Marrickville Council may have backed off supporting the Israel BDS campaign but by highlighting the plight of the Palestinians, the Council’s initiative in this area, and the pro-BDS stance of the NSW Greens, has ensured that this will only be the beginning of the debate, not least of all within the Greens themselves. The Australian Greens may pride themselves on confronting the “inconvenient truths” of climate change but when it comes to exposing the inconvenient truths of the plight of the Palestinian people (as the BDS campaign does), some in the party are ducking for cover.
Led by elements in the Victorian Greens and the national Greens leadership, the move is on to force NSW Greens to back away from its BDS policy. There are those who genuinely feel the BDS campaign is counterproductive, imperilling the achievement of peace between Israelis and Palestinians, those who are afraid the issue will divide the party, and at its most basic level, those who fear a loss of votes. For many in the party, the BDS campaign is trouble, and that is enough. The Victorian Greens are trying to limit the debate to the question of process — the extent to which NSW is out of step with national policy and decisions. There is resistance to discussing the merit of the BDS issue itself.
But the Great Fear emerging among some in the Greens is wider than the BDS. It is the fear of the political cost involved in breaching the “separation wall” and entering the “no-go zone” established by the major political parties, the defence and foreign policy establishments, and elements in the mainstream media. That no-go zone is any attempt at realistic or insightful criticism, or analysis, of the Alliance between Australia and its best mate Uncle Sam, and as part of that deal, any principled criticism of the actions of Uncle Sam’s best mate, Israel.
The demonstration of this lies not just with the inner-party reaction to BDS but the Afghan War debate in parliament last year. That five Greens senators and one Greens MHR could get up in the parliament and not criticise the Australia-US alliance, the whole reason Australia is in Afghanistan, was somewhat bizarre.[i] Notwithstanding some good political points made in the speeches, this was akin to holding a debate about global warming and not mentioning carbon. The speeches in some respects were not at odds with continuing support for the US Alliance, with the Iraq and Afghan wars, like Vietnam before them, seen as “mistakes” imperilling the alliance’s effectiveness.
To understand what the Greens are up against, we need an appreciation of the entrenched nature of the Australia-US-Israel relationship, which has protected it from critical analysis in Australian politics and sections of the mainstream media. Historian Peter Edwards has pointed out that the Australia-US alliance “has become a political institution in its own right comparable with a political party or the monarchy”[ii]. It has certainly become a part of Canberra’s constitutional landscape, with Australia’s military-intelligence complex clustering around the Australia-American memorial at Russell and holding down one of the points of the parliamentary triangle.
Following US policy in privileging Israel in its conflict with Palestinians is part of this architecture. This was demonstrated by the Australian government falling into line and helping the blocking in the UN of the Goldstone Report on the 2008-9 Israeli invasion of Gaza, an egregious act in no way justified by Goldstone’s recent reservations, repudiated by his report’s co-authors.[iii] And this stance was earlier demonstrated by Australia’s official response at the time of the Gaza assault, by then Acting Prime Minister Julia Gillard, which singled out Hamas for criticism but made no comment on the disproportionate use of force by Israel.[iv] To Gillard and the Labor government, following the US on Gaza meant accepting Uncle Sam’s realpolitik, and underlying racial prejudice: a Palestinian life is not worth that of an Israeli. And of course not a peep out of the Australian government when the US recently used its veto to protect Israel from criticism in the UN Security Council over West Bank settlement expansion.
Support for both the US Alliance, and the US’s pro-Israel stance, is reinforced by Australian participation in the closed door, “Chatham House Rules”-based Australian-American Leadership Dialogue and Australia-Israel Leadership Forum.[v] Participation of politicians past and present in these secretive dialogues, aimed at providing discursive and cultural support for US foreign policy, and for Israel, is predictable. But it is shameful that Australian academics and journalists participate in contradiction with the ethics of transparency and open debate that are supposed to be at the core of their professions.
The McCarthyite campaign of ignorance and vilification directed at NSW Greens over the non-violent BDS campaign shows the fate that awaits those who seek to breach this “separation wall”, and for some in the Greens seeking to enter the no-go zone has too high a political cost. But there are those in the Greens, in NSW in particular, who are unlikely to back down, as demonstrated in Marrickville Mayor Fiona Byrne’s courageous, dignified and principled stance, along with two other Greens councillors, in resisting her council’s retraction of support for BDS.
The “blue” within the Greens is just beginning, but the Palestinians are unlikely to wait for the Australian Greens or anybody else to decide what’s good for them. The remarkable Arab Awakening is influencing the Palestinian territories, most recently in pushing Hamas and Fatah into some sort of agreement. It is unlikely to stop there, promising a new popular uprising against Israeli occupation and blockade. This may spread to the Palestinian population within Israel itself, and who knows, maybe also to those non-Arab Israelis who are resisting what Israeli academic, and BDS supporter, Neve Gordon has labelled the “proto-fascist mindset” of the Israeli government.[vi] Indeed it could even begin within Israel. If and when this uprising comes, it is likely to be a game-changer.