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Thursday, 25 June 2009
Page: 4409

Senator FORSHAW (6:53 PM) —I recognise that it has been a difficult week and that senators are anxious to escape this place and return to their duties in their various states. But I do wish tonight to reflect upon an issue of importance—that is, the continuing problems that bedevil the Middle East, particularly the issue of Palestine. I regularly, like all other members of parliament, receive an inflow of emails and articles on this issue. I try to read them all, or most of them. Some are fair and balanced. Unfortunately, some are extreme and indeed reflect the most anti-Semitic or anti-Islamic views. Fortunately those are in the minority.

In recent weeks, however, there has been a concerted campaign in this country by various people, described as academics, artists and professionals, supporting a petition calling for a boycott of Israel. This is being promoted by the group known as the Friends of Palestine, an organisation that I regularly receive emails from and whose publications I do read. Let me quote from an extensive email that I received on 25 June from the Friends of Palestine organisation. I want to quote part of the foreword by Sonja Karkar, a well-known spokesperson for that group. It says:

Israeli-born Professor Ilan Pappe urges the international community to begin cultural boycotts as “the longest and one of the cruellest Occupations in modern times” enters its 42nd year. Those who demand that “we leave culture out of our political actions,” he says, “provide immunity for one of the greatest atrocities of our time.”

That struck me because of its incredibly strong language. So I read on. Attached to the foreword by Sonja Karkar is an article by Ilan Pappe titled ‘The necessity of cultural boycott’. Throughout that article, which I do not have time to read in full, there are recurring attacks upon the state of Israel. It is referred to as an ‘apartheid system’, and I wish to come back to that particular reference. It says that Israel is guilty of ‘ethnic cleansing of 1948’ and, further, that it is a ‘charade’ of a democracy.

I make the point at the outset that this type of criticism is able to be freely disseminated in this country and read by all of us. I doubt if there are very many countries, certainly in the Middle East region, other than in Israel, where that sort of criticism of their own governments can be regularly read. In some cases, it is absolutely banned. You would have no access to emails or to the internet to read such material if it were directed at the country’s regime. Indeed, you could probably expect serious consequences to your person.

Dr Ilan is a well-known critic of Israel, being Chair in the Department of History at the University of Exeter. I wish to quote from his article:

In the last eight years the Israeli criminal policy escalated, and the Palestinian activists were seeking new means to confront it.

I interpose here to repeat ‘new means to confront it’. The article continues:

They have tried it all, armed struggle, guerrilla warfare, terrorism and diplomacy: nothing worked. And yet they are not giving up and now they are proposing a nonviolent strategy —that of boycott, sanctions and divestment. With these means they wish to persuade Western governments to save not only them, but ironically also the Jews in Israel from an imminent catastrophe and bloodshed. This strategy bred the call for cultural boycott of Israel.

Another phrase that is used is ‘the Israeli criminal policy’. The article states that Palestinian activists were seeking new means, having tried armed struggle, guerrilla warfare, terrorism and diplomacy. I was not alive in 1948 but I was a young person in 1967 and I particularly remember 1973, when the surrounding Arab nations tried to annihilate the state of Israel. So, contrary to what may have been suggested in this article, this is not a new phenomenon in the last eight years—a means for the Palestinian activists to destroy the state of Israel. Of course, we can all remember the various terrorist acts that occurred, whether it was at the Munich Olympics or whether it was the bombing of airports or the hijacking of ships and airlines that occurred in the 1970s, particularly following the 1973 war.

The criticism and this boycott is linked to this so-called ‘campaign against apartheid’. Of course what always runs through this type of criticism of Israel is the linking of the Israeli government and their policies either with the Holocaust or with the apartheid regime in South Africa, or both. I find that somewhat ironic at times because some of the very persons who use that terminology, such as President Ahmadinejad in Iran, at the same time essentially deny the occurrence of the Holocaust. There is this constant reference these days to a campaign against apartheid.

I remember the campaign against apartheid. I was involved in it. That was a legitimate campaign. It was not supported by everyone, but in my view, and I think it is accepted, that was a legitimate campaign of protests and boycotts against a regime that did not allow the majority of the citizens in that state to have even the most fundamental of human rights—the right to vote, the right to walk down the street side by side with a white person or even the right to use public facilities such as toilets in an unsegregated manner.

In my view to suggest that the campaign to support Palestinian rights should be founded upon a boycott of Israel, using the terminology or the argument that Israel is an apartheid state, is, as I said, an outrage. There are rights enjoyed by Palestinians and Arab citizens in Israel that do not exist for the Jewish people in some of those surrounding countries. There are members of Knessett in Israel who represent Arab citizens of Israel.

In February this year elections took place in Israel. If you have ever witnessed an Israeli election, you know that it is one of the most democratic elections ever held in the world. There are numerous parties that run. It makes this parliament look at times like a tame peace gathering—given the vigorous debate that goes on in the Knesset. In Israel people who want to oppose the policies of Israel with respect to Palestine are entitled to do so freely and democratically. Yet what we are seeing in Iran today is a continuation of the outrageous views expressed by President Ahmadinejad at the Durban II conference. He is now inflicting that very same campaign upon his own people. (Time expired)