THE AUSTRALIAN: Bob Brown told to rein in anti-Israel senator Lee Rhiannon 1Apr11 March 31, 2011

by Joe Kelly and Lauren Wilson -  The Australian – National Affairs -  1 April 2011

GREENS leader Bob Brown is under mounting political and diplomatic pressure to pull his hard-left senator-elect Lee Rhiannon into line as she intensifies her support for a radical boycott of Israel.

Ms Rhiannon, who will take her Senate spot on July 1 when the Greens take the balance of power in the upper house, yesterday drew condemnation from Labor and the Coalition after expressing regret that the NSW Greens did not campaign harder for a boycott of Israeli goods and services at last weekend’s state election.

Trade Minister Craig Emerson said last night the policy was disgusting and he feared it represented an extremism that would make its way to Canberra.

Dr Emerson told The Australian: “Confirmation by senator-elect Rhiannon of this disgusting policy is reprehensible.”

He applauded voters in the inner-western Sydney seat of Marrickville, who returned erstwhile Labor deputy premier Carmel Tebbutt to parliament over Greens candidate Fiona Byrne, a supporter of an Israeli boycott.

“Good on the people of Marrickville for rejecting this Greens extremism, and I am confident that the rest of Australia will too.”

Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd said the Gillard government did not condone nor support any boycotts or sanctions against the Jewish state.

Senator Brown’s office said an Israeli boycott was not Greens national policy, but Coalition figures said they were concerned Ms Rhiannon would influence the party’s platform when she arrived in Canberra.

Ms Rhiannon was quoted on the online news site New Matilda as saying, in the wake of the Coalition’s landslide victory in NSW, that the Greens should have spent more time building support for the global BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement, particularly among academics, Arab communities and social justice groups.

“Months before the election we needed to explain why the Greens backed BDS and we needed to work closer with our allies on BDS – academics, the Arab community and social justice movements in Sydney and Melbourne,” Ms Rhiannon was quoted as saying.

“Collectively we didn’t do enough to amplify support for BDS and show that this is part of an international movement.”

An Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce spokesman warned yesterday that boycotts on Israeli goods could prevent access to potentially groundbreaking water-saving technology and telecommunications switches that may be picked up by the National Broadband Network.

Ms Rhiannon refused to return The Australian’s calls yesterday, as did all federal Greens MPs.

Tony Abbott denounced her position, calling on Julia Gillard to distance Labor from Ms Rhiannon’s views. “The Coalition completely rejects any campaign designed to weaken Israel and can’t understand why a supposed environmental party are involved in this nonsense,” the Opposition Leader told The Australian.

“Given the Greens are Labor’s political bedfellows, I call on the Prime Minister to pull her alliance partner into line.”

Other Liberal MPs expressed concern that Ms Rhiannon’s position would infect the federal Greens platform and contaminate government policy.

“I am particularly concerned that Lee Rhiannon, who is going to become a member of the governing Labor/Greens alliance federally, is going to bring those views into this alliance,” Liberal senator Mitch Fifield told The Australian.

But Senator Fifield also dismissed Dr Emerson’s attack on the Greens in light of the deal signed by Ms Gillard with Senator Brown last September to secure minority government. “The fact that Labor is prepared to be in a governing alliance with the Greens makes their denunciation of the (NSW) Greens’ Israel boycott ring a little hollow,” he said.

Opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman Julie Bishop said Ms Rhiannon’s comments were “extreme”, “highly prejudicial” and “deeply troubling”.

She said that, in light of Ms Rhiannon’s views, the Prime Minister needed to guarantee the Greens would not influence her government’s foreign policy.

“Given that the Greens do not support our alliance with the US either, the Prime Minister must guarantee the Greens will not influence Labor’s foreign policy in the same way as they have influenced Labor’s policy on a carbon tax,” Ms Bishop said.

A spokeswoman for Mr Rudd said last night: “Australia is firmly committed to Israel’s security and fully recognises the significant security challenges Israel faces.

“The Australian government has consistently supported a negotiated two-state solution to the Middle East peace process where Israel and a future Palestinian state live side by side in peace and security.”

Ms Rhiannon, who entered the NSW Legislative Council in March 1999 and is a former member of the Socialist Party of Australia, is one of four new Greens senators who will travel to Canberra in July.

They will take the number of Greens in the upper house to nine, securing the party the balance of power and greater influence over Labor’s legislative agenda.

It is official Greens policy to “support the rights of the Palestinian peoples to statehood through the creation of a viable state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel, based on the pre-1967 borders and the right of all peoples in the region to peace”.

In December, however, delegates from local NSW Greens groups unanimously endorsed a series of military, trade and services boycotts of Israel and the international BDS movement as a way of supporting Palestinian self-determination.

The proposal passed by the NSW Greens state council and, in a December 7 media release, called upon all Australians and “the Australian government to boycott Israeli goods, trading and military arrangements, and sporting, cultural and academic events as a contribution to the struggle to end Israel’s occupation and colonisation of Palestinian territory”.

At the time, Ms Rhiannon said the Greens were hopeful their “backing of the BDS movement will win more Australian support for this important cause”.

An Israeli embassy spokeswoman urged the Greens to engage in dialogue rather than support boycotts, suggesting such a path would embolden radicals.

“Those who are behind the policy of singling out Israel through a boycott are clearly showing their true colours,” she said. “The whole boycott program strengthens the radicals in a lot of ways.

“A lot of people who support the boycotts have never read the BDS charter which states Israel should be just a one-state country.

“It does not support negotiations at all.”

Jeremy Jones, the director of international affairs with the Australia/Israel Jewish Affairs Council, said the more Ms Rhiannon publicised her views on the BDS, the more it would harm the Greens.

“It is an extreme policy and it goes against any purported interest in reconciliation, peace or justice,” Mr Jones said. “The only possible impact (of a BDS) is to strengthen the hand of extremists on all sides of the equation.”

Mr Jones said he did not believe the federal Greens would accept a BDS as federal policy and suggested the policy had sparked a very strong negative reaction among the public in inner-city seats such as Marrickville.

Additional reporting: Mark Dodd, Sid Maher

If you liked this article, please consider making a donation to Australians for Palestine by clicking on the PayPal link
Thank You.
Bookmark and Share

Add a Comment

required, use real name
required, will not be published
optional, your blog address