Monday, April 18, 2011

Stand up against Israeli apartheid

Socialist Alliance statement April 18, 2011
“Struggles for freedom and justices are fraught with huge moral dilemmas”, said Nobel Laureate and South African anti-apartheid campaigner Bishop Desmond Tutu last year in an address last year to students at the University of Johannesburg who were debating whether to terminate the university's agreement with Ben-Gurion University in Israel (BGU). The university decided to terminate relations with BGU on April 1, 2011.
This same moral dilemma faced Marrickville Council on December 14, 2010, but the majority of councillors (including all four Labor, all five Greens and one independent) voted in favour of joining the global non-violent call to divest and sanction Israel for its apartheid-like treatment of Palestinians.
Supporters of justice for Palestinians were very proud that Marrickville council was the first local government in Australia to take such a stand (even while some unions and church groups had already signed on). This particular council has a proud record of standing up for rights – it has also supported a boycott of Burma for 12 years.
However, for taking a stand, the council has come under an unprecendented attack from apologists for Israel including the reactionary Murdoch media empire, the Jewish Board of Deputies, the ALP, the Coalition and the newly-elected Premier Barry O’Farrell.
Now is the time for supporters of Palestine to take a stand.
First, O’Farrell has no right to threaten to sack a democratically elected council, or to sack one. His threats are about ingratiating his newly-elected government with that small but powerful chorus who believe that noone has the right to criticise Israel. This says a lot about the sort of "community" and "democracy" the O'Farrell government believes in.
Second, the establishment media, along with the ALP and Coalition, have done a thorough job of demonising those councillors, in particular the Greens Mayor Fiona Byrne, for standing up for justice. We now know that she has received death threats. If those opposed to BDS really were sincere in wanting to have a rational debate about the issues, they would be the first to condemn such threats. Yet, there has been a deafening silence from those quarters.
Third, for four months Israeli apologists in the corporate media have done nothing to explain where the BDS call has come from. The campaign against BDS has centered on the unacceptable view that any criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic. Meanwhile, it marginalises pro-Palestine voices who, correctly, point to Israel’s 44-year long occupation of Palestine and its continued flouting of international law as justification for the BDS campaign. These powerful elites are happy for confusion to rein, and for councils to stop taking a stand on human rights. For these elites, councils should do what they’re told to do – nothing more, nothing less.
In 2005, Palestinian civil society decided to call for a non-violent movement based on the principles of human rights, justice, freedom and equality to pressure Israel to heed the call that: “Israel withdraws from all the lands occupied in 1967, including East Jerusalem; removes all its colonies in those lands; agrees to United Nations resolutions relevant to the restitution of Palestinian refugees' rights; and dismantles its system of apartheid”
These demands are firmly based in international law, and by supporting this movement the Marrickville council is espousing its solid commitment to human rights locally and internationally.
Socialist Alliance strongly condemns the Zionist campaign against the Marrickville councillors, and urges councillors to continue to stand up for the basic democractic rights of the Palestinians.
Just as an international campaign helped bolster the efforts of south Africans – Black and white – to force and end to apartheid South Africa, so too an international campaign in the form of boycotts, divestment initiatives and sanctions can exert political pressure on Israel to abide by international law. The Zionists' response to Marrickville council's attempt to discuss it shows just what a powerful weapon BDS can be.
As Sam Wainwright, a Socialist Alliance councillor in the City of Fremantle, put it in an open letter to Marrickville Councillors: “Marrickville Council's support the BDS campaign is consistent with international humanitarian law and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Those who mock or condemn you are ignorant, cowards or bullies. Your policy is a positive example for both my and all local governments to follow.”