Palestine is an issue of justice not religion

Jul 7, 2024
Israel And Palestine Peace Doves Image: iStock

At the coming elections, many of us will vote on the basis of a party’s or a candidate’s stance on the issue of Palestine. It will be a vote to reject the occupation, apartheid, the use of starvation as a weapon of war, and a myriad of other unspeakable horrors. And it will be an appeal to our common humanity to stop the genocide in Gaza and to help Palestinians get peace with justice. I sincerely hope it will not be a religion-based vote.

Religion, like the colour of skin, is a mere accident of birth, and should not be used as a basis for casting one’s vote. Let’s ‘Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.’ and keep politics and religion separate.

The reason people around the world are distressed by the plight of Palestinians is not a shared religion but a shared humanity. We are horrified by the savagery inflicted on Palestinians and tormented by their suffering. And we would have been equally horrified and tormented if they had a different religion or if they did not believe in God.

I watched Senator Fatima Payman’s Insiders interview and her pronouncements since then, with empathy and much admiration. I admire her courage, her moral stance and her ability to articulate that stance so eloquently. And I am bewildered by the preoccupation with party rules. I do understand the importance of rules for Labor as well as for any other organisation. But I am still dismayed by the current focus on party rules and not on the genocide in Gaza. If the starving, maiming and slaughtering of tens of thousands of children do not transcend party rules. What will?

Senator Payman’s views and feelings reflect the views and feelings of those of us who are devastated by the genocide in Gaza and the ethnic cleansing in the West Bank and Jerusalem. We share her anguish over what is being done to the Palestinians and we are angry at our government’s inaction to help stop it. Every image of an emaciated, starving child reminds us of the unseemly haste with which our government suspended its funding to UNRWA. For many of us, the genocide in Gaza is a huge issue. Much bigger than our political leaders imagine. It keeps us awake at night, it triggers sudden bouts of sobbing, and we feel it as a constant, visceral pain.

When political leaders repeat their hollow words about the two-state solution, I feel like asking them “And, beyond futile condemnations, what have you done over the past decades to stop the expansion of settlements?” “On exactly which remaining square kilometre of land do you propose that this independent Palestinian state would exist?” When they speak about the recognition of Palestine only as part of a peace process, I feel like asking “Is this the same bogus process that went on for decades, leading to more dispossession of Palestinians and greater abuses of their human rights?” “How can negotiations take place between a powerless people, bombed back- to- the- stone age and a people backed by the most powerful military in the world?” “How can negotiations succeed in the absence of an honest broker? Or do you still believe that the US is an honest broker?”

I do believe that we should use our votes to show our leaders how we feel about important issues such as climate change, indigenous people’s rights, sleepwalking into America’s wars of choice, and the lack of concrete action to stop the genocide in Gaza. I would have welcomed a ‘Palestinian Lives Matter’ initiative but ‘Muslim Votes Matter’ troubles me. I firmly believe that religion has no place in politics. Palestine is an issue of justice not religion. And like Christians and Jews, Muslims are not a monolithic block. There are religious Muslims and there are cultural Muslims. A ‘Muslim Vote Matter’ would deny the untiring advocacy of the many great Christian and non-believing Palestinians. Edward Said was not Muslim, George Habash was not a Muslim, Saree Makdisi is not Muslim. And a religion-based vote would alienate the many Australians who, like me, do not wish to see the introduction of poisonous sectarianism into Australian politics. And it would give the usual culprits in politics and the media, ample opportunities to dog-whistle and further demonise Australian Muslims.

A look around the world today would clearly show the immense suffering that results from mixing religion and politics. At the risk of offending religious people, I think the world would be a much better place without religion-based schools, religion-based political parties or religion-based countries.

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