I had but dipped my toes back into federal politics via a bid for Julie Bishop’s former seat of Curtin when the campaign was over.
My withdrawal was accompanied by heavy criticism from certain sections of the media who seemed determined to make sure my political corpse never rose from the dead. Once that intention had become clear I had no choice but to step down as a candidate. This would be an ongoing distraction from the election campaign – so, exit stage left.
The media outrage centered on my alleged extremism – as reportedly demonstrated by a speech I gave earlier this year at a small gathering to launch the WA Labor Friends of Palestine.
In that speech I referred to events that had been reported to me during my two and a half years of living and working for the UN refugee agency – UNRWA – in Gaza from 2002 to 2004. It was part of my work as an international legal officer to receive reports regarding violations of international human rights and humanitarian law.
In February 2003 I received a report from one of our international Operations Support Officers regarding an incident that had taken place at a checkpoint in the south of Gaza. The British officer reported to me the case of a pregnant Palestinian refugee woman who had been ordered by a female Israeli soldier to drink from a bottle of bleach, and had suffered serious injury to her throat and insides as a result.
UNRWA duly reported this incident to the Israel Defence Forces and the soldier in question was subsequently charged. The case was reported in The Age newspaper on 23 June 2003 ‘Soldier made woman drink cleaning fluid’.
During the election campaign my prior reference to this case and my other comments were referred to by several journalists, commentators and analysts in the Australian media as an ‘allegation’, a ‘lurid claim’, ‘inflammatory’, ‘unevidenced’, ‘vivid concoction’, ‘a medieval trope against Jews’, ‘a laundry list of slanders…and downright falsification’ etc.
The implication being that the things I’d said had been made up. The incident at the checkpoint was not concocted; it happened. There is no need to invent atrocities, they are occurring on an almost daily basis in the Occupied Palestinian territories.
I was quoted as saying that Israel’s treatment of Palestinians was ‘worse than South African Apartheid’. The fact that I was quoting Nobel peace prize winner and renowned anti-Apartheid campaigner Archbishop Desmond Tutu at the time was omitted from the stories.
When you have a country that systematically segregates and discriminates against a section of the population in its laws and actions, with separate and lesser living conditions, separate and lesser roads, separate and lesser systems of justice, separate and lesser access to water, separate and lesser rights, what do you call it, if not Apartheid? This point was made in the highly respected Israeli newspaper Haaretz last year by Jewish Israeli journalist Gideon Levy: https://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-apartheid-under-the-cover-of-a-jewish-state-1.7402080
Anyone who has read my parliamentary speeches will know that I have frequently criticised many countries for their failure to uphold human rights and international law, including Iran and Saudi Arabia, among others. In these cases, I have never been accused of being Islamophobic. Yet my criticisms of Israel have resulted in accusations of anti-Semitism.
Calling for Israel’s compliance with international law and respect for Palestinian rights is not the same thing as hostility to or prejudice against Jews. It is not anti-Semitic.
The rise of anti-Semitism is rightly a matter of global concern. However, it is necessary to distinguish between anti-Semitism and criticism of the state of Israel for its treatment of Palestinians. I am not alone in this belief, it is a concern that has been recently expressed by 240 Jewish and Israeli scholars: https://bdsmovement.net/news/240-jewish-and-israeli-scholars-german-government-boycotts-are-legitimate-and-non-violent-tool
“…The threat of anti-Semitism does not originate from Palestinian rights activists, but mainly from the extreme right and from Jihadist groups. Denying that could alienate Muslims and Arabs from the vital struggle against anti-Semitism and hamper the possibility of building true solidarity between Jews, Israelis, Muslims and Arabs in fighting anti-Semitism and other forms of racism.”
The international community has a duty to uphold international law and to act in a non-partisan way to bring about respectful dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians – this is the only path to peace. For this to happen, Israel as the side with the most military and economic power, must show goodwill by ending its relentless illegal settlement building, its punitive blockade of Gaza and its brutal military occupation.
For too long extremists on both sides have set the agenda. Ordinary Israelis and Palestinians deserve the opportunity at long last to live together in peace.
Hon Melissa Parke is the former federal Member for Fremantle and a long-time advocate for human rights.
[ Note. The above article appeared in The West Australian on January 8, 2020. On the same date the newspaper also said that it ‘apologises unreservedly’ to Melissa Parke for what it had published earlier concerning her on this matter. John Menadue]