiritual moments while surfing. Rachel Woodlock grew up in the alternative embrace of Baha'i belief but became entranced by its older parent religion, Islam.   Provocative, informative and passionately argued, For God's Sakepublished in 2013, encourages us to accept religious differences, but to also challenge more vigorously the beliefs that create discord.  
After Zionism, published in 2012 and 2013 with co-editor Ahmed Moor, brings together some of the world s leading thinkers on the Middle East question to dissect the century-long conflict between Zionism and the Palestinians, and to explore possible forms of a one-state solution. Time has run out for the two-state solution because of the unending and permanent Jewish colonization of Palestinian land. Although deep mistrust exists on both sides of the conflict, growing numbers of Palestinians and Israelis, Jews and Arabs are working together to forge a different, unified future. Progressive and realist ideas are at last gaining a foothold in the discourse, while those influenced by the colonial era have been discredited or abandoned. Whatever the political solution may be, Palestinian and Israeli lives are intertwined, enmeshed, irrevocably. This daring and timely collection includes essays by Omar Barghouti, Jonathan Cook, Joseph Dana, Jeremiah Haber, Jeff Halper, Ghada Karmi, Antony Loewenstein, Saree Makdisi, John Mearsheimer, Ahmed Moor, Ilan Pappe, Sara Roy and Phil Weiss.
The 2008 financial crisis opened the door for a bold, progressive social movement. But despite widespread revulsion at economic inequity and political opportunism, after the crash very little has changed. Has the Left failed? What agenda should progressives pursue? And what alternatives do they dare to imagine? Left Turn, published by Melbourne University Press in 2012 and co-edited with Jeff Sparrow, is aimed at the many Australians disillusioned with the political process. It includes passionate and challenging contributions by a diverse range of writers, thinkers and politicians, from Larissa Berendht and Christos Tsiolkas to Guy Rundle and Lee Rhiannon. These essays offer perspectives largely excluded from the mainstream. They offer possibilities for resistance and for a renewed struggle for change.
The Blogging Revolution, released by Melbourne University Press in 2008, is a colourful and revelatory account of bloggers around the globe why live and write under repressive regimes - many of them risking their lives in doing so. Antony Loewenstein's travels take him to private parties in Iran and Egypt, internet cafes in Saudi Arabia and Damascus, to the homes of Cuban dissidents and into newspaper offices in Beijing, where he discovers the ways in which the internet is threatening the ruld of governments. Through first-hand investigations, he reveals the complicity of Western multinationals in assisting the restriction of information in these countries and how bloggers are leading the charge for change. The blogging revolution is a superb examination about the nature of repression in the twenty-first century and the power of brave individuals to overcome it. It was released in an updated edition in 2011, post the Arab revolutions, and an updated Indian print version in 2011.
The best-selling book on the Israel/Palestine conflict, My Israel Question - on Jewish identity, the Zionist lobby, reporting from Palestine and future Middle East directions - was released by Melbourne University Press in 2006. A new, updated edition was released in 2007 (and reprinted again in 2008). The book was short-listed for the 2007 NSW Premier's Literary Award. Another fully updated, third edition was published in 2009. It was released in all e-book formats in 2011. An updated and translated edition was published in Arabic in 2012.

My #MarchinMay speech to thousands in Sydney

Yesterday thousands of Australians marched around the country to reject the extremism of Tony Abbott’s government. I was asked to speak in Sydney to a crowd of around 10,000 people (some great photos by Jaroslaw L Gasiorek here).

This video features 15 minutes of highlights (I appear at 7.24):

A slightly expanded version of my speech has been published by The Hoopla today:

Extremism is a danger to us all and it’s rampant in the political and media class.

But let’s be clear, these problems didn’t start with last year’s election. We have been experiencing a corporate government, both Labor and Liberal, for decades. We have politicians happy to do the bidding of their corporate mates while speaking of fairness. It’s the great, unspoken lie, rarely challenged by our docile media.

There has been privatisation and outsourcing by Labor and Liberal and it’s been accelerating for decades in areas of immigration, indigenous affairs, transport, education, health, child-care and defence.

Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey have furthered this trend because Labor assisted the groundwork, sharing the same neo-liberal agenda. These politicians mostly go to the same parties, attend the same think-tank events and romance the same reporters. It’s a cosy club that gets a warm reception in the US and Israeli embassies.

Don’t be fooled by Labor leader Bill Shorten’s fighting words; judge what his party did in government under Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard. Growing privatisation and gifts to their corporate mates was their real agenda, masked behind class rhetoric.

Vulture capitalism is now the ideology of our age, defended and encouraged by vast swathes of the mainstream media.

During last week’s budget coverage, how often did we hear ABC journalists ask Labor politicians and critics about the “budget emergency”, mindlessly repeating Abbott government spin? There is no budget emergency .

We are told that the budget was fair for all but the Abbott government looks to the US  and UK with admiration – two societies with massive inequality and a huge underclass. Privatised education and health-care, along with private universities and hospitals are moving those countries down a path of apartheid. Access is uneven, the poor are suffering and the rich are enjoying the spoils of buying public assets at an ever-increasing rate.

Latest figures from the UK, released last week, find that the top 1% own as much as 55% of the population put together.

We are badly served by a media class that often works and plays in a bubble. They rarely go further than their offices unless on official, government visits to the US, UK or embedded with “our boys” in Afghanistan. They don’t see or hear from average citizens, and don’t want to. They talk to each other and re-publish press releases as “news” and sanctioned leaks as “exclusives”. Very few serious news stories in our press are independently discovered.

The Canberra press gallery should never be in parliament house because it guarantees subservience to an insider political message. ABC TV’s The Insiders personifies this sickness, a weekly showing of journalists happy to be close to power while providing “insights” gleaned from talking to their small coterie of friends and colleagues who are sustained by the same insularity.

Alternative voices are needed and all of you need to make yourself heard. Independent media has never been more important, fresh voices, non-white voices, multicultural voices and non-old and male voices.

I’ve spent the last years researching in Australia and globally the privatisation bonanza of public services. The rhetoric is that services will improve and efficiency will increase. The opposite is true.

In immigration detention, both Labor and Liberal have outsourced all our detention centres and services to unaccountable corporations such as G4S, Serco and Transfield. Their sole goal is profit, making money from the misery of asylum seekers.

Resistance works. Take this year’s revolt against the Biennale arts festival taking money from Transfield, a company that won a $1.2 billion contract to run Manus Island and Nauru. Artists, activists, journalists and concerned citizens convinced the Biennale that it wasn’t worth its ongoing association with Transfield. The elite response was furious, from Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull to Attorney General George Brandis.

Artists with an opinion who dare oppose repressive policies? That’s what great art has always been.

I stood in solidarity with this campaign. We should all examine where our money is invested, from superannuation to banks, and make sure we aren’t subsiding human rights abuses in Australia or around the world. Demand your super fund or bank tell you if they invest in Transfield or other profiteers.

Let’s build a movement of justice, equality and human rights for all. Labor and Liberal aren’t the answers; we need independent politics free from corporate interests. The Greens and others should capitalise on this public demand for clean politics and policies that will make the wealthiest Australians pay their fair share.

A political revolution is necessary, but equally a compliant media needs major change to its position as supporting the individuals, parties and corporations causing the environmental and social damage in the first place.

Reject corporate politics. Another world is possible.

*This is an edited version of a speech delivered to the March in May protest in Sydney’s Belmore Park yesterday. Tens of thousands of people gathered in cities around Australia to protest last week’s budget.

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The real significance of Bob Carr’s comments on Israel lobby

Much of the media has dismissed former Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr’s diaries as being obsessed with irrelevance, diets and exercise. In fact, the diaries are fascinating and focus on a range of international events (see my Guardian column this week on the Zionist lobby sections).

I saw Carr last night at Sydney University and although he’s a confident speaker there’s a level of defensiveness when talking about Israel. He still calls Israel a democracy (conveniently ignoring the nearly 50 year occupation of Palestinian land and people).

Australian academic Scott Burchill has further thoughts:

Carr’s remarks about the Israel lobby in Australia are not revelatory. Serious students of Australian foreign policy know how domestic lobbyists for the US, China, Indonesia, Israel and other states work to co-opt decision-makers and manage public opinion in ways favourable to their political masters. Money buys influence.
 
Nor is it surprising that Julia Gillard’s office was specifically targeted. It wasn’t because the Prime Minister was thought to be insufficiently pro-Israel – she could hardly be more faithful to the Zionist cause. Carr on the other was considered wobbly and had to be controlled where possible by Gillard’s ministerial seniority. And here lies Israel’s current dilemma.
 
The most important aspect of the diaries imbroglio is what Carr’s growing scepticism illustrates – the collapse of support amongst Western social democrats for Israel’s narrative about the “peace process”. They are just not buying it like they used to. The days of uncritical support for Israel’s position and unqualified blame of the Palestinians for the conflict, are over. No amount of residual Holocaust guilt or demonisation of the BDS campaign will bring them back. 
 
European social democrats, and even Democrats in Washington (like Secretary of State John Kerry who is now publicly blaming Israel for the collapse of his “peace mission”) have been its staunchest supporters, but are now fed up with Israeli obstructionism – especially newly invented conditions like the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. Some feel duped. They see that as each Palestinian concession is made, a new obstacle to peace mysteriously surfaces from the Israeli side. Increasingly they think Israel is refusing to take yes for an answer, preferring incremental colonisation under the cover of a futile, never-ending “peace process”. Norman Finkelstein has looked closely at this phenomenon in the US, where only the fully owned Congress still ritually incants the old script.
 
This should be the lobby’s biggest worry. If they are losing the support of people like Carr who have shown nothing but fidelity to their narrative up to this point, they are in deep trouble. 
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Why we need to discuss unhealthy power of Zionist lobby part 44225

My weekly Guardian column:

To have a prominent political figure challenging the power and message of the Israel lobby is almost unheard of in most western nations – which is precisely what makes the just released diaries of former Australian foreign minister Bob Carr all the more remarkable.

Across 500 pages, Carr catalogues his intense exercise regime, friendships with Hillary Clinton and Henry Kissinger and hectic schedule of meetings and first-class travel. Carr’s more eccentric quotes certainly makes it tempting to dismiss the book, but to do so would be missing the vital importance of his remarks on the Israel/Palestine conflict and Zionism’s most aggressive advocates.

Carr explains, in compelling detail, how Melbourne’s Zionist lobby pressures, romances, bullies and cajoles politicians to tow the most fundamentalist position over illegal Israeli colonies, Palestinian recognition at the UN, and even the language used to describe Israeli actions. He also claims that Israel lobby financing impacted the positions of elected politicians on foreign policy. Carr reports former Kevin Rudd telling him that about one-fifth of the money he had raised in the 2007 election campaign had come from the Jewish community, and criticises Julia Gillard’s unfailing pro-Israel stance (see, for example, her effusive praise of the Jewish state after she received the Jerusalem Prize), pointing out that she would not even let him criticise Israeli West Bank settlements.

“It’s an appalling situation if Australia allows a group of [Jewish] businessmen [in Melbourne] to veto policy on the Middle East”, Carr summarises in frustration (unsurprisingly, local Zionist groups have responded with fury and defensiveness to the attack).

Carr is right, of course, but I would also have liked to see him discussing in depth the countless numbers of politician and journalists taken on free trips to Israel by the Zionist lobby, where they are often given a selective tour of the region. Tim Wilson, to take just one example, described an introduction to Israel which included a visit to a refugee camp in Bethlehem and a tour of the old city of Jerusalem, along with “meetings with politicians, academics and journalists” (organisers insist guests are “not controlled” and allowed open access).

Part of the softening of politicians to be receptive to the most extreme views on Israel and Palestine comes from those sponsored trips, coupled with relatively weak Palestinian advocacy and a post 9/11 context which paints Arabs with a discriminatory brush. These trips are not, as The Australian claimed last week, “to better understand its strategic fragilities from the ground” – that’s just lobby language. No, those trips – such as AIJAC’s Rambam Israel fellowship – are in essence programs engineered to show journalists, human rights commissioners, advisors, student leaders and politicians the Israeli government perspective. More than a fair share of them return to Australia singing the praises of Israel, issuing caution over any end to the occupation in the process.

Be astounded with this list, provided by the essential blog chronicler of the lobby, Middle East reality check, of all the media and politicians who have taken these trips over the last few years. This hand-holding can be perceived as one way to propagandise the elites against growing public support for Palestine, especially since few of these visitors seem to use their own initiative and visit Gaza or the West Bank for more than a few hours.

The lobby has to acknowledge its power and access to senior politicians. AIJAC head Mark Leibler didn’t realise or care during his ABC TV Lateline interview last week that boasting about such encounters, when most of his meetings with prime ministers and senior ministers aren’t on the public record, reinforces the public perception that they too often operate in the dark, without accountability. Let’s not forget: this is a lobby which often pushes Australia to take a hardline view on settlements on occupied territories only shared by a handful of other nations, such as the Marshall Islands, Palau and Nauru at the UN.

We are that isolated, and Australians deserve to know what goes on behind the scenes. In the meantime, it’s considered perfectly normal for our political class to proudly tweet a photo with Moshe Feiglin, one of the most hardline Israeli politicians (as Australia’s ambassador to Israel did last week), or to welcome a pro-occupation Israeli leader such as Naftali Bennett to Australia.

This is the political environment in which Carr’s diaries and observations must be seen. Australia, and most western countries, continue to indulge Israeli occupation. But cracks are appearing in this strategy, and Carr should be congratulated for slamming the groups and power centres that aim to continue this dysfunctional alliance.

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Former Australian Prime Minister Gillard jokes about NSA spying

Revelations about NSA mass spying on virtually every citizen around the world, including key allies of the US, is causing justifiable outrage globally.

Former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, speaking in the US, shows the kind of subservience to Washington that is all too common in our political and media class. We’re a client state and seemingly happy to remain so:

If my telephone was intercepted when I was prime minister, all that anybody would have heard would have been praise for president Obama.

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Stop drinking the think-tank kool-aid

My weekly column for the Guardian appears today:

The ABC TV Lateline interview with Kurt Campbell, former US assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, was cordial, even reverential. It was conducted in the middle of March this year, more than a month after Campbell had left the state department.

Interviewer Emma Alberici asked Campbell about the transformation of Burma and the release of Aung San Suu Kyi. He gushed that it was remarkable, and gave some folksy anecdotes about a “better future” for the Burmese. The interview then swiftly moved on to focus on the prospects of Hillary Clinton running for president in 2016. There were no questions about Campbell’s push for greater ties with the Indonesian military despite its shocking record of abuse in West Papua.

There were also no questions about Campbell’s Washington and Singapore-based investment organisation, the Asia Group, and its efforts to win lucrative contracts across the Asia-Pacific region. After all, his company had been launched before this interview took place and surely warranted some questions about the appropriateness of setting up a company so soon after leaving government.

It might be considered an example of the unwillingness of the mainstream media to challenge potential conflicts of interest when it comes to the murky melding of business and politics. With the announcement in August by the Lowy Institute that Campbell was its 2013 distinguished international fellow, it’s vital to question the ways in which our media has drunk the thinktank kool-aid.

The Lowy Institute sees itself as Australia’s leading foreign affairs thinktank. Its fellows and staff routinely appear in the media pontificating about global affairs, including a push for greater defence spending that would allow countless contractors to earn billions of dollars. Its head Michael Fullilove, who’s also a non-resident senior fellow in foreign affairs at the Brookings Institution, writes longingly about former US national security advisor Henry Kissinger as a “realist”, despite there being questions over Kissinger’s record of foreign policy. Kissinger endorsed Fullilove’s recent book, a love letter to Franklin D Roosevelt. Fullilove has also been an outspoken critic of the release of the Wikileaks cables.

When former Australian prime minister Julia Gillard recently announced that she had been made a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, I could find no local news story that explained what the thinktank was. Glenn Greenwald has pithily written that “Brookings is a classic example of that sprawling strain of Washington thinktank culture that exist for little reason other than to serve and justify government power.”

The US-based Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting group investigated the influence of corporate and foundation money on thinktanks and their spokepeople, and urged an examination of their fundings in the areas of climate change, war, arms manufacturing and energy policy. Frustratingly, interviewers rarely get past the bland soundbite from their guests. As an example, the Public Accountability Initiative released a report this month that found a number many of the expert voices calling for military action against Syria in the US were linked to the weapons industry and would financially benefit from a US strike. However, in the vast bulk of media appearances, outlets failed to disclose these business interests.

In Australia, the questions around the independence of thinktanks started with the establishment of Sydney University’s United States Studies Centre in 2006. At its launch dinner, Rupert Murdoch said that “Australians must resist and reject the facile, reflexive, unthinking anti-Americanism that has gripped much of Europe”. The media today laps up its views, despite questions around the Centre Sydney University allowing itself to be funded by politically friendly parties.

The US Studies Centre is supported by a range of corporate interests, including the Dow Chemical Company Foundation, “to support a three-year research program on sustainability.” A key aim of Dow is to push genetically modified foods, and to oppose complete labelling of GM foods in the US. People should take these connections into account when evaluating any US Studies Centre face that appears in our media to talk dispassionately about the environment.

But back to Kurt Campbell. In May 2013, his company the Asia Group was one of the bidders on Yangon International Airport, a $1bn project. In July 2012, Campbell had successfully convinced the Obama administration while he was still in government to lift an investment ban on Burma, allowing US firms to make a fortune in the country.

This led to Foreign Policy’s The Cable wondering whether The Asia Group had some conflict of interest questions to answer, leading company COO Nirav Patel to claim that Campbell’s activities in the country had been “extremely consistent” for years. “This is intrinsically about supporting reform,” he said. “You can’t get to supporting reform without people taking [investment] risks. That’s something we’re very passionate about.” In the end, a Korean consortium, Incheon, won the airport tender.

There are no suggestions of illegal behaviour by Campbell or his company. But questions can be asked over the appropriateness of setting up a consulting firm shortly after leaving government, and then potentially making money from relationships established during his time as a public servant. My many requests for comment from Campbell and the Asia Group went unanswered.

I asked the Lowy Institute a range of questions about Campbell’s possible conflicts of interest. They sent me a statement that ignored these issues:

“Dr Campbell has long been one of the United States’ foremost policymakers on Asia. As assistant secretary of state for east Asian and Pacific affairs, he played a leading role on issues such at the US “rebalance” towards Asia, US-China relations, and efforts to promote democratic change in Burma. This fellowship will provide the international policy community in Australia with an opportunity to draw upon Dr Campbell’s experience and insights on the defining political, economic and strategic issues in Asia at a time of great change in the region. It will also be an opportunity to expose Dr Campbell to Australian perspectives on these issues.”

Business and politics rarely mix without controversy; the media needs to be careful not to be seduced by smooth thinktank talkers.

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Voice of Russia interview about Australian election of Tony Abbott

I was interviewed last night by The Voice of Russia about the ascension of Tony Abbott to the Prime Ministership (my previous interview with them was in July on asylum seekers):

As Australia conservative leader Tony Abbott has won the national elections by a landslide, bringing an end to a six-year Labor rule, Antony Loewenstein, an Australian independent freelance journalist, in an interview with the Voice of Russia, shared his opinion on the election outcome and on what the country may expect from the new government which is to face many challenges, including tackling such issues as immigration policy and the carbon emission tax.

The Australian Election Commission confirmed on its website that the Liberal-National coalition had won 88 seats in the House of Representatives, and Labor 57. Australia’s newly elected Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has admitted defeat to Tony Abbott in the Australian election. Outgoing Prime Minister said he will not stand again for Labor leadership. Rudd had called the election after defeating Julia Gillard in a leadership challenge in June. Under Rudd, Labor initially saw its figures improve, but Tony Abbott, who enjoyed the support of Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers, then widened the gap again.

Tony Abbott’s top priorities include cutting 4.1 billion dollars from Australia’s foreign aid program over four years, abolishing a highly unpopular carbon tax, and implementing Operation Sovereign Borders aimed at curbing the number of asylum-seekers arriving by boat. Abbott has also promised to scrap a controversial 30 percent profits tax imposed on major coal and iron ore mines.

The new Liberal-National Party coalition government is a strong supporter of a long-standing military alliance with the United States, and supports the rotation of US Marines through northern Australia. It also advocates closer ties with China, Australia’s top trading partner, and wants to push ahead with negotiations for a free trade deal with Beijing.

A record 1,717 candidates contested the election, including mining entrepreneur Clive Palmer, and Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who is holed up in the Ecuadorean embassy in London.

Antony Loewenstein, an Australian independent freelance journalist.

Was this result expected? What was your opinion and forecast?

It was very much expected. It’s been a Labor government in power since 2007, in the last couple of years it became very unpopular for a range of different reasons. The economy is doing remarkably well, which is quite strange because most countries have suffered the financial crisis but Australia is doing very well. So, it has been combination of factors. The asylum seekers keep coming; there is also the issue of a lot of protests by Murdoch. There was time when Murdoch had a lot of influence in Australia and the opposition – it was inevitable that they were going to win on Saturday, and here we are.

What will happen to Australia’s immigration policies? How will that change?

Unfortunately, the policy has become even crueler towards asylum seekers. For the last years, especially for the 15 years both sides of the politics in Australia found ways to harsh towards refugees, putting them in detention camps in the middle of desert, treating them very badly on the Pacific. So, unfortunately, it is already very bad. The new government is even worse. The aim is to stop people getting on boats from Indonesia to come to Australia, which may not be successful but people often forget in Australia or elsewhere that what the issue here is how we treat refugees when they come and Australia unfortunately in the last few years has chosen a path of giving harsh treatment. And I am worried that it is going to be worse not better in the coming months and years.

Can’t we say that Australia is protecting itself in that way?

That is what the government says, that Australia must protect its borders and yes, that is certainly a view that every country, including Australia must protect its borders. But the language that is used by politicians here, the true thing is, one, they regularly say that refugees are coming here illegally, which is incorrect. Any refugee has the right to come to Australia or any country and claim asylum – that’s not for the government to decide. And secondly, if you claim as the Australian government does that many asylum seekers are potentially terrorists or criminals or untrustworthy, it creates the image in the greater community that people that are coming by boat should be mistrusted and I think that is the problem where our own government figures show that a vast majority of asylum seekers that come to Australia from Iran, from Afghanistan, from Pakistan actually are legitimate refugees. So, this I think is the problem with that kind of rhetoric.

Can we say that most Australian people do support these kinds of measures?

Yes, there is no doubt that there is a sizable proportion of Australia that supports the idea of a harsher refugee policy. That is true. My view is possibly in the minority, I understand that. I would say because many people don’t know the full spectrum of refugees. The media for many years have sent a certain message that was negative towards asylum seekers, but yes, you are right, there is a great deal of support in the Australian community, as the reason many countries around the world have been treating asylum seekers very harshly and that is the challenge to try to make people look sympathetic, in my view.

What about tax changes? What changes in that sphere are you expecting?

One of the things that is quite remarkable is that besides the fact the Australian economy is doing very well, normally when the economy does well, people do not change the government. Australia is the opposite of that. So, we have the situation now when we have the new government. What the new government is talking about doing is providing far greater tax breaks for corporations to reduce regulations for those corporations and to help mining companies and energy companies to have far greater access to resources with less taxes and regulations. So, it seems that they are going to be following the path of the number of other countries and that will happen in the next 6-12 months.

What about the carbon emission tax?

We have the situation in Australia where there are 2 parts of the Parliament – the upper half and the lower half and because of the way the Parliament works quite similarly to Britain in some ways, it is unclear whether the new government will be able to put this through the Parliament. What they plan is to say that carbon tax that was put in place by the previous government should be abolished, the current government has been in power for 2 days and I think it has a very ambivalent relationship towards climate change, some members believe it exists, some do not. So, we are likely to see a loosening of regulations around energy companies and less of an issue towards pollution. I think Australia’s policy towards the carbon tax is likely to change and in some ways is following many other countries, but public support of serious actions on climate change regulations, in fact, is reducing, and it is similar to what is happening in many parts of the world at the moment as well.

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Australian Jewish heads love Zionist colonies, conservatism and remain lost cause

Australia has a federal election on 7 September. We’re looking at a change of government to Liberal leader Tony Abbott; a period of neo-conservatism awaits us. I agree with Wikileaks head Julian Assange who argues that one of the key issues is liberating ourselves from genuflecting towards Washington on every issue.

Israel/Palestine has barely featured in the campaign though the Zionist lobby is upset the ruling Labor party talks about West Bank colonies as “illegal”. They want obedience to the Likud line, that Palestinians are a) evil b) violent and c) anti-Semitic. A sign of the paranoia and ignorance of the lobby came this week when Zionist lobbyist Albert Dadon (a man with a background of embracing Israeli apartheid) banned a film critical of Israel from the Israeli Film Festival. Comical, tragic and pathetic.

Here’s a feature in Haaretz by Dan Goldberg which reflects the constipation, ignorance and racism amongst the Zionist elites. Here’s hoping younger Jews are far more enlightened:

Jewish community leaders in Australia have virtually abandoned support for the governing Labor Party, with most privately hoping the conservative Liberal Party wins the federal election next weekend.

The near consensus in favor of Tony Abbott to replace Kevin Rudd as the nation’s next PM comes as the Liberal Party reportedly plans to upgrade relations with Jerusalem, make visa applications easier for Israelis, ban more terror groups and stop financial support to any organization that supports the boycott Israel campaign.

According to a report in The Australian newspaper on Monday, an Abbott-led government would add Israel to the growing list of countries that can access fast-track visas for short-term visits to Australia.

The latest polls predict the Liberal Party will win the September 7 election by 53 percent to Labor’s 47 percent. Voting is mandatory and Orthodox Jews have started to pre-poll because all Australian elections are held on Saturdays.

If the polls are accurate, it would spell the end of a bitter battle between Foreign Minister Bob Carr and Jewish leaders, who were infuriated in January when he joined British Foreign Secretary William Hague in stating that all Israeli settlements are “illegal under international law.”

Carr, a founder of the New South Wales Parliamentary Friends of Israel group in the 1970s, reignited Jewish angst last month in a speech outside Australia’s largest mosque. “All settlements on Palestinian land are illegal under international law and should cease,” he said. “That is the position of Kevin Rudd, the position of the federal Labor government, and we don’t make apologies for it.”

It prompted fellow Labor lawmaker Michael Danby to take out a full-page advertisement in last week’s Australian Jewish News reminding Carr of Labor’s “carefully calibrated even-handed policy on peace.”

Danby, one of federal parliament’s most vocal advocates for Israel, added: “Foreign ministers have come and gone but Australia and our Australian Jewish community’s bond with Israel is as solid as Jerusalem stone.”

But Albert Dadon, the founder of the Australia-Israel-UK Leadership Forum, who first took Rudd to Israel a decade ago, told Haaretz: “An old tradition in Australian politics was bipartisanship when it comes to support for Israel.

“Unfortunately it is evident that it’s Labor that broke with that tradition and attempted to use Israel as a political football,” said Dadon.

Another senior leader said there is “no question” the leadership of the Jewish community favors the Liberal Party.

He claimed some Jewish leaders felt “betrayed” by the Labor Party after Julia Gillard, who he described as “an unwavering friend of Israel,” was dramatically deposed as prime minister at the end of June.

During Rudd’s first stint as prime minister from 2007 to 2010 he led a successful campaign for Australia to win a temporary seat on the United Nations Security Council, but was accused of sacrificing support for Israel in a bid to woo Arab votes.

Gillard wanted to oppose the vote to upgrade the status of Palestine at the UN last year but was thwarted by a campaign reportedly led by Carr, who preferred to abstain.

The Jewish vote in Australia is neither uniform nor influential given its relatively small size, and most Jews generally vote primarily on economic and social issues, and not based on the party’s Middle East policy.

But the Liberal Party’s strong economic credentials, coupled with its unapologetic support for Israel, are understood to have attracted increased Jewish support in the last decade.

One Jewish leader said Labor’s wavering posture on Israel would affect some Jewish voters. “I know there are a lot of Jewish people who feel strongly about it,” he said.

Abbott, a London native who once enrolled at a Catholic seminary before abandoning plans for the priesthood, has wooed Jewish voters since his first public speech soon after being elected leader of the Liberal Party in December 2009.

“I’d like to think that nowhere in the world [does Israel] have more stauncher friends than us,” he told Dadon’s Leadership Forum in Melbourne.

Dr. Ron Weiser, a former president of the Zionist Federation of Australia, told Haaretz: “It is not uncritical support that we seek; it is the support of a friend who understands that Israel is a moral entity that behaves morally and with that understanding is more likely in the first instance to assume that Israel is correct rather than incorrect.”

In an apparent swipe at Carr, he added: “We seek the support of a friend who understands the complexities of the Middle East and the fact that the obstacle to peace is not the legality of settlements but rather Palestinian intransigence and Palestinian unwillingness to accept a two-states-for-two-peoples solution.”

But some Jewish leaders fear a Liberal government could “open the door to Holocaust denial” by amending the Racial Discrimination Act. Abbott has mooted the possibility of diluting section 18c of the RDA, which makes it illegal to commit an act that could “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people … because of their race, color or national or ethnic origin.”

It was precisely this section that was cited by Federal Court judge Catherine Branson in 2002 when she ruled that Adelaide’s Dr Fredrick Toben must stop publishing Holocaust denial material on the Internet in a landmark case brought by Jewish community leaders.

Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus, another Jewish MP alongside Danby in the Labor government, argued in an open letter to Abbott recently that his preference to limit section 18c to acts of “intimidation or harassment” is inconsistent with his support for the London Declaration on Combatting Anti-Semitism.

“Section 18c is precisely the kind of legislated protection against anti-Semitism and discrimination that the London Declaration calls on its signatories to enact,” Dreyfus wrote.

The best outcome for the Australian Jewish community would be a narrow victory for the Liberal Party, added one senior Jewish leader.

“That would mean Australia would revert to its historic position regarding Israel but they will not be able to ram through badly thought-out amendments to the Racial Discrimination Act.”

16 comments ↪

Direct call for whistle-blowers to reveal what state shamefully denies

My following article appears in today’s Guardian:

Revelations of British government intrusion of legitimate media reporting of American-led, global surveillance is a call to arms for journalists everywhere.

Australian attorney general Mark Dreyfus recently claimed that Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden weren’t whistle-blowers because they were “politically motivated”, and neither man exposed government wrong-doing (in fact, both did in major ways). The highest lawyer in the country fundamentally misunderstands the vital, democratic necessity of whistle-blowing as a safety valve against state violence, corruption and dishonesty.

Dreyfus should remember that the most comprehensive global study ever conducted into public attitudes towards whistleblowing, Melbourne University’s Suelette Dreyfus was a key researcher on the World Online Whistleblowing Survey, which found 81% of Australians believed such individuals should be backed.

If any western state claiming to be a democracy wants to destroy hard drives containing sensitive information, there’s only one response: resistance. Glenn Greenwald is right when he told CNN this week that “journalism is not a crime and it’s not terrorism”. The fact that such obvious statements need to be made in this climate shows how dangerous the attempts to criminalise legitimate investigations have become in the post 9/11 world.

In the spirit of telling governments and authorities that the public won’t tolerate illegal intrusion and intimidation against its own citizens, the following list is a far from comprehensive collection of information and documents the public has the right and need to know. Whistle-blowers and gadflys should feel unburdened and find the best way to get this information out (yes, I can receive snail mail to avoid all electronic communication).

  • A decade after Australian forces were sent to Iraq to join the US overthrow of Saddam Hussein, there’s still no inquiry into the decision-making process leading to that decision (though the Iraq War Inquiry Group has been calling for one). It’s essential that documents are released related to the motivation and timing of the decision, whether legal advice found the decision legal, the exact role of private contractors working for Australians in the conflict zone and whether public statements by then prime minister John Howard and foreign minister Alexander Downer matched private knowledge and assessments.
  • Trade agreements negotiated with other nations must be made public long before they’re passed, usually with bipartisanship, by a government of the day. Far too often, including in the trade deal between Australia and America, secrecy is used to obfuscate clauses that disadvantage citizens, not least over sovereignty and excessive use of foreign law enforcement actions in our territory. We need to see documents that detail these negotiations and what benefits Australian officials were willing to forgo for political expediency.
  • What’s the legal basis for the use of American assets on Australian territory, such as Pine Gap, in Washington’s drone war? What, if any, intelligence was gathered on Australian soil in the “war on terror” that caused the death of civilians in officially declared or undeclared battle zones? What is the legal basis for maintaining a key US intelligence asset without proper and regular parliamentary scrutiny? Recent revelations in New Zealand that US intelligence may be supporting its intelligence services should ring alarm bells in Australia, as our subservience to Washington’s needs are equally transparent.
  • What legal advice did former prime minister Julia Gillard rely on when she claimed Julian Assange was behaving “illegally” when his organisation Wikileaks released documents in 2010? When Australian foreign minister Bob Carr said in June this year that his government was washing his hands of Assange because his case “doesn’t affect Australian interests”, we deserve to see the legal advice that supports this absurd suggestion. The fact that Australian officials attended the trial of Bradley Manning proved the spuriousness of Carr’s comments.
  • Australia and America signed in 2008 a “statement of principles on geospatial intelligence co-operation”. The program is GEOINT, a high-level intelligence sharing program from spy satellites. President Barack Obama has accelerated America’s drone war since 2008, killing countless civilians in Yemen, Pakistan and beyond, and Australians have the right to see the legal basis for any information given by Canberra to attacks that kill or maim non-combatants. Does this legal advice, if it even exists, show that Australian officials could be held accountable for misuse of American intelligence in its “war on terror”?
  • Australia provides more than half a billion dollars of aid annually to Papua New Guinea. How much financial assistance is AusAid providing to Australian consultants to assist the government of Bougainville (and its corporate backers) in drafting mining legislation to allow the return of mining giant Rio Tinto more than two decades after the multinational was kicked out of the province? Billions of dollars are up for grabs in the project.
  • Australia’s ascension to the UN Security Council in 2012 was surrounded by allegations of bribing African nations for the honour. What diplomatic promises were made by Australian officials to secure these votes and what internal discussions by Australia were undertaken to assess the benefits or disadvantages of the two-year position? Furthermore, what pressure did Israel, during its unsuccessful bid to convince Australia to reject Palestinian statehood at the UN in 2012, place on the Gillard government and what did Gillard herself promise to the Israelis after failing to secure support of her cabinet during the discussions over the issue?
  • Just two months before East Timor became independent in March 2002, Australia unilaterally withdrew from the maritime boundary jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice and the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea. The Timor Sea Justice Campaign claimed that Australia was stealing billions of dollars in oil and gas revenue from its poorest neighbour. Documents that reveal the Australian government’s decisions would be insightful. Equally important are the exact reasons for the Howard government’s intervention in 1999 (not as noble as claimed) and successive Australian governments, from Gough Whitlam and Malcolm Fraser in the 1970s onwards, ignoring Indonesian genocide against the Timorese (all ably documented in a recent book by Clinton Fernandes).

Governments routinely over-classify information and beyond the reach of the public – the US now classifies literally trillions of pages of text annually – so it’s our duty to uncover what the state and business want to keep secret. Embarrassing power is our job. Let’s make authorities sweat by releasing an avalanche of riches.

23 comments ↪

Murdoch and Netanyahu make love so please don’t interrupt

Care to imagine what an editorial meeting is like at Rupert Murdoch’s Australian? No, me neither – “look, over there, a Muslim country the West hasn’t bombed, let’s fix that immediately!” – but there’s a weird obsession over supporting the Israeli government. There’s a direct line from the Israeli PR department to the writers at the Murdoch organ and don’t they milk it for all it’s worth? It’s not about intellectual rigour or facts but blind ideology. From comments about how Palestinians and critics should be grateful for Israel to today three articles that all tackle BDS, Palestine, human rights, anti-Semitism, TERRORISM, ice-cream and pandas.

The word “occupation” is typically absent.

First, a “news story”:

Sydney Peace Foundation head Stuart Rees has lashed out at Julia Gillard for signing the London Declaration on Combating Anti-Semitism, calling the gesture “childish, thoughtless but easily populist”.

Professor Rees is on the staff of the University of Sydney’s controversial Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, which last year denied a request for co-operation from the only Israeli academic to create a civics curriculum for both Jewish and Arab school students.

The centre cited its support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which explicitly equates Israel with apartheid-era South Africa.

Last month the Prime Minister became the first Australian parliamentarian to sign the London Declaration. “This declaration reminds us that combating anti-Semitism is an active process, not a passive one,” she said. “It demands vigilance. It means remaining alert to new vehicles by which hatred and social poison can be spread.”

Professor Rees originally made his comments in an email responding to comments made by opposition frontbencher Christopher Pyne when he attacked the BDS movement on Friday.

“Activism, boycotts and sometimes sanctions campaigns aren’t always anti-Semitic, but when you target individual businesses because they are Jewish, it is clearly anti-Semitic,” Mr Pyne said in a statement on the declaration, pointing to BDS activity at universities in NSW.

“It is sad that 70 years after the second world war and the discovery of the Holocaust we are still having to defend the right of Jewish people to live in their Jewish homeland in Israel free from this kind of anti-Semitic campaign.”

Professor Rees dismissed his remarks as “the usual childish, thoughtless but easily populist response” in the email, which was obtained by The Australian. “Justice for the Palestinians and indeed security for Israelis deserves more than predicable ‘happy to get on any easy bandwagon’ approach of this politician.”

Asked if his criticisms also applied to Ms Gillard, Professor Rees responded “of course”. “The resort to charges of anti-Semitism regarding the world-wide criticisms of the internationally illegal policies of the government of Israel is an age-old technique to stifle any criticism of blatant human rights abuses,” he said.

Mr Pyne said: “It is disappointing that Professor Rees is the director of the Sydney Peace Foundation and yet also a supporter of the BDS movement that seeks to delegitimise Israel, targets Jewish businesses and prohibits a healthy cultural exchange between universities and in so doing damages the prospects for peace.”

Professor Rees declined to comment yesterday, saying he had just returned from overseas.

And an op-ed by Bruce Loudon, a man who praises Israel for its glorious democracy but just happens to ignore the minor detail of millions of Palestinians under a brutal, Israeli occupation:

There is a fundamental flaw in the argument that forms the centrepiece of the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign.

Israel, supporters of the campaign maintain, is an “apartheid” state where the evils being perpetrated against Palestinians are equivalent to those committed in South Africa in the darkest days of racist oppression. They demand the same international response (boycotts, divestment and sanctions) that, they argue, succeeded in undoing the white regime.

They see successfully labelling Israel in the eyes of the world an “apartheid” state as the key to forcing it to change course.

It’s an argument that has attracted support around the world, not just among those het up by what they ludicrously perceive to be the threat posed by Max Brenner chocolate shops in Australia. Even that most eminent and widely esteemed of scientists, Stephen Hawking, has bowed to Palestinian pressure and decided to boycott a scientific conference in Israel that he was previously happy to visit.

But it is an argument many with first-hand knowledge of South Africa under apartheid rule and Israel today would regard as a cockeyed distortion of historical reality that should be resisted, for the very basis of it is plain wrong: conveniently ignored is the fact that from its inception in 1949 until Nelson Mandela won power for the African National Congress in the 1994 “freedom election”, the policy of apartheid in South Africa involved the oppression of a vast black majority, purely on the basis of race, by a tiny white minority.

Crucially, it involved the creation of a state in which there was no democracy as we know it – one in which political and most other rights were the exclusive preserve of the privileged white minority. The black majority was disenfranchised and subjected to the most outrageous forms of discrimination in every aspect of their lives. They had no representation in the national parliament.

Black lives were regulated simply because people were black. Segregation was ruthlessly enforced. Blacks were allowed to live only in specified, mostly rundown areas. They had to go to separate, backdoor entrances at post offices. They could not go to white hospitals. Marriage and sex across the colour line was barred.

A lunatic system of race classification deemed what people could or could not do. Blacks couldn’t place funeral notices in the same columns as whites in newspapers. Schools were segregated, beaches were for whites only, and blacks were barred from playing sport with whites.

Israel is vastly different; it bears little relation to the madness of apartheid in South Africa. It is, after all, a country in which there is, yes, an overwhelming Jewish majority, but in which Arabs make up 20 per cent of the population. Crucially, where South Africa, under apartheid, was a racial dictatorship, Israel is a vibrant democracy, a country whose declaration of independence at the time of its foundation specifically promised “complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture”.

While the black majority in South Africa was for decades disenfranchised, in Israel, every citizen, of whatever faith or ethnic background, has an inalienable right to vote and to speak out, even against Israel’s existence.

There have been Arab members of the Knesset in every parliament since the country’s formation, and while in South Africa discriminatory laws were administered by a race-based white judiciary, in Israel, an Arab judge was part of a Supreme Court bench that convicted a former Israeli president on misconduct charges.

Arab Israelis have served as government ministers, ambassadors for the country in key diplomatic postings abroad, and in top public service and police posts.

Yet Israel is flogged by the BDS campaigners as an “apartheid” state that deserves to be punished and ostracised by the international community in the way South Africa was. Nothing is heard, of course, about the “apartheid” being enforced by Hamas in Gaza, where strict Islamic law is being imposed, with women barred even from running in a local marathon, while schoolchildren are being segregated and forced to wear Islamic dress. There is also silence on the rank discrimination that is enforced in so much of the Arab world. That South Africa, because of its grotesque system of apartheid, was fair game for the sort of campaign of boycotts, divestment and sanctions that contributed substantially to the ultimate demise of white rule is hard to argue against.

But comparisons between South Africa then, and Israel now, are neither fair nor sustainable. And they certainly do not accord with reality.

The two situations are vastly different, and it is a pity people such as Hawking allow themselves to be persuaded otherwise. Israel is far from perfect. It has many shortcomings. But it is not an “apartheid” state in the sense South Africa was.

It is a vibrant democracy – significantly, the only functioning democracy in the Middle East. And it deserves better than the gross distortion of reality being espoused by BDS campaigners.

And finally an editorial where readers are told to stop picking on Israel and focus on the real menace, Iran (a nation that this peace-loving newspaper has said in the past could deserve to be bombed):

The Sydney Peace Foundation’s stated purpose is “to promote universal human rights and peace with justice” as the building blocks of any civil society. Foundation chairman Stuart Rees, however, has cast a cloud over the organisation’s bona fides by dismissing the London Declaration on Combating Anti-Semitism as “childish, thoughtless but easily populist”. His condemnation of Julia Gillard and opposition education spokesman Christopher Pyne for “cowardice” in signing it almost beggars belief.

The Prime Minister and Mr Pyne are two of more than 125 politicians from 40 countries who have signed the declaration, which is a well-modulated affirmation of “democratic and human values” advocating societies built on respect, combating anti-Semitism and discrimination. As Mr Pyne said last week, it is sad that, 70 years after the Holocaust, it remains necessary to defend the right of Jewish people to live in Israel – the Middle East’s only mature democracy – free of anti-Semitic activities such as the Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions campaign.

Professor Rees’s stance, in line with many on the Left, contains a curious anomaly. In recent years, while the Left has become more critical of Israel, its Palestinian opponents have become more jihadist. Israel’s critics also pay little heed to the encroaching influence of Iran, one of the world’s most oppressive and menacing regimes. Late last year, after supporting the Palestinian Authority’s bid for statehood at the UN, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei reiterated his nation’s attitude to Israel when he said any deal that accepted the Jewish state’s existence would leave a “cancerous tumour” forever threatening Middle East security. Such hostile influence further diminishes the prospect of a workable two-state solution. Unfortunately, that prospect has receded since the death of former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in 2004, as the influence of Fatah, the Palestinian faction prepared to negotiate a two-state solution, has been usurped.

Through Sudan and Egypt, Iran has been shipping major new weapons supplies to the Hamas terrorists in Gaza, who have governed there since winning a majority of parliamentary seats in 2006. The rockets and missiles are being stockpiled in anticipation of military conflict with Israel, to be sparked by action over Iran’s nuclear ambitions or the civil war in Iran’s ally, Syria.

Iran also has cemented its influence in the Middle East by arming its other surrogate, Hezbollah, with Iranian-supplied rockets in Lebanon. The evidence is incontrovertible that the Assad regime in Damascus, in close collusion with Iran, is seeking to transfer stockpiles of Fateh-110 missiles, with the capacity to carry a half-tonne warhead more than 300km, to Hezbollah terrorists in Lebanon. Such a prospect represents a serious threat to Israel.

Against such a background, the focus of Professor Rees’s “peace” foundation is what he calls “the internationally illegal policies of the government of Israel”. While claiming that Ms Gillard and Mr Pyne “have a lot of serious reflecting and reading to do” and that they should accompany him to Gaza, the professor fails to address the religious fanaticism of Israel’s main opponents. For the head of an organisation ostensibly committed to peace, such bias suggests underlying values that are strangely skewed.

In the real world, away from propaganda for any state or its policies, lies the reality of Israeli actions and the importance of boycotting and challenging this mad normality. Here’s why.

8 comments ↪

Memo to Murdoch/Zio lobby; BDS grows while occupation deepens

Another day and yet more faux outrage by the Murdoch press and Israel lobby in Australia.

First this (via the Australian on its front page):

Julia Gillard has denounced the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement ahead of anti-Israeli protest action planned at the University of NSW today.

BDS action at UNSW has turned ugly, with anti-Semitic and Holocaust-denying material appearing on a Facebook page opposing the opening of a Max Brenner chocolate shop on campus. Postings on a Facebook page promoting today’s protest have attacked “Jews and Jew lovers” and said the figure of six million Jews murdered by Nazi Germany was an exaggeration.

“Tell us again how there was no hidden Zionist agenda with the Holocaust and the eventual creation of the state of Israel,” one reads.

The Prime Minister said yesterday through a spokeswoman that the government had always been firm in its opposition of the BDS movement, which equates Israel with apartheid-era South Africa.

“This campaign does not serve the cause of peace and diplomacy for agreement on a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine,” she said.

“I welcome the strong ties our universities have with Israeli researchers and academic institutions, and I hope those ties will deepen in the years ahead.”

The University of Sydney Student Representative Council this month called for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions, including severing the university’s ties with the world-renowned Technion in Haifa.

The Prime Minister’s comments come a week after she became the first Australian politician to sign the London Declaration on Combating Anti-Semitism.

“In the face of anti-Semitism, there can be no bystanders,” she wrote. “As citizens, as leaders and as nations, we must act.”

The gesture has been seen as bridge-building after a row with the Jewish community last year over Australia’s abstention from a UN vote giving Palestine non-member observer state status.

Executive Council of Australian Jewry chief Peter Wertheim welcomed Ms Gillard’s remarks yesterday.

“The BDS campaign against Israel over the last few years has been a spectacular failure,” he said.

“It has been forcefully repudiated by every political party represented in the federal parliament and in every state and territory parliament.”

Some Greens, including NSW senator Lee Rhiannon, have backed the movement in the past. Support for BDS is credited with dashing the Greens’ hopes of winning the seat of Marrickville in the 2011 NSW election.

The group Students for Justice in Palestine has called for a boycott of the University of NSW Max Brenner outlet, due to open in June.

BDS activists claim the chain is owned by the Israeli Strauss Group of food and confectionery manufacturers, which produces some rations for the nation’s defence forces and accuse it of complicity in “Israeli war crimes”. However, the local management insists it is wholly Australian owned and operated.

Australian Union of Jewish Students spokesman Andrew Goldberg said: “The boycott Max Brenner movement has turned into a hotbed of blatant anti-Semitism. Classical anti-Semitic comments have been made, clearly irrelevant to discussion about Max Brenner. The organisers have effectively endorsed these comments by dismissing legitimate concerns about anti-Semitism as ‘trying to shut down debate about Israel’.”

Mr Goldberg called on university officials to “ensure that those with an anti-Semitic agenda will not be allowed to spread their hateful and discriminatory agenda on campus”.

The Australian was unable to contact the Facebook site’s operators. However, one prolific poster apologised “to any of the Jewish people on this page who were upset and offended by comments”.

Then this:

When the University of NSW surveyed staff and students about which new stores they wanted on campus, a Max Brenner chocolate shop was the equal second most popular choice. This has not deterred the anti-Israel Students for Justice in Palestine UNSW from seeking to impose its own preferences on the rest of the campus community.

They accuse UNSW, and presumably staff and students who voted for Max Brenner, of supporting “Israeli war crimes” and “apartheid”.

Beyond this baseless calumny against Israel, local Max Brenner shops are wholly Australian owned and operated.

Yet if that was the extent of SJP’s response, it would hardly rate a mention.But what began as student activism, has ended up in a social media campaign of anti-Jewish vilification, to the point where many Jewish students on campus feel unsafe.

The Facebook page RALLY! Say no to Max Brenner at UNSW was set up by SJP via the Boycott Max Brenner at UNSW Facebook group. It has hosted dozens of comments that cover the gamut of anti-Jewish stereotypes, claiming that Jews are cursed by God, are money-hungry, control the media, and are dirty and evil.

Other posts deny the Holocaust and simultaneously, with textbook cognitive dissonance, blame the Holocaust on the Jews.

The racist postings include a reference to “evil greedy money-loving nature of Jews”, and the claim that “Only news (that) Jews are happy with goes through via media”. Another post reverts to classical religious bigotry: “Of course I have a problem with Jews. You are not the cursed people and were not Banished from the holy land for nothing lol.” Non-Jews who defend Jews come in for opprobrium with the comment: “Tip rats = Jew lovers.”

An especially vicious post rails against “the dirtiest most evil people on earth using the holocaust to their advantage as leverage to establish the state of israel. it was all planned.”

The UNSW Student Representative Council Ethnic Affairs Officer, Charlotte Lewis, was so shocked she posted: “Reading over these comments has left me gobsmacked at the outrageous anti-Semitic slanders mentioned on this event. If I see one more antisemitic comment, I’m taking this to the University.”

In a later post, Lewis stated: “I am the Ethno-Cultural Officer, meaning I need to look out for any hate speech towards any ethnic group. I have witnessed many accusations that the Holocaust didn’t exist, and that Jews are money-hungry pigs. Due to this, several Jewish students actually feel unsafe to step foot into the University, meaning I actually DO need to solve this problem.”

Lewis informed the page owners that the UNSW Chancellery had been made aware of the page, and its anti-Jewish content, but the university administration appears not to have taken action.

The present National Anti Racism campaign slogan, “Racism, it stops with me”, seems to have fallen on deaf ears among the administrators at UNSW, which has one of the most culturally diverse campuses in Australia.

It has been left to other UNSW students who share Lewis’s disgust to establish their own Facebook page Defend Max Brenner at UNSW, featuring screenshots of the anti-Jewish posts on the RALLY page to highlight the racism it has spawned. These students posted their own comments on the RALLY page, protesting its anti-Semitism and demanding an end to the anti-Jewish vitriol. For the most part, their demands went unheeded. Some anti-Jewish posts were deleted, but were replaced by others.

SJP has yet to ask itself why it provides a sympathetic home for naked Jew-hatred. SJP organisers wax indignant at the merest suggestion they are complicit in fomenting anti-Semitism. Instead, they accuse anyone who points out the raw racism they attract of trying to “censor” them with the intimidating charge of anti-Semitism. It is difficult but necessary for them to understand their own role in attracting and hosting content which expresses racism against Jews. It is easy, but false, simply to assume any claimed offence is merely feigned for political or other advantage.

Peter Wertheim is executive director and Julie Nathan research officer of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, the national peak body of the Australian Jewish community.

Familiar and tired tactics. Anti-Semitism should be condemned whenever and wherever it occurs. No tolerance allowed. But note the complete absence of any discussion about why BDS is growing globally. The Israeli occupation of Palestine is deepening and becoming more brutal. Whatever accusations are throw at peaceful activists trying to raise these points will have no impact on Palestinians. The reality on the ground is what’s being suppressed by whatever means possible. Israel will become more isolated. Sanctions will come. Meanwhile, Rupert Murdoch’s minions and the Israel lobby will be writing articles about the anti-Semitism of breathing the word, “Palestinian.”

Today’s protest?

A small group of protesters has gathered at the University of NSW to protest about a chocolate shop which they say has links to Israeli war crimes.

The protest against the Max Brenner brand was organised by Students For Justice in Palestine (SJP) UNSW, with 175 people indicating on the group’s Facebook page that they would attend.

However, by midday Tuesday only around 20 protesters had gathered on the lawns of UNSW to hear speeches.

The SJP says the Max Brenner brand is owned by the Strauss Group, a corporation which sponsors the Golani and Givati Brigades of the Israeli Defence Force.

The group has accused the brigades of war crimes against Palestinians in Gaza and ethnic cleansing.

Protester Lutfi Zayed, 20, accused Max Brenner of being complicit in Israeli war crimes, but denied the group was anti-semitic or had made anti-semitic comments on its Facebook page.

“Those comments made on Facebook, we don’t know about them,” he told AAP.

“What would you say about Islamaphobia on Facebook? We see that too.”

A university spokesman said the chocolate shop was under construction and due to open in June.

He said the university had no plans to revoke the lease signed with the operators.

Comment was being sought from Max Brenner.

20 comments ↪

Tell Australia to hold Sri Lanka to account

I’m proud to have been asked to sign this important petition and happy it’s been covered in the Colombo Telegraph:

Malcolm Fraser, the 22nd Prime Minister of Australia has endorsed the petition for Commonwealth Summit in Australia- Reconsider attending CHOGM 2013 in Sri Lanka launched jointly by Australian Tamil Congress and Sri Lanka campaign for peace and justice.

The petition “Petitioning Hon Julia Gillard – Prime Minister: Reconsider CHOGM 2013 in Sri Lanka” says;

Dear Prime Minister,

We urge you to reconsider Australia’s decision to attend CHOGM 2013 in Sri Lanka.

The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) meets in less than a month (April 26). The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) is in less than nine months. It is due to be held in a country where a brutal tyrannical regime continues to commit acts of murder, torture, and rape – while ignoring the core values of the Commonwealth. People are looking to you for leadership.

We appeal to you to follow the example of your Canadian colleague Prime Minister Stephen Harper and announce that you will not attend if you do not see progress in Sri Lanka in terms of human rights and that you will push for CHOGM to be moved or postponed.

The petitioners say; “The Human Rights Council has once again condemned Sri Lanka’s human rights record, this time in even more damning terms. This is great news for everyone who cares about Sri Lanka – but to turn it into meaningful action we need your help.

So in the next month we need our leaders to show leadership, and show the Commonwealth that it must not be business as usual.

They can do this by following the Canadian Prime Minister’s example and announcing that if the summit goes ahead in Sri Lanka, without an improvement in the human rights situation there, then they will not attend.

This is the most effective way we can put the pressure on the Commonwealth to act.

Desmond Tutu, Mary Robinson, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Geoffrey Robertson QC, the Royal Commonwealth society President Peter Kellner, Bloomberg, The Age,  the Washington Post, the Guardian, prominent Caribbean diplomat Sir Ronald Saunders, David Milliband, Malcolm Rifkind, Ricken Patel (the founder of Avaaz), Amnesty International,the International Commission of Jurors, Forum Asia, the Asian Legal Resource Centre, Civicus, the Commonwealth Journalists Association, the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project, the Human Rights Law Centre (Australia), Human Rights Watch, the International Crisis Group, the International Federation for Human Rights, Minority Rights Group International, the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative and a number of Sri Lankan NGOs have all expressed grave concerns about the human rights abuses in Sri Lanka, and the summit being held there. “

The petition has been endorsed by:

* Professor Raj Rajeswaran, Chairman, Australian Tamil Congress

* Hon Malcolm Fraser, Former Australian Prime Minister

* Lee Rhiannon, Senator, The Australian Greens

* David Shoebridge, Member of the NSW Legislative Council, The Greens

* Colleen Hartland, Member of the Victorian Legislative Council, The Greens

* Bruce Haigh, Former Australian Deputy High Commissioner in Sri Lanka

* Professor Jake Lynch, Director, Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, The University of Sydney

* Professor Damien Kingsbury, Director, Centre for Citizenship, Development and Human RightsFaculty of Arts and Education, Deakin University

* Emeritus Professor Stuart Rees AM, Director, Sydney Peace Foundation

* Antony Loewenstein, Independent journalist and author

* Professor Wendy Bacon, Australian academic and investigative journalist

Click here to see the petition

4 comments ↪

Australian politics is little better than satire. Discuss

Australian politicians, including Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, are currently wandering around Western Sydney looking for friends and spewing bile against anybody who isn’t “Australian”, whatever the hell that means. Pandering to the racist instinct is the worst kind of politics.

I’ve never linked to a story on Channel 7’s Today Tonight before but this is clever satire that takes rightful aim at the dog-whistling and absurdity of awful theatre that is currently Australian politics:

12 comments ↪