For Labor, Payman breaching caucus rules is worse than Israel committing genocide

Jul 4, 2024
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Instead of concern about continuing slaughter in Gaza and the West Bank, the major controversy surrounding Senator Payman’s support for a Palestinian state and for Palestinians’ lives has focused on her non-compliance with rules and discipline in the Labor caucus. That seems astounding.

When observing end of time massacres by the Israeli state, why does a Labor government want to punish a courageous member who speaks out?

In defiance of international law, in apparent indifference to examples set by many other countries, why does Labor cower in order to continue a cosy relationship with Israel?

Why is an amoral policy – apparent in an absence of outrage about US/Israel cooperation in the murder of thousands of children – so easily threatened by a protest for Palestine by one independently minded MP ?

Instead, a Labor government could heed the dismay of rank and file members of the party who condemn every aspect of this Israeli war, who remind themselves and others that brutality to Palestinians has been underway for decades.

Cease the false interpretation of history. Massacres did not start in October 2023. The Hamas breakout in October last year was preceded by Palestinians experiencing decades of death and destruction by Israeli forces.

In addition to Senator Payman, many citizens have tried and failed to change Labor‘s policies toward Palestine and Israel. Pleas for condemnation of Israel’s obliteration of a people, pleas to support South Africa before the ICJ and to recognise a Palestinian state were included in a ‘Gaza Plea for Humanity’ signed by 5000 citizens and presented in Federal parliament on March 28.

On May 31, over 800 public servants signed a petition calling for an end to Palestinian genocide, for ceasing ethnic cleansing, ending Israel’s illegal occupation and all Australian military exports to Israel.

On June 14, the Prime Minister would have received a letter sent by express post from 150 academics who said they wrote in sadness and despair at the government’s ‘failure to condemn openly and persistently the Israeli government’s brutality and famine towards a whole people and their country.’

In ‘Where Olive Trees Weep’, (P&I of June 26) George Browning posed heart rending questions to the Prime Minister, to Peter Dutton, Penny Wong and Simon Birmingham. He asked, why do you repeat reference to a two state solution ‘with absolutely no condemnation of Israeli policy and action which makes that outcome possible?’ ‘What is the story you believe that leads you to think that Palestinians do not deserve the same rights as Israelis?’ ‘Who is providing you with that story?’

In her analysis, Will Senator Payman influence Australian government decision makersMargaret Reynolds wrote that the young Senator’s actions represented the feelings of many thousands of Labor and union supporters. In admiration of Senator Payman, the former Labor Senator concluded that Payman’s ‘quiet advocacy for a humanitarian response to Gaza is in sharp contrast to the silence of a majority of Australian Federal parliamentarians.’

On July 3, Helen McCue referred to UN Council resolutions that Israel remove illegal settlements, withdraw from all Palestinian lands. She wrote that with regard to Israeli lies, cruelties and barbarities, the government’s ‘silence on this matter is deafening and frankly we are tired and angry by this deafness.’

Why have a succession of appeals fallen on deaf ears or, even if read, were erased or cast into parliamentary waste paper baskets?

One answer to that question lies in the culture of a Labor caucus consumed with Senator Payman crossing the Senate floor to support recognition of a Palestinian state.

At times of terrible inhumanities in Gaza, questions need to be raised about a political culture bound by rules and discipline, by expectations of obedience which could be appropriate in military and penal establishments but not in a major political party in a 21st century democracy.

Members of a Labor caucus need to ask, who wrote these rules about conformity, about toeing a party line whatever the costs? Is there no room for the discretion which is usually written into policies because humanity demands exceptions to a rule?

Instead of Labor caucus reprimand of Senator Payman, instead of appeals for solidarity among members, why not solidarity for the human rights of Palestinians, why no condemnation of US cooperation in Israeli slaughters, why no courage even to implement party policy to recognise Palestine?

A culture of intransigence looks self-destructive. It feeds Labor supporters’ despair and seems likely to contribute to electoral defeats.

Before many hundreds more Palestinian children are killed, the Prime Minister and his colleagues should announce a bold change of attitude and should cease feeling threatened by a Senator who crossed the floor. They must surely distance themselves from an Israeli government whose Defence Minister boasts about taking Lebanon back to the Stone Age.

Instead of closing ranks, instead of ostracising Fatima Payman, a few Labor members could follow her example, could realise that now is a time to abide not by easily recited rules but by loftier visions as in the ideals and goals of a common humanity.

German-American philosopher Hannah Arendt tried to remind the world that commitment to those ideals would require finding exceptions to a rule, as in crossing floors. In her terms that meant ‘the means of staying relevant and alive.’

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