Anti-Israel campaign is more than just a boycott

This afternoon, pro-Palestinian activists will gather in Sydney’s Hyde Park to call for the destruction of the Jewish state.

On their Facebook page, the Al-Quds Day Sydney Rally’s organisers are explicit about the Iran-backed movement’s objectives: “Those who do not participate in the Day of Quds (Jerusalem) are in agreement with Israel and oppose Islam.”

One of the speakers, Hussein al-Dirani, has said that the rally will be a peaceful expression of support for all oppressed people. But the rally is likely to be another component of a sustained attack on Israel that is becoming increasingly familiar in Australian cities.

Last year, there were violent protests outside Max Brenner chocolate shops as part of the internationally co-ordinated Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel.

This year, the campaign appears set to be renewed with high-profile support from elements of the Australian labour movement. Militant unionists and political groups in Victoria are using official union facilities and resources to support what the Maritime Union of Australia’s Kevin Bracken describes as “a non-violent way of ending the oppression of the Palestinian people, the persecution by Israel”.

Ironically, the staging of the Al-Quds rally in Sydney and the renewal of the campaign coincides with the Palestinians deciding to go quiet in the lead-up to November’s US presidential election.

Until his preferred candidate Barack Obama is safely back in the White House, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is not going to put pressure on Obama to support a renewed bid for Palestinian statehood at the UN.

Abbas is already chewing hard on his lip as he watches Obama’s election year charm offensive directed at Israel. Any high-profile agitation for Palestinian statehood in the lead-up to the US election could just make things that much harder for the Obama campaign.

The price of discomfort and delay will be well worth paying, however, if Abbas can see his man voted in for a second term.

But while Palestinian pressure on Israel ebbs and flows for tactical reasons, there is no let-up in the promotion of anti-Israel sentiment by the friends of Palestine in the West.

Activists who mouth cliches about Israeli persecution and Palestinian oppression remind us of the high-octane prejudice that often drives the push to build international pressure on Israel.

The suffering of Israeli citizens who endure attacks from missiles and bombs fired into Israel from Gaza and the occupied territories is routinely overlooked.

In fact, the invocation of non-violence, human rights and international law by so-called peace activists is a conceit masking a passionate hostility to the very existence of Israel.

The boycott campaign has three clearly stated objectives.

The first is to end what it calls Israel’s “occupation and colonisation of all Arab lands occupied in June 1967 and dismantling of the wall”.

“All Arab lands” is a vague and undefined formula. Does it have in mind the 1967 lines or the 1949 ceasefire lines? This is a critical point: it means the difference between Israel being required to retreat or to cease to exist altogether. Palestinian negotiator Nabil Shaath, interviewed on ABC1’s Lateline on September 26 last year, dated the occupation to 1949 when he declared Israel “has been in full occupation of our country for years – 62 years”.

The second objective is to obtain Israeli recognition of the “fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality”.

Palestinian supporters such as president Jimmy Carter and Archbishop Desmond Tutu persistently condemn Israel as an apartheid state. Yet Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel by law have the same civil rights as Jewish Israelis. Indeed, they are the only Arabs in the Middle East who enjoy human and civil rights that conform to the standards of democratic life with which we are familiar.

The third objective is to secure Israeli respect, protection and promotion of “the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in the UN Resolution 194”.

The UN General Assembly’s Resolution 194, passed in December 1948, merely says that refugees from the 1948 Arab-Israeli War “wishing to live in peace with their neighbours” should (not “must”) be allowed to return home.

The conditional resolution attempted a practical solution to a pressing problem, without overblown declarations about inalienable human rights.

But in the hands of BDS proponents, emotionally charged talk of a so-called “right of return” appears to be an attempt to use demography to overwhelm the state of Israel.

The BDS campaign is cast in rights-based, non-violent and tolerant terms that are smooth and soothing to Western ears; this is why secular bodies such as trade unions have embraced the campaign. So too, as might be expected of religious bodies that thrive on victimology, has the National Council of Churches in Australia.

Yet behind the rhetoric, the BDS objectives disclose a darker purpose: to damage and delegitimise the Jewish state by questioning the basis of its creation and its continued existence as a liberal democracy.

It’s fine to criticise governments. Many Jewish commentators call for Israel to address the real social and economic disparities within its population. They also question the legitimacy of the settlements in the West Bank, a matter that needs to be resolved in good faith.

But when campaigns such as the BDS, and now Al-Quds, demonise Israel and implicitly deny the right of Israel to exist, it morphs from legitimate protest into a different kind of project.

Peter Kurti is a research fellow with the religion and the free society program at the Centre for Independent Studies. Kurti, Philip Mendes and Paul Kelly are contributors to What’s New with Anti-Semitism, available through
(Tags: BDS, Australia, Anti-Israelism, Al-Quds)


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