When will this stop? Aussie media sees role defending glorious Israel

The Sydney Morning Herald features (gasp!) an Arab in the story:

Marrickville Council’s push for a boycott of Israel is likely to be quashed at a meeting tonight despite an attempt by the mayor, Fiona Byrne, to soften the move by calling for an in-principle boycott only.

The four Labor councillors and two of the five Greens, Peter Olive and Max Phillips, who supported implementing the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign in principle last December, would not commit to continuing that support yesterday. Without their votes the mayor’s new motion for an in-principle boycott will not pass tonight.

Moammar Mashni, of Australians for Palestine, said the withdrawal of support for actual boycotts was disappointing.

”[Critics] have created such a frenzy around this debate that moved away from the central message of what the BDS was all about – it’s about non-violence ”¦ a principled stand to deliver both peace and justice,” he said.

A local group, the Inner West Jewish Community and Friends Peace Alliance, said even the mayor’s revised motion should be rejected.

”There’s real healing that needs to be done in our community and just coming in with in-principle support for the BDS movement, that hasn’t been discussed with us or the community,” said the group’s secretary, Janet Kossy.

The Inner West Jewish Community and Friends Peace Alliance carried out a phone survey on the campaign in March, and found that two-thirds of residents did not support it.

Ms Kossy called for $12,000 in donations in early March for ”activities that we believe will make a decisive difference” against the boycott. She would not comment yesterday on how much had been spent on the campaign.

The paper then proceeds to publish a piece by two Sydney Zionists on why BDS is wrong (I mean, why would the paper give space to any Arabs or Palestinians or dissident Jews?). The two women can’t even bring themselves to condemn the occupation (it’s “complex”, they whine):

A recent blog claimed that when peace is finally brokered between Israel and a Palestinian state, the stance of Marrickville Council will be proudly remembered. We beg to differ, as did voters in the recent NSW election who rejected the Greens’ candidate, the Marrickville mayor Fiona Byrne, and council’s proposed boycott of all things Israeli.

The question now is how to heal the rift, especially given that the boycott plan now appears to be in tatters.

When you politicise a protracted international conflict at the local level, the rancour hits hard because it is felt not only in the chambers of government but on our streets, souring relationships between neighbours and community groups.

To argue that a Sydney council is not an appropriate entity through which to express foreign policy is one obvious point, no matter how well-meaning the boycott proposal. The more important issue is that it is time to end the Middle East blame game.

As members of the Marrickville and Leichhardt Jewish communities who have been embroiled in this bitter controversy, we stand for peace building. We support positive actions that both assist the Palestinian people and progress efforts to build a viable Palestinian state. We believe in a two-state solution as the only viable path towards a lasting peace.

Even within local Jewish communities there are many different views on the occupied territories, settlements and the Israeli government’s policies. This conflict is extremely complex, with many different narratives and truths that are also intricately linked to both regional and global tensions. There are no simple solutions and reducing the issues to slogans doesn’t help.

The paper publishes a number of letters (and the Herald will certainly now think; well, that’s that issue taken care of, let’s move on):

It’s depressing to read how someone with limited facts and a little bit of power can highjack a serious argument such as the boycott of Israel. It’s absurd to liken the Israeli situation to a dispute between Queensland and NSW. It should be obvious that Queensland wouldn’t lob rockets into NSW.

Cr Byrne seems to think Israeli checkpoints are there just to make life difficult for Palestinians. She chooses not to know or maybe doesn’t remember that thousands of Israelis were wounded or killed by suicide bombs over a decade ago. Since then, with stringent border controls and a wall, the number has been drastically reduced.

I’m interested that the Greens are the ones promoting this boycott. I wonder if they know that Israel was the only country that ended the 20th century with more arable land, more trees and more green space than when the century began. Do they know what Jerusalem, Nazareth and Bethlehem looked like at the beginning of the 20th century?

Maybe Marrickville councillors need to make a trip to Israel to see for themselves. That might produce a positive outcome.

Howard Gelman Glebe

On the one hand, Fiona Byrne claims that Marrickville Council has an advocacy role on behalf of its residents, and on the other acknowledges that the council ”didn’t have time to educate people about the campaign” (”Backlash forces end to Israel boycott”, April 18). This confirms that the personal views of Cr Byrne and some of her council colleagues were behind the campaign to boycott Israel, as opposed to responding to residents’ requests for action on behalf of the Palestinian people.

Did Cr Byrne have this issue at the centre of her election commitments to the people of Marrickville? Politicians at all levels of government have a duty to deliver as promised to those who elected them, not a right to use that platform for their personal views.

Rob Fraser Drummoyne

Fiona Byrne may like to align her actions with those of Desmond Tutu and Julian Burnside, but to the best of my knowledge neither is head of a local council responsible for rates, roads and rubbish (”Rates, roads – justice in Gaza”, April 18).

Back to your day job, Ms Byrne – or is the mayoralty merely an apprenticeship and media training opportunity for a career in state and federal politics?

Santo Calabrese Cherrybrook

Regardless of the merits of the debate, Fiona Byrne’s reasons for terminating the boycott sound very much like chardonnay socialism. If there is no cost for a supposedly principled decision, can one not query the genuine commitment of the decision-makers?

David Gilfillan Potts Point

Fiona Byrne’s opinion piece serves to remind us that by placing human rights values at the top of all decision-making tasks, whether in families, schools and universities, council meetings, or as part of discussions on carbon-pricing, we can raise and deal with questions ethically.

Marrickville Council’s mayor and councillors followed this model yet have been mocked and vilified for it, standing like David against the Goliath of the Israeli government machine, whose failure to focus upon human rights values has brought international condemnation.

Heather Formaini Balmain

Fiona Byrne is quite right to generally encourage ethical purchasing but her support of the boycott of all things Israel was itself unethical and far from peaceful.

Perhaps she should visit Israel and speak to the many Israelis who work every day for Palestinian rights and then she may realise that boycotting all Israelis was a confrontational and silly idea.

It would be akin to blaming all Palestinians for the relentless rocket attacks into Israel from the Gaza strip.

David Whitcombe Maroubra

Do they absolutely agree, sort of agree, or are they a green house divided? There are now six democratically elected NSW Greens to State Parliament. Prior to the election, not one of them publicly declared their support or opposition to the Israel bans. They hedged – individually and collectively. Now that the election is over, isn’t the public well and truly entitled to know where each of them stands on the issue – or is that still off-limits? At least we know what Bob Brown and Lee Rhiannon think. Before the Marrickville Council vote, isn’t it about time we also knew what our elected NSW Greens parliamentarians think, or will a ”spokesperson” simply continue their invariable tactic of criticism after the event, no matter what?

Peter Bower Naremburn

It is a pity Fiona Byrne didn’t clarify her council’s position on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign before it cost her the election. I worry that this policy has cost the NSW Greens a lot of support at a time when we need to be strong in the face of environmental incursions by our new right-wing government.

Gabrielle Tindall Bellingen

Murdoch’s Australian editorialises in its predictably patronising way. No mention of Israeli occupation or anything citizens can do to support Palestinians, just bile directed at anybody who dares speak up for Arab human rights. This is a sign of intellectual weakness and insecurity, not strength.

Chutzpah, in the true Hebrew meaning of the word, is not the admirable sort of audacity for which we tend to use the word now. Real chutzpah, it is said, is the sort of impertinence that sees a man accused of murdering his parents beg for mercy on the grounds that he’s an orphan. So the term is apt to describe the brazen way the Marrickville Council, in Sydney’s inner west, has gotten above its station by implementing an economic boycott against Israel.

Section 51 (xxix) of the Australian Constitution makes it very clear that the federal parliament is responsible for foreign policy or, in the jargon of the time, “external affairs”. The local government authority upon which councils such as Marrickville exist is not even mentioned in the Constitution. These are the cold, hard facts that underscore the absurdity of the council and its Greens Mayor, Fiona Byrne, attempting to play their jaundiced role in Middle East power politics. The council’s support for BDS (boycott, divest and sanctions) action against Israel has been condemned by the national leadership of the Greens, the Labor Party and the Liberals. Yet even as she prepares to tear down her metaphorical wall against Israeli infiltration, Ms Byrne continues to argue that her council has a role to play in resolving the intractable dilemmas of international relations. As Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd pointedly put it, she might first concentrate on collecting the garbage and looking after the parks and gardens. Mr Rudd succinctly described this provincial excursion into the heady realms of foreign policy as “just plain nuts”.

While this affair seems ripe for satire, there are serious issues at play. The persistent inconsistency between Ms Byrne, Greens federal leader Bob Brown and senator-elect Lee Rhiannon demonstrates a shambolic policy development apparatus within a party now in a powerful alliance with the Gillard Labor government. Senator Brown needs urgently to assert leadership on foreign policy issues and eliminate the loopy anti-Israel sentiment from his ranks. The Labor Party, unfortunately, is not blameless, with four of its councillors having backed the BDS move. When the council votes to overturn the policy, they intend to put this right, but Julia Gillard must ensure that her party’s strong support for Israel is not compromised again by such jejune antics from elected officials.

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