The Australians for Palestine team arrived in Sydney on Monday to give support to Marrickville BDS and the Marrickville councillors.  It was, we felt, an historic occasion for BDS in Australia.  On Tuesday evening, the  Marrickville Council Chambers was packed to the rafters with crowds of people outside wanting to hear the vote on BDS after months of savage attacks on the councillors who had supported its adoption last December.  After hearing statements from 17 speakers, both for and against, and then the councillors themselves speaking to the resolution, the vote taken to rescind it resulted in a tie and failed when the the mayor and chair Fiona Byrne used her casting vote to defeat it.  The mayor then proposed an in principle BDS motion that would have ensured  boycotts undertaken would not impose any costs on the ratepayers of Marrickville.  This was voted down.  She proposed a second watered down version which was also defeated.  Labor Councillor Mary O’Sullivan forehadowed a motion  that resolved “not to pursue BDS against Israel in any shape or form” and Greens Councillor Peter Olive proposed that  a motherhood statement be inserted.  This ended up maintaining the three tenets of the BDS call – to end the occupation of all Arab lands and dismantle the Wall, to ensure full equality for Palestinians living in Israel and to support the right of Palestinian refugees to return home. This was carried 8 votes to 4 against. None of the councillors who had opposed the BDS resolution seemed aware of the incongruity  of now voting for a motion that included the very demands that BDS seeks, while refusing to do anything about it.

The councillors who voted against BDS couched their opposition in outpourings of sympathy for the Palestinians which only made the hypocrisy of their vote all the more abhorrent.  Some rejected even a symbolic gesture.  They simply did not want to hear the voices of reason –  the Palestinian voices like Samah Sabawi and Bishara Costandi and Palestinian  civil society which made the BDS call, the Jewish speakers like Antony Loewenstein and Dr Peter Slezak and the Jewish voices from Israel who had written in support, nor the long list of eminent persons who had endorsed the statement calling on Marrickville not to back way from BDS, among them Mairead Maguire, a Nobel Peace prize laureate, Hedy Epstein, a Holocaust survivor,  Pulitzer Prize winner Alice Walker and many more celebrated academics, political and cultural leaders, nor the  councillors and mayors of municipalities in the UK, Spain and Sweden who had sent statements in defence of BDS, nor the hundreds of letters from the Australian public that had come flooding in to Marrickville Council.  The power of the Murdoch press, the pressure from senior Federal Ministers of the Labor Party and the warning by the newly-elected NSW premier of the Liberal Party that he would sack the entire council within 28 days if they did not overturn the BDS resolution, no doubt added to the mafia-like tactics of intimidation, threats and hysterical vitriol to which they had all been subjected.  Yet four councillors stood firm, undeterred by the illogical reasonings and dire warnings that had swayed their colleagues.  It is to them that we send thanks for their courage in the eye of the storm.  It is they who will be vindicated when Israel is finally held to account for all the years of human rights violations against the Palestinians.  It is they who are the champions of democracy in an age when our fundamental freedoms are being abused and undermined from all quarters.

Nothing was more apparent than the absence of the Palestinian voice in the fury of lies and misinformation that polluted our media.  How is it possible that a subject matter arousing such overwhelming fear and loathing could not be challenged in our democratic Australia? How is it that the silencing of other opinions through bullying and threats was tolerated rather than sparking widespread outrage? That alone should have caused alarm bells to ring in the minds of Australians everywhere. Australians for Palestine public advocate Samah Sabawi had only three minutes to raise that in her statement and she did so speaking also to the BDS resolution while reminding everyone that BDS is rooted in international law.  Her statement was particularly riveting coming from one who is a refugee herself and who still has family in Gaza.  “BDS,” she said “is a call from an oppressed people to the world to act against tyranny.”

If the forces lined up against BDS in Australia thought they had won the day, they will soon know that the global BDS movement is far more powerful than anything they are able to throw at it.  Consider, that with all the weight of Murdoch’s empire blocking alternative voices, BDS is more well known today than would have been possible otherwise.  It is certainly not dead and buried.

And, if anyone doubts the efficacy of BDS, see some examples below of resolutions passed and actions taken in other parts of the world:

NORWAY: government-run pension fund drops two Israeli firms involved in developing settlements (2009)

UK: the three million strong Trades Union Congress votes overwhelmingly to build a mass boycott movement, divestment and sanctions  (2009)

IRELAND: the Irish Technical Engineering and Electrical Union (TEEU) unanimously votes to “support  boycott campaign of Israeli goods and services and a policy of disinvestment from Israeli companies” (2010)

USA: the Presbyterian Mission Network votes at its annual meeting to jointhe international boycott of goods produced in illegal settlements in the Occupied Palestinian territories (2010)

GERMANY: Deutsche Bank sells its holdings in Elbit Systems (2010)

BELGIUM:  Belgian Government stops exporting weapons to Israel (2009)

SPAIN: Spanish Government excludes a team from Ariel University from a prestigious international competition for sustainable architecture because it is located in the Occupied West Bank. (2009)

ITALY: two Italian supermarket chains announce the suspension of sales products from Agrexco, the principal exporter of produce from Israel and the illegal Israeli settlements

Sonja Karkar
Australians for Palestine

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