Friday, 25 November 2011
The Greens and Palestine: confronting the "inconvenient truths" of the party's right of return policy
Tuesday, 2 August 2011
Saturday, 9 July 2011
The first week of a new Senate has just passed, with nine Green Senators, and much media attention on the “balance of power” and the “new political era”.
And it was a crowded agenda before the winter recess with issues like climate change and treatment of animals in live exports taking up the focus among other issues. But one issue, which the Greens assisted in throwing overboard, was the Greek blockade of the Gaza peace flotilla, and the plight of the Palestinians - in the context of a parliamentary attack on the BDS position of the NSW Greens and Marrickville Council. Unlike Indonesia-bound cattle, the plight of the Palestinians barely rated.
The principal attack, in the form of a National/Liberal motion in the Senate (supported by Labor) provided an opportunity for the Greens to show some concern for the blockading of the Gaza flotilla (involving a number of Australian activists, among them former NSW Green MLC Sylvia Hale). After all this outrageous Greek government piracy (under pressure from Israel and its Western allies) was an urgent human rights issue of the moment, occurring as the new the Senate met, with no further opportunity to raise this in the parliament until after the winter recess. Even if the Liberals hadn’t delivered up an opportunity to raise this, the Greens could have found a way to highlight it. But as it was, they bunked off from the opportunity that was presented, effectively conspiring with Liberal and Labor to shut down debate on the Palestinian issue.
Here’s how it happened (July 5 Hansard p 38).
Queensland Nationals’ Senator Ron Boswell moved the following resolution to attempt to embarrass The Greens in the light of the debate over Israel and the BDS:
That the Senate –
(a) condemns the boycott of Israel instigated by Marrickville Council – part of the Global Boycott Divestments and Sanctions – banning any links with Israel organisations or organisations that support Israel and prohibiting any academic, government, sporting or cultural exchanges with Israel;
(b) acknowledges that Israel is a legitimate and democratic state and a good friend of Australia; and
(c) denounces the Israel boycott by Marrickville Council and others, and condemns any expansion of it.
Bob Brown, on the behalf of the Greens responded with an amendment that would have effectively replaced the motion with this:
That the Senate recognises the rights of the people of Palestine and Israel to live together as self-governing states based on the 1967 borders.
That was it. Brown made no attempt to explain the amendment (though there did appear to be Senate procedural restrictions on debating the issue – an appalling thing in itself).
Even so, if we set aside the bald “two-state” solution presented by Brown (it is Greens policy, though contested as the only possible solution to the conflict), his amendment could have said a lot more about the plight of the Palestinians and offered support to the Gaza Peace flotilla. This could have been followed up by public statements outside the Senate, and press releases on the Greens website. Alternatively, the Green Senators could have made use of other parliamentary procedures during the week such as adjournment motions or “matters of public interest”. One Liberal Senator used this latter procedure (July 6 Hansard p 30) to mount an attack on the BDS campaign. As it turns out the Green Senators chose to say nothing, either in the Senate or later outside. It was left to Independent Senator Nick Xenophon to express some support for the Palestinians in his amendment, which would have retained the original Boswell motion (which Xenophon voted for) but added:
(i) the detrimental effect of the Israeli and Egyptian blockade in Gaza on the Palestinian people living in Gaza, and
(ii) that Australia is a good friend of the Palestinian territories and its people.
Xenephon sought, and was granted, leave to speak to his amendment, something that Brown didn’t do. Both Brown’s and Xenophon’s amendments went down, with the Greens voting for both, and then voting against Boswell’s original (well at least that was something!).
That Labor lined up behind the Liberals, effectively endorsing the implicit racial prejudice behind the resolution (especially with the rejection of Xenophon’s proposed reference to Australia as a “good friend” of the Palestinian people), is shamefully predictable. But the new Green caucus didn’t come out of this looking much better.
Of course it would have been great if Green Senators had taken the opportunity to defend the BDS, or at least the right of elements of the Greens to advocate it, but even setting this aside in the light of the unresolved debate within the Greens, the opportunity to rally support for the Gaza flotilla and highlight Israel’s occupation was not taken up. The simple restatement of the two-state solution asserted the false symmetry that obscures the reality of the power imbalance between Israel and the Palestinians and masks the “inconvenient truth” of the brutality of Israeli occupation and dispossession.
It would be interesting to know about the debate in the Green party room and the dynamics of the relationships between Green senators as far as this issue is concerned, given that some Green Senators have good track records in advocating on behalf of the Palestinian people. Lee Rhiannon for example has been outspoken in her support for the Gaza flotilla. There may have been an argument that the Greens should not rise to the bait of Coalition, and Labor, determination to use the parliament to wedge the Greens on the Israel-Palestine question (there were also attacks by a Liberal and Labor MP on Bob Brown and Lee Rhiannon in the House of Representative - Hansard July 4 - though also an extraordinary speech over the health impacts of the Israeli blockade and occupation on the Palestinian women of Gaza and the West Bank by Labor MP Maria Vamvakinou). Nonetheless, the need to give urgent support to the Gaza flotilla activists, and an ongoing voice to the Palestinian people, during this crucial, four-day parliamentary window, required that the Green caucus show courage and rise to the occasion. Instead it was paralysed and silent.
This sadly seems to be a result of the Green Fear and the pall of silence descending on the Greens, in the aftermath of the recent savage McCarthyite campaign against NSW Greens and the BDS policy. In the Victorian Greens, which is leading the charge against NSW on the BDS question, the issue is being dealt with as a procedural matter relating to toeing the federal policy line. Victorian Greens are paranoid about debating the issue itself. In my own local branch (great people and hard-working Green activists) it was made quite clear that a proposal by me that Vic Greens organise a membership seminar, with speakers for and against, to debate the substance of the BDS issue, would not be supported.
In the Senate, this episode also highlights a danger for the Greens as the caucus expands and encompasses a wide range of opinions, the BDS and Israel being one of the more contentious issues. This is the danger that the Greens will replicate the caucus cretinism of the Labor Party where all debate is stitched up and closed down behind party room doors. Labor Senator Doug Cameron highlighted the impact on the ALP of its strict caucus rules, creating MPs who functioned like “zombies”.
The Green rank-and-file need to make it clear to elected Green representatives that they are not to go down this path. The rights, and responsibilities, of MPs and Senators to get up in the parliament and advocate differing points of view, representing the different Green party tendencies, must be asserted, even if this affronts the political and media establishments’ (and certain Green leaders’) notions of how “united”, “sensible” and “constructive” mainstream parties should behave. When it comes to the Israel-Palestine question and issues like the BDS, there will be other opportunities. We have the right to expect that Senators overcome the Green Fear and use the Senate platform to speak out.
Saturday, 25 June 2011
Perth in August, and who’s that who’ll be sneaking into town? Why the Australian American Leadership Dialogue, the annual secret gathering of politicians (former and current) public servants, business leaders, academics, journalists and other worthies that has become one of the most significant “private” foreign policy bodies, providing a discursive and cultural underpinning for the US-Australia Alliance.
The Dialogue will be meeting at the Stirling naval base south of Perth and in Perth itself (at a venue not yet publicised) in the second week of August. It tries to operate out of the limelight and you will find no details of this upcoming meeting on its website where past meetings are only recorded by brief notation. The organisations founder, former business and NGO entrepreneur, Phil Scanlan, has proudly boasted about the ability of the Dialogue to keep its deliberations secret in accordance with the “Chatham House Rules” format.
Scanlan, appointed by the Rudd Labor government to the plum post of Australian Consul-General in New York, in 2009, initiated the Dialogue after conversations with US President George H W Bush during his 1992 visit to Australia. It alternates its annual meetings between the US and Australia. There is also a related West Coast Leadership Dialogue, providing a Pacific focus and sponsored by Stanford University and the University of California, San Diego, as well as a Young Leadership Dialogue which also meets annually in the US and Australia by turn. The last Young Leadership Dialogue was held in Canberra in May. It was addressed by both Julia Gillard and Tony Abbot, with Abbott’s comments about refugees seeking out Australia’s “Anglo” values leaked, apparently breaching the Dialogue’s impregnable wall of silence.
To understand the significance of the Dialogue in Australia’s diplomatic and security set-up we can turn to the recent comments of one of its participants and boosters, The Australian’s Paul Kelly.
The 9/11 decade has seen a truly dramatic deepening of the Australian-American alliance and personal concord. The furious domestic splits over the Iraq war and public rage towards George W. Bush are washed away with little cultural or strategic downside while Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard compete to be as pro-American as John Howard. Who would have believed?
At home, the Left was the big political loser from this decade. With Barack Obama in the White House, Labor has rarely been more pro-American as Gillard helps with Obama's war in Afghanistan and tells America it can still be great. The once notorious anti-American Labor Left is broken and silent. Through the decade, Australia's institutional bonds with the US surged with a free trade agreement, closer intelligence links, tighter military ties and stronger private networks typified by the US Studies Centre, the Australian-American Leadership Dialogue and the Lowy Institute, let alone Rudd's addiction to kissing Hillary Clinton.
The worry in Australian politics is that the Greens may also be drawn into this post-9/11 silence when it comes to confronting the truths of the US-Australia Alliance. The ambivalence of Greens policies in this regard, and the remarkable refusal of its federal parliamentarians to criticize the Alliance during last-year’s Afghan War debate, are disturbing signs. Indeed it is not inconceivable that Green politicians have been, or may be, invited to participate in the Dialogue. They should certainly tell the Green membership if this is the case. If any have been approached, one can only hope they said no.
Kelly’s defence of the Dialogue points to one of its most alarming aspects, its duchessing of the Australian media. Dialogue critics Antony Loewenstein and Scott Burchill have highlighted the effects of participation of journalists in these meetings as part of their critiques of the wider failures of the media when it comes to critical reporting on the relationships between Australia and the US, and Israel. Foreign editors of the Murdoch and Fairfax press and former ABC journalist and MP Maxine McKew, have been participants in the Dialogue and last year, Chris Uhlmann, now co-host of the 7.30 Report, travelled to Israel with Fairfax and News journalists, and politicians from the major parties, at the invitation of the Australia Israel Leadership Forum, a pro-Israel body modelled the Dialogue. The ABC apparently relaxed its rules to allow Uhlmann to attend and It would be interesting to know if ABC journalists are going to attend the Perth gathering, Key Fairfax and News journalists will no doubt line up again.
This unprofessional and unethical behaviour is something that the journalism profession, and their union, the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, needs to take up. This issue also needs to be confronted by academics, and the National Tertiary Education Union. Some academics are also Dialogue participants and the event has been hosted at universities. Secretive forums such as this is are in contravention of the openness of research and debate that is supposed to be at the heart of a university’s function.
But the Dialogue needs to be opposed on a more fundamental level as re-enforcing a relationship with the US that is essentially aimed at tying Australia to US military, economic and cultural imperialism. The Perth meeting may present opportunities for protest by antiwar activists and Western Australia has a good history in this regard. It is also an opportunity for protests by BDS campaigners given the close relationship between the Australia-US Alliance and support by both countries for Israel.
Hopefully the WA Greens would be to the fore in this. Nationally the Greens have an important role here and need to overcome their ambiguities over the US-Australia Alliance. As mentioned, these ambiguities are reflected in their policies, which are, in some ways, implicitly hostile to the Alliance, without explicitly saying so. They were also reflected in the parliamentary Afghan War debate where the Australian and US assumptions justifying military operations were challenged, but the Alliance itself not criticised.
With new Green Senators coming into office, the national parliamentary group needs to start probing the relationship between the major parties and the Dialogue, and the expenditure of public money involved in supporting this “:private” diplomatic initiative (hosting it at a naval base for example). The privacy of these types of initiatives is a furphy. The Dialogue is part a back-door means of carrying on diplomatic and security business beyond the normal scope of public accountability (difficult enough through official institutions, as the recent Wikileaks debate has shown). There is a parallel between “private” institutions like the Dialogue and the growth or private security and para-military organisations like Xe (Blackwater).
But over and above this the Greens to get off the fence, and come out clearly and publicly in opposition to the US-Australia Alliance. Confronting and criticising the role of Australian American Leadership Dialogue, and its secretive Perth deliberations, is a good starting point.
Saturday, 11 June 2011
Led by elements in the Victorian Greens and the national Green 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 Green senators and one Green 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 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 Green 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.
[ii] Peter Edwards, “Permanent Friends: Historical reflections on the Australian-American Alliance”, Lowy Institute, 2005: http://www.lowyinstitute.org
[iii] “Authors reject Goldstone rejection remarks”; http://english.aljazeera.net/news/middleeast/2011/04/201141416491382747.html
[iv] Media Release, Acting Prime Minister; http://www.ausaid.gov.au/media/release.cfm?BC=Media&ID=7215_3768_3028_5536_5150 and “Julia Gillard refuses to Condemn Israeli Attacks”; http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/gillard-quiet-on-gaza-attack/story-e6freuy9-1111118480528
[vi] “BDS campaign wants Israel to abide by international law”; http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/jul/11/israeli-academic-boycott-commentary