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Boycott vote in Sydney suburb sparks media furor, death threats

Sarah Irving, The Electronic Intifada, 24 January 2011

Anne Paq/ActiveStills

On 15 December 2010, the councilors of Marrickville, a suburb of Sydney, Australia voted by a 10-2 majority to support the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS). A month later, they have belatedly become the subjects of vilification in the press owned by international media proprietor Rupert Murdoch and death threats from Australia’s lunatic fringe.

“What does the desert theocracy of Saudi Arabia have in common with Marrickville Council in Sydney’s Inner West?” howls an article in Murdoch’s Telegraph, under a headline comparing the local authority to North Korea. The piece — which manages to be factually inaccurate on subjects as diverse as kosher food laws and Palestine Liberation Organization factions — goes on to hail Israel as “one of the most innovative and entrepreneurial countries in the world. Its products and inventions find their way into computers, mobile phones and medicines.” The online version of the article seeks to demonstrate Israel’s virtues by illustrating it with both a photo gallery of Israeli swimsuit model Bar Refaeli and a video of her writhing in the sand on a photo shoot.

“This is what passes for ‘journalism’ and commentary over Israel/Palestine in Australia,” laments Antony Loewenstein, the Sydney-based author of Australian best-seller My Israel Question and co-founder of Independent Australian Jewish Voices. His blog also points out the inconsistencies and omissions in recent coverage of the incident by The Australian, supposedly a more serious paper than the Telegraph. The Australian quotes Anthony Albanese, a member of the Australian federal parliament whose constituency covers Marrickville council’s turf. Albanese claims that “Foreign policy is a fair way outside the parameters of the role of Marrickville Council” and suggests that the local authority stick to “local” issues.

But Councilor Cathy Peters, who supported the boycott motion at Marrickville, rejects the suggestion that boycotting Israeli products is outside her remit as a council representative. “It’s not a matter of foreign policy at all, but rather the right of a council to make decisions regarding our purchasing policy and the relationships and engagements we have with outside organizations,” she said in an interview with The Electronic Intifada. “It’s completely within our purview to make those decisions. We’ve done it before. We have an ongoing boycott of companies involved in Burma. The council has a long, proud tradition of making ethical decisions.”

Peters also stressed that many Marrickville residents had expressed their concerns about Israeli actions towards the Palestinians to local councilors. Marrickville mayor Fiona Byrne, writing on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation website, also described how “Marrickville Councilors interact with the people we represent on a day to day level. We have spoken with many local residents, with community and multi-faith groups who have told us of their feelings towards the unresolved issue of Palestine and Israel and their desire to be able to take direct action.” The boycott motion has also, she said, been supported by members of Jews Against the Occupation, and she cited the many Australian church and trade union organizations which have supported whole or partial boycotts of Israeli products and organizations.

Anthony Albanese has in the past been supportive of Palestine solidarity campaigns and critical of Israel’s human rights record, so his stance has surprised some local people. Jennifer Killen, a Marrickville resident who strongly supports the council’s twinning with Bethlehem and its boycott initiative, commented to The Electronic Intifada: “I’m very disappointed in my local member of parliament for not being more supportive of our hard-working local councilors at this time.” Killen also pointed out that the contact details of the councilors who voted for the boycott motion are on the website of the Sydney-based Coalition for Justice & Peace in Palestine, and called on international activists to support Marrickville where its MPs had failed to do so.

Councilor Cathy Peters, a Green Party member, emphasized that the boycott motion at Marrickville had cross-party support and that the former mayor of Marrickville, who visited its sister city of Bethlehem in 2010, was a member of the Australian Labor Party. But Antony Loewenstein and other Sydney commentators have suggested that the realpolitik of upcoming elections could be behind Albanese’s condemnation of the boycott vote. The Australian’s article mentions the risks to Albanese’s seat from the Green Party.

But it failed to highlight the fact that Carmel Tebbutt, the New South Wales state legislature member for Marrickville who is quoted in the same article, is also Albanese’s wife — and that her seat is under threat from Marrickville Green Mayor Fiona Byrne in upcoming state-level elections. The New South Wales Green Party adopted a strong boycott, divestment and sanctions position in December 2010 and Albanese’s attacks on the boycott motion could, Sydney commentators suggest, be an attempt to put some political space between himself and his spouse, and their Green challengers.

Outside the mainstream media, Australia’s nastier extremists have also waded in on the Marrickville debate. An article on the Australian Islamist Monitor website entitled “Australian Council Disgraces Itself” berates the local authority, saying that “you have got it all wrong — you have sided with the aggressors, the bullies, the friends of Hitler and those whom Hitler considered his friends in their antisemitism [sic].” The writer goes on to claim that “Israel is a tiny land surrounded by aggressive Muslim nations and as David Horowitz has pointed out repeatedly, the aim of those nations is to deny Israel the right to exist.” David Horowitz, cited by the Australian Islamist Monitor author, is an American commentator and founder of the Freedom Center who claims that “free societies” are “under attack by leftist and Islamist enemies at home and abroad.” As well as attacking Arab and left-wing campaigners, he has also been accused of racism against African Americans.

And one comment following the article reads: “This is insane I hate these people. I would like to have a 22 and pick them off one by one for target practice. Better still a suicide bomber in their midst. In fact I might make a giant blow up of the photo and sell it to a shooting range.” A “smiley” emoticon follows the comment. Immediately after it, the same commenter, “Skipping Girl,” adds: “God Bless Israel.”

Despite its claims to be “anti-racist in all its forms” and to support freedom of speech when this does not lead to violence, the Australian Islamist Monitor site is rife with hysterical and sometimes violent comments about Muslim people. A number of its contributors have links to more extreme hate sites and have made openly racist comments in other forums. The website’s membership is strictly controlled, with potential members approved by a human moderator as well as by electronic tests. However, in more than three weeks it has made no move to remove Skipping Girl’s bloodthirsty comments.

Cathy Peters says that she has been made aware that some threatening comments have been made regarding Marrickville councilors, but that the matter has been turned over to the council’s general manager for consideration. For her, the larger concern is how the issue of Palestine is debated in Australia.

“I think it’s unfortunate that these kind of emotional comments have been triggered by an overall reluctance by the Board of Deputies and other groups to tolerate debate and criticism of Israeli policies regarding Palestine and the occupied territories,” she says, rejecting charges that Marrickville’s councilors have been influenced by “political correctness” or ideology. Her fellow members, she points out, include some “very experienced” local councilors with diverse backgrounds and political opinions.

“The problem at the moment is one of groups trying to close down dialogue on the subject,” Peters insists. “What is really needed at the moment is a mature, calm debate on Israel’s policies on Palestine and how Australians should respond to them.”

Sarah Irving is a freelance writer. She worked with the International Solidarity Movement in the occupied West Bank in 2001-02 and with Olive Co-op, promoting fair trade Palestinian products and solidarity visits, in 2004-06. She now writes full-time on a range of issues, including Palestine. Her first book, Gaza: Beneath the Bombs, co-authored with Sharyn Lock, was published in January 2010. She is currently working on a new edition of the Bradt Guide to Palestine and a biography of Leila Khaled.

January 24, 2011 - Posted by | Illegal Occupation, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Solidarity and Activism

15 Comments »

  1. Marrickville council absolutely Rocks
    the residents of Marrickville should have deep respect for the actions of there council

    I helped out with the Albanese election campaign… now I am ashamed I did
    I was going to help out with his wife Carmel Tebbuts upcoming state election campaign… now I will be damned if I will
    I am going to join the Greens and help them out instead… Yeah

    I wish Australia could send it’s own aid relief ship or convoy to Palestine… Why haven’t we yet ? come on Coalition for Justice & Peace in Palestine, how about trying to organise this and show our solidarity

    Israel is a racist apartheid state

    a Palestinian State with pre 67 borders

    Free Palestine

    Comment by Brian Concannon | January 25, 2011 | Reply

  2. The ten Marrickville Councillors are so hypocritical, there anti Israel stance goes against the people of Marrickville mainly because most of our 70 thousand local population had no idea this was happening until it was too late. Request for ‘proof’ of community consultation is still not available to the community if it happened at all.
    Cathy Peters should step down as mayor, she has proven herself as someone that stands against free expression unless it’s her view, and she does not denounce violence when committed to local people that stand against her on other issues apart from the boycott.
    The twisted Marrickville Greens policies actually go against the real Greens position on Israel and Palestine.
    Cathy Peters and her 9 followers only love debates that suit their political platform shutting down all other feedback.
    While the world governments do need to support Israel and Palestine in finding a peaceful and stable out come to their local issue, Marrickville councillors that have little to no qualification on world history on the middle east and have little knowledge of world diplomacy thus they should leave it to the professionals.
    All Cathy Peters is creating is a feeling of anger in our own community that will bring the tensions of the Middle East into the Marrickville Area. Please stop this before it gets out of hand.

    Comment by Sergio | January 25, 2011 | Reply

  3. Sergio, Suggest you cease attacking the messengers, in this case the Marrickville Counselors, and start paying attention to the message. Israel has committed WAR CRIMES. Israel thinks it is above the law. Israel relies on a zionist controlled mainstreammedia plus online hate-mongers whose purpose is to deceive and bludgeon public opinion in its favor – Hasbarats! Israel needs to be made to understand that its behavior is unacceptable. I congratulate Marrickville Council for its principled stand.

    BOYCOTT, DIVERSIFY, SANCTION
    ** bdsmovement.net **

    Comment by Andrew Magee | January 27, 2011 | Reply

    • Dear Andrew, you have never lived out side of Sydney from the sounds of it, “you need to live in China for a year” your world history of the last two hundred years is a bit out of date.The only people that have hate in there hearts or in there writing style are people like you. Being rude is unacceptable,people do not solve problems pointing fingers, everyone on this planet has a problem oneway or another,people will be killing each other in Egypt tonight and all over the Isamic world. Marrickville council will soon be replaced, thats one less silly group to think about Andrew.

      Comment by Sergio | January 27, 2011 | Reply

      • No doubt that the Marrickville council will be “replaced” by many, many councils across the globe that will make similar motions for boycott and divestment, actions that local governments can and do take on a regular basis.

        Any harassment of Marrickville representatives by Israel fanatics will only serve to hasten the development of the movement.

        Comment by aletho | January 27, 2011 | Reply

  4. Dear Andrew/Aletho, Not all the worlds people are Fanatics like you, Israel is a very small place with very few people.
    It is the greater world population that will help make the change not your Boycott.
    Marricville council is the first and more than likely will be the last to support a silly Boycott in Australia. Watch and learn what happens tonight in Eygpt. I can sugest some very good books for you to read.
    If youir write back can you answer two simple questions.
    how many people live in Isreal? and how many Muslims live around that area?

    Comment by Sergio | January 27, 2011 | Reply

    • Sergio,

      What are you getting at with your rhetorical question? Are we supposed to sympathize with a colonial population that stupidly implanted themselves in the center of another people’s country?

      The French colonists in Algeria were just as idiotic and very few felt sorry about their fate

      Comment by aletho | January 27, 2011 | Reply

  5. Dear Aletho, I will give you the answers, there are 7.4 million people living in Isreal/5.4 million being of the Jewish religion. Surrounding them are 230,000,000 milion Arabs/Muslims. Not all Muslims wish to kill Jews however you do not need to have a large % of the above sum to make life not so nice. The world does understand the problems, but you do not have the solution.
    If you believe in Australian Aboriginal land right, that’s if your even Australian, and you think native land rights are real, you need to do some extra reading to understand that Isreal falls under the same legal right,
    Isreal is not going any place soon, unless your a supporter of another round of genicide. The middle East has some major problems and growing every minute, the next months is going to change a great deal, watch and learn.

    Comment by Sergio | January 28, 2011 | Reply

    • That’s nuts Sergio.

      European colonists have no “native land rights” to Palestine. The Palestinians are the indigenous population as well as the descendants of the ancient Jewish community.

      It won’t take genocide to convince Israelis to give up their lives of crime. Just as the Pieds Noirs decided they were better off back in Europe, Israelis will either leave or perhaps some may assimilate.

      If you don’t want to assimilate into society you have no business there. I imagine that you are conversant in the English language since you live in Australia, don’t you think that Israelis need to be just as conversant in Arabic?

      Comment by aletho | January 28, 2011 | Reply

  6. Dear Aletho, European colonist are not part of the issue, every human comes from some other place,you and I can both say we come via Africa. Just as l can not tell you to stop having your oppinion that i would never do, because you and I both have a clear understanding of freedom of expression. There is a problem in the Middle east,and it is not just One religion over another, it is a base Male Tribal problem, such a base male mentality, the West has moved on from these basic political motives however the Middle east has not or truth be told it my never be able to.Most of the world problems come from these limitations. I hope for all the people of the world that all the men up there get a grip on the truth, get educated read more than religious books, see that this planet is way to small for children to play with guns. Understand that i do know why you are thinking you are correct in your veiws, but only when you and i find common ground will solutions be possible.
    Then we both will have a even bigger problems,how do we help the stupid men of the Middle East.(either side)

    Comment by Sergio | January 28, 2011 | Reply

    • Consider that nowhere is there a more primitive “base Male Tribal problem” than in the Talmud and the old testament. Perhaps you should consider righting your own problems before focusing on those of other cultures which you hope to rationalize theft from.

      Comment by aletho | January 28, 2011 | Reply

  7. Dear Aletho, finally something we can both agree on, all religions are dangerous, and should be one of the first things to be removed from this planet,Islam being the most dangerous basically becouse of its size and singleminded view point. 65% of it’s writing/story telling is directed at non Muslims(hatefull veiw points) and the rest of it works on the controll of women. All women in the Middle east should be given the power over men,then I think problems will be solved.

    Comment by Sergio | January 28, 2011 | Reply

    • I’m no religious scholar but I think that most agree that Islam is far more tolerant of other religious beliefs than Christianity or Judaism.

      Case in point, we have a non-Muslim here on this thread gratuitously bashing Islam.

      Comment by aletho | January 28, 2011 | Reply

  8. Dera Aletho, have you read the Koran fully?
    Just out of interest are all your memebers Muslim?. If all your members are Humanist and have no religious background, the action and opionions your site has may work in communicating with other people in the world.
    However if your site is fully Muslim based and your members are not fully versed in Islamic rules,(law and politics)and have only the basics in understanding the Koran, it will take longer to solve this issue with your group. I do look forward to a good debate if your up to haveing one.
    Please note; Islam bashing in not my aim, just getting people to see some basic truths about human nature, and human reactions, is the first step to creating positive change, first rule to remember is that as human beings we have more in common than not! talk soon.

    Comment by Sergio | January 29, 2011 | Reply

  9. You get in fights everywhere Andrew Aletho Magee

    Comment by Shlomo Kreplach | August 31, 2012 | Reply


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