It’s a surreal sight. As debate in many Western nations move towards finding ways to hold Israel to account, Australia’s parochial media is desperate to target anybody who dares challenge Israel. Here’s the overseas debate:
To boycott or not to boycott? That is the question that growing numbers of American Jews on the left wing of the pro-Israel community have reluctantly and uneasily begun to ask themselves in recent months. After initially categorically rejecting the movement to boycott, divest from, and sanction Israel (or BDS, as it has become known)—a movement launched in 2005 by a coalition of Palestinian civil society groups that’s now a global campaign—progressive pro-Israel groups and individuals are now starting to reconsider and revise their position. They are not—at least not yet—embracing BDS, but they are for the first time giving it serious consideration and debating it merits.
Likewise, many American Jews are increasingly uncomfortable with Israel’s religious and racist mainstream.
Meanwhile, back in Australia, following yesterday’s Murdoch media onslaught against the Greens, NSW Federal Senator Lee Rhiannon and her courageous backing of BDS (details here and here), today’s Australian unloads with countless pieces which contain the words “extremist”, “anti-Semitic” and “loony” a number of times. Note the complete lack of discussion about the real situation in the West Bank or Gaza, nothing about the Zionist occupation of Palestine and absolutely nothing about the vehement racism in the Israeli mainstream against Arabs. Israel is a “democracy” and “ally”.
All this coverage in the Murdoch press is a sign of weakness, a fear that BDS may take off in Australia and a shameless attempt to “destroy” the Greens and split their support in the community.
It must not be allowed to succeed. With all the bluster, hyperbole and smears, Rhiannon is a rare voice in the Australian mainstream that defends Palestinian rights. She should be saluted and supported.
Here’s the lead story in today’s Australian (which attempts for credibility by quoting former senior Labor and Liberal leaders but actually shows how utterly predictable are the mainstream political parties on Israel; Palestinian rights are invisible to them):
Bob Brown has moved to assert control over the Greens, carpeting hard-Left senator-elect Lee Rhiannon over her radical anti-Israel stance as he attempts to shift the party towards the political mainstream at the expense of Labor.
But as the Greens leader rejected Julia Gillard’s attack on the party as extremists who do not share the values of everyday Australians, he faced a barrage of accusations that the party was being hijacked by socialist ideologues.
Former prime ministers John Howard and Bob Hawke, former NSW premier Bob Carr and Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd all yesterday denounced Ms Rhiannon’s renewed call for a trade ban on Israel.
Mr Carr told The Weekend Australian he was concerned that the “old conservationists in the Greens are being overtaken by the hardline leftist Greens”.
He attacked the NSW Greens’ campaign on Israel and called for the party to throw open its national conference, as do the other major parties, to allow people to see how policy was formulated.
“The Greens have been treated like a protected species for too long and it’s about time they faced some scrutiny,” he said.
Mr Howard, who yesterday met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other senior ministers in Israel, said the Greens’ moves to impose a boycott had “not gone unnoticed in Israel”. He said it was absurd for the Greens to move for a boycott against Israel, and accused Labor of not doing enough to distance itself from the “alliance”.
“At a time when the Middle East is in complete turmoil over the fight for democratic rights, it is astounding anyone would advocate a boycott on the only stable democracy in the region,” he told The Weekend Australian. “The recent claims of so-called ‘extreme positions’ on climate change is . . . nothing compared to this extremist call for a boycott on Israel.”
Senior Labor figures predict a damaging internal split between the environmentally focused “tree-huggers” and radical socialist “watermelons” within the Greens for control of the party when Ms Rhiannon takes up her Senate seat on July 1.
Senator Brown yesterday branded The Weekend Australian the “hate media” for reporting Ms Rhiannon’s position, before repudiating it and revealing he had called the senator-elect to voice his views in a “robust” exchange.
Ms Rhiannon did not return The Weekend Australian’s calls.
However, Mr Hawke welcomed Senator Brown’s decision to speak out.
A longtime friend of Israel who as ACTU leader took up the cause of Russian Jews trying to flee the then Soviet Union in the 1970s, Mr Hawke said: “One can have arguments about some of Israel’s positions, but to suggest it is appropriate to take such differences this far is to make a mockery of democratic processes. I’m glad Bob Brown has made his comments.”
Mr Rudd also launched a blistering attacking on Ms Rhiannon’s anti-Israel stance, describing it as “offensive”. Senator-elect Rhiannon’s stand on a boycott of Israel “is just plain loopy,” he said. “But it’s more than just loopy – it verges on the dangerous. It’s dangerous because it reflects no analysis of the complexity of the Middle East peace process, nor of what Israel and the Palestinian Authority are trying to do, nor of what (Palestinian Authority President) Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister (Salam) Fayyad are doing with their own direct engagement with Israel. “This is the stuff of foreign policy being made by preschoolers.”
Labor senator David Feeney, the party’s national Right faction convener, said he had previously called on Senator Brown to speak out against Ms Rhiannon.
“The people of NSW have elected Ms Rhiannon to the Senate, and we will have to live with that,” he said.
“But if she advocates this destructive nonsense in the Senate, she will get a very forthright response from me, and from many other senators.”
Union leader Paul Howes wished Senator Brown well in his battle with the rival faction. “These people aren’t Greens; these are people who have a clear agenda which has very little to do with the environment and a lot to do with extreme politics. There is no doubt . . . the only reason why Carmel Tebbutt is in the NSW parliament today and Fiona Byrne isn’t . . . is the ridiculous proposition of turning local government in NSW into some form of shadow DFAT.”
The Rhiannon Green position in favour of boycotting Israel is deeply offensive in principle and profoundly hypocritical.
It must go very close to being outright anti-Semitic because it applies standards to the Jewish state which it applies to no other state on Earth.
On any standard, on democracy, rule of law, an independent media, a vibrant civil society, equality for women, academic independence and free speech, Israel stacks up well.
Its unique security circumstances force it to take tough security actions from time to time, which certainly deserve to be assessed from a human rights point of view. And Israel is certainly not above criticism.
But even if everything that is alleged against Israel is true, and only a tiny portion of it is, how come the Greens don’t want to back a boycott against Russia for its treatment of the Chechens?
Or against Iran for brutalising and murdering pro-democracy demonstrators on a systematic basis, or indeed for Tehran’s systemic religious persecution of their Bahai minority? Or against Saudi Arabia for fundamental inequality in the treatment of women? Or against Sudan for the massacres of Darfur?
Or against Cuba for the treatment of homosexuals?
One can only conclude that the Greens don’t care much at all about human rights in general, but do care deeply about Israel – about demonising Israel.
The Greens are truly an extremist and deeply prejudiced party.
It is a continuing mystery of Australian politics that Julia Gillard signed a governing agreement with them. If the Liberal Party had such a formal association with such an extremist party, there would be merry hell.
And rightly so.
The campaign for an international boycott of Israel, led locally by senator-elect Lee Rhiannon of what I call the “watermelon faction” of the Greens – green on the outside but red on the inside – is designed to delegitimise Israel as a prelude to its destruction.
The boycott campaign, which its activists like to call by the less threatening, disembodied acronym “BDS”, is a tactic designed by extremist organisations such as Hamas [this is a clear untruth, as Palestinian civil society is calling for BDS] to mask the strategy of the “one state solution”, a single state between Jordan and the Mediterranean.
This would lead to the destruction of the independent Jewish state of Israel. Any Israeli Jews who are not killed, who did not flee for their lives, would be left as a benighted minority (the Arab word for which is “Dhimmis”), in a Hamas-ruled theocratic state.
I doubt many Greens voters realise that Lee Rhiannon supports a boycott that would ban the Batsheva Dance Company from returning to Australia and the Israeli Philharmonic from playing at the Sydney Opera House.
I’m sure few Greens voters would support such a policy if they did know about it.
Most Greens supporters are concerned to see stronger protection of our Australian environment. But the NSW Greens party harbours a core of long-time hard-Left political operatives like Ms Rhiannon, who focus on promoting extreme foreign policy views unrepresentative of Greens members and voters.
These extreme foreign policy views are very harmful to the Greens, as we saw with the defeat of Ms Rhiannon’s acolyte, Fiona Byrne, in Marrickville. The swing against Labor in Marrickville was much less than that across the state, and most analysts, including Greens national leader Bob Brown, agree that this extreme foreign policy stance cost the Greens the seat.
The “watermelon faction” of the Greens party is guilty of hypocrisy as well as promoting extreme policies. I have never heard any of them speak out in support of the many thousands of political prisoners in North Korean labour camps, of the 300,000 murdered African Muslims of Darfur, or the Uighur people in western China, whose ancient heritage in areas like Kashgar is being bulldozed by the Chinese Communists as I write. Perhaps the common attribute of these struggles which does not endear them to Rhiannon and her watermelon faction is that they do not support violence and they are not anti-American.
I have my differences with Bob Brown, but I generally respect his stands on environmental issues. But Bob Brown needs to wake up to the fact that Ms Rhiannon and the watermelon faction will destroy his work, and make the Greens unacceptable to voters, unless he takes action to stop them promoting such extreme and dangerous policies.
And finally, the editorial that just adds class to a day of smears. After last year when the Australian called to “destroy” the Greens, today’s piece continues the line that the Greens should be ignored by Australians (and I’m sure it’s just a coincidence that Rupert Murdoch hates the Greens, too.) The corporate press have too much invested to allow new players into their cosy little games):
…We learn this week that incoming NSW Greens senator Lee Rhiannon is planning to take this vile agenda to Canberra. While Greens leader Bob Brown has rejected the policy, we are left to wonder about a national organisation, accredited as mainstream by the ABC, that lets a state branch run a separate, damaging foreign policy.