WHY BOYCOTT ISRAELI GOODS AND SERVICES
Paul Heywood-Smith QC
Chairperson of the Australian Friends of Palestine
(Winter edition of Australian Options - Aug 2011)
The NSW State election
The 20011 NSW State election will be remembered for something more than thedecimation of a tired Labor Party. It will also be remembered for the performance of the Greens. The Greens actually performed quite well, as it should have given the despair of people on the left. But in one respect it failed. Greens candidate Fiona Byrne was unsuccessful in her attempt to secure a lower house seat in Marrickville.
It would appear that the reason for this may have been the fact that as the Mayor of Marrickville, Ms. Byrne presided over the courageous vote by the Council to boycott Israeli goods. Following the election the Murdoch press, represented principally by The Australian, indulged in a frenzy of satisfaction. Greg Sheridan simply slathered in self righteousness and the Israel lobby in Australia binged out in delirious self congratulation.
But what do we actually learn from this episode. In my view we learn three things. Firstly, we are confirmed in our view that the level of debate in this country on the Israeli-Palestinian issue is appallingly bad. Secondly, we cannot but wonder at the capacity of Bob Brown to truly lead a party of the left – his cringing disowning of the Council vote did him no credit. Thirdly, and most importantly, we observe, and are extremely disturbed by, the power of these people – the Australian Jewish lobby – to instill the “chilling effect” on all Australian politicians and would-be politicians.
The United States experience
The impact of the Israeli Lobby in the US was exposed by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, two highly respected American academics from Chicago and Harvard universities, whose paper, or an edited version thereof, appeared in the March 2006 edition of the London Review of Books.1 No US publication of note would publish it; it was accepted and then rejected by the Atlantic Monthly; this from the land of the First Amendment and so-called free speech. It ran into a firestorm of vituperation in the US. The frightening thing about it is that it exposes the stranglehold the Lobby has over the US Congress. Its conclusions are numerous but include these so far as the American electoral process is concerned.
The Lobby’s success is derived from a successful public relations programme which is relentless in its portrayal of Israel in a positive light and its success in preventing informed public debate, and it’s influence in Congress where it is immune from criticism, which influence is derived from its use of money to support the election of those who support Israel, and oppose those who do not.
The effect is that the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) will direct campaign contributions to a hostile politician’s political opponents. AIPAC will also organize letter writing campaigns and encourage newspaper editors to endorse pro-Israel candidates. Ever since AIPAC was widely regarded as responsible for the defeat of Senator Charles Percy in 1984 no American politician seeking high office has had the courage to oppose Israeli policies.
The result is that US policy towards Israel cannot be debated in Congress even though the consequences to the World are potentially apocalyptic. When Howard Dean called for the US to take a more “even handed role’ in the Arab-Israeli conflict” he was attacked by the Lobby and his candidacy foundered.
Will Fiona Byrne become Australia’s Charles Percy?
The BDS issue
Let us come back to the issue. The movement to boycott, divest from, and sanction Israel (BDS) was launched in 2005 by a coalition of Palestinian civil society groups. It is now a seemingly irreversible global campaign.
The vote of the Marrickville Council was to the effect that the Council “boycott all goods made in Israel and any sporting, academic institutions, government or institutional cultural exchanges”.
There can be no doubt that the Marrickville Council vote was the right one. It is consistent with the view of the “international community”. In recent time we have become used to major Western powers, principally the US through its school-marmish Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, invoking the moral authority of the “international community” to demand a particular course of conduct from alleged rogue states such as Libya, Somalia, Iran, Syria, and so on.
Libya is a contemporary example. Whatever the rights or wrongs of the Libyan government the hypocrisy of the Western powers and their invoking the authority of the “international community” is apparent. Where does the sudden concern for the protection of civilians derive from? Why have similar concerns not been expressed in the past when Israel engaged in its attack on Gazan or Lebanese citizens? Why have there not been similar demands for “no fly zones” over Gaza, Bahrain, and Yemen? Are their civilians of less worth than Libyans? Perhaps Donald Trump hit the nail on the head when he openly admitted that the US should just defeat Gaddafi and “take the oil”!
However, the pulse of the “international community” must surely be best gauged by votes on the floor of the General Assembly. That, obviously, is not the view of Israel and the United States of America. In the last ten years or so there have been numerous votes against Israel in the order of 150 in favour to 4, 5, or 6 against. The 4 or 5 or 6 invariably include the US and Israel and US puppets, such as Pilau, the Marshall Islands and Australia. These votes somehow do not represent the “international community”.
In March we had the Security Council voting on a resolution to condemn Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and calling upon Israel to cease and desist. On instructions from Tel Aviv the Israeli agent, the United States of America, did what it was bidden, namely vetoed the motion. The motion was therefore defeated by one vote against to fourteen in favour. For a country such as the United States, which prides itself upon advancing democracy around the World, this must have been a humiliating exposure of its control by Tel Aviv, and its rejection of the core principals of democracy, namely respect for the majority position.
BDS is a movement which will not be denied. It is the inevitable result of ordinary people becoming disgusted with their governments’ preparedness to accommodate the ethnic cleansing, and the genocide, which is Israeli policy towards the Palestinians. Those same ordinary people are not prepared to have their political masters, people such as Kevin Rudd, Anthony Albanese, and Barry O’Farrell, tell them that these important international issues are matters that only they, our leaders, can address, and should not be of concern to local councils.
It is important to note that increasingly those ordinary people are including progressive pro-Israel groups and individuals, particularly American Jews associated with J Street and Jewish Voice for Peace, albeit that they confine their support to a boycott of goods made in the Occupied Territories only.2
Let us take a moment to state the obvious – the obvious which is forever suppressed by those who, through ignorance, or through misunderstanding, or through calculation, choose to disregard it.
It is necessary to look at history. You must start with the demography of Palestine at the commencement of the Zionist enterprise at the end of the 19th Century when approximately 6% of the population were Jewish, Sephardic Jews who lived quite harmoniously with their Arab brothers and had done so for centuries. The Zionist enterprise, to find a safe haven for Jews from a hostile Europe, might have been a noble one, but that noble impulse was gone the moment Palestine was chosen as the Zionist destination: it was no longer about rescuing people, it was now about colonization and dispossession. Dispossession necessarily meant the cleansing of Palestine of its indigenous population – ethnic cleansing – genocide.3
Then consider the numbing barrage of statistics. Consider the UNWRA figures of house demolition in the West Bank – 76 Palestinian homes in March 2011 alone – displacing 158 persons including 64 children.4 Consider the fact that March 2011 is but one representative month of what transpires continually. Consider just two of the rulings of the International Court of Justice of 9 July 2004:5
The wall, along the route chosen, and its associated regime gravely infringe a number of rights of Palestinians residing in the territory occupied by Israel, and the infringements resulting from that route cannot be justified by military exigencies or by the requirements of national security or public order.
The wall could bring about a de facto annexation if it remained in place long enough and “severely impede the exercise by the Palestinian people of its right to self-determination”.
Then consider the initial vote of the Marrickville Council. Consider how proud we were as Australians that a representative body had the courage to stand up to the Greg Sheridans, the Julia Gillards, the Christopher Pynes, the Malcolm Turnbulls and all the other Israeli sycophants in this wonderful democracy of ours.
And why were we proud? We were proud because of the conscience of people such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Desmond Tutu said this earlier this year in a letter to the University of Arizona Community supporting divestment from the Caterpillar and Motorola corporations:6
When a Palestinian man stands for hours at an Israeli military checkpoint in order to get to his job and make a living, I stand with him. And I ask you to stand with me, with them, as the students are at the threshold of a new movement that seeks justice by withdrawing support for injustice.
…in every corner of the United States sits the potential to help end the Israeli occupation by withdrawing US funding and support which makes it possible.
I … implore your school to divest any form of business investment, whether stocks, bonds, or other business agreements, from companies such as Caterpillar and Motorola, as a symbolic gesture of non-participation in conditions and practices that are abominable.
The Marrickville Council vote has been rescinded. That makes it all the more important that we support Fiona Byrne and Lee Rhiannon and all other councilors anywhere who are prepared to re-visit the original vote. We must send a message to our politicians that we respect courage; that we respect a preparedness not to compromise our principles regardless of who is dictating to us that we should.
1 Mearsheimer and Walt, “The Israel Lobby”, London Review of Books, March 2006.
3 Ilan Pappe, Out of the Frame, Pluto Press, 2010.
4 Quotation by Chris Gunness, UNWRA Spokesman, 4 April 2011.
5 Piotrowicz, Defence and Defiance in International Law: Israel, a Wall and an Advisory Opinion: (2004) 78 ALJ 710.
6 Archbishop Tutu supports divestment: http://www.australiansforpalestine.com (2 April 2011.
Paul Heywood-Smith QC has been the Chairperson of the Australian Friends of Palestine, a South Australian based incorporated association, since 2004.
BDS meeting, 3pm Sunday 8 May
MarrickvilleBDS invites you to an nformal brainstorm/ planning get-together to help build public support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement in Marrickville, and across Sydney.
We were really impressed by the energy of everyone at the recent council meeting, and now its time for us to get together and work on plans for the future.
This is an opportuntiy to discuss your impressions of the council meeting, and work with others to plan for the future.
When: Sunday 8th of May, 3pm – 5pm
Where: Tom Foster Community Centre
11-13 Darley Street, Newtown (just off King St, near St Peters station) Map here:
The success of campaigns like BDS depend on our ongoing efforts to build support for our cause and stimulate debate. We need to explain the boycott to members of the public and listen to their responses so we can build a strong campaign to expose and end Israeli apartheid.