The two envoys

Jul 11, 2024
Palestine-Israel. Concept

The Prime Minister says he has appointed an antisemitic envoy and will soon appoint an islamophobia envoy, because the population does not understand the complexity and seriousness apparent in a perceived threat to Australia’s social cohesion. But the boot is on the other foot. He and his government have shown an abysmal lack of understanding or perhaps wilful blindness to the causes of misplaced anger with racist overtones. Defacing war memorials and attacking the offices of members of parliament, which I do not condone, are protests against our government for not sanctioning Israel for its gross violations of international law.

1. The cry chanted by supporters of Palestinians “from the river to the sea” is not a cry of antisemitism as Mr Albanese, Mr Dutton, and their supporters claim.

It is a cry which puts the whole terrible suffering in context. It is a response to the truth that the Zionist project is one of gradual appropriation of all land and the displacement of all Palestinians including the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza. As Senator Payman has said, she does not seek the end of Israel, she seeks the end of the colonial Zionist project. She seeks freedom and equality for Palestinians wherever they live from the river to the sea.

Because the Australian government and the opposition both claim to support a two-State solution they should be in the forefront of boycotting Israel for actions that make this proposition impossible. Since October 7 there has been an escalation of violence against Palestinians in the West Bank, an escalation of proposals for more illegal settlements, an escalation of imprisonment of Palestinians for protesting their loss of rights and an escalation of demolition of Palestinian properties. Senator Payman was right to vote for a motion which would have led to Palestinian recognition without caveat, and even more importantly she was right not to vote for the motion which would have kicked the can down the road and tied recognition to a peace process to which Israel will never agree.

2.  The appointment of proposed islamophobia and antisemitism envoys places the cause of unrest and anger in entirely the wrong place.

This is not about religious bigotry or even religious identity; it is about gross human rights violations. What is happening in the Middle East is political, not religious, as is the response in the US, Britain and Australia. Mr Biden has clearly had a gutful of Mr Netanyahu, but he will not give sway to his sense of justice emanating from his Catholic faith because he knows if he did so, he would have even less chance of winning the November election. I am personally so angry about what is happening in what I have always understood to be the Holy Land. I am neither a Muslim nor a Jew. From my Christian faith I am outraged by the subjugation of the Palestinian people. Here in Australia, neither side of politics, with some courageous exceptions, is prepared to see, or speak, with Palestinian voice.

3. In making these appointments, Mr Albanese is muddying the waters between religion and ethnicity.

For decades Palestinian Australians have been too anxious to identify themselves as such and have been more likely to say they are Lebanese than Palestinian. It is ironic that since October 7 and the rise of sympathetic focus on the plight of Palestinians, it has freed many Palestinians, especially the young, to stand up. Palestinians identify as people of Palestine. They are both Muslim and Christian, although Christian Palestinians are now more likely to be found in the diaspora than in Palestine.

Similarly, when I became President of the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network in 2012, my first challenge was to recognise that my understanding of ‘Jewishness’ as a form of religious identity was inaccurate. Many of my Jewish friends made it clear to me they were not at all religious (some claimed to be atheistic), but that did not diminish in any way their sense of being Jewish. I have come to understand that for many (possibly most), Jewishness is a cultural, perhaps ethnic, identity. It is certainly true that most Israelis are secular, not religious. I was told in no uncertain terms that “the more you understand the Old Testament, the less you understand modern day Judaism”.

4. Treating the manifestation of an illness without addressing it cause is futile.

The October 7 Hamas sponsored brutality on an Israeli kibbutz and the consequent taking of hostages is rightly condemned without caveat or qualification. However, associating the attack with all Palestinians is unconscionable. The slaughtering of tens of thousands of Palestinians without consequence from the international community is a crime against the decency of all humanity. Several members of the Knesset have said there is no such entity as an innocent Palestinian. The refusal to treat Palestinian asylum seekers from Gaza in the same way that asylum seekers from Ukraine have been treated by the Australian government appears to make this link. The unjust treatment of the Irish by the British created the IRA. The unjust treatment of Palestinians, leaving them without hope, has created Hamas. More than anyone else, Netanyahu is responsible for the rise of antisemitism, Albanese will not have taken a meaningful step to address the issue unless he at least uses the same language moderate Jews use to condemn the leader of Israel and its government’s apartheid inspired policies.

5. Criticism of Israel is antisemitic if it is criticism which would not be brought against other countries – Attorney General Mark Dreyfus.

The strident criticism I bring against Israel is because of what it and its allies claim it to be, the only liberal democracy in the Middle East. We have sadly come to expect atrocities from North Korea, the Myanmar junta, and from Russia. They do not claim to be democracies.

Israel claims to hold the same values as Australia and vice-versa. I want to shout as loudly as possible – no we don’t. It is true that our colonial past held many similarities. It is also true that some ‘red neck’ Australians continue to hold similar values. But as a people and as a government we do not. It is a cause of grief and anger that we, who continually espouse to uphold international law, do not require this of Israel.

Mr Albanese, setting up your envoys may help you think you are addressing a lack of social cohesion; you could do far more by addressing the causes of such disruption.

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