SABELLA: Why the Marrickville controversy harms Australian interests 22Apr11 April 22, 2011

by Anton Sabella  -  sent by author  -  22 April 2011

A debate has been raging about the ramifications of Marrickville Council’s decision, dominated by the Green and Labour parties, to boycott Israeli goods and investments, known BDS (boycotts, divestments and sanctions).  Meanwhile, New South Wales Premier, Mr. Barry O’Farrell, brought himself to the front line of this debate by threatening to expel the Council if did not retract its decision.

The fact remains that the boycott is a symbolic gesture in the first place: it was never intended to harm the interests of ordinary people regardless of their religion or nationality. In fact, this boycott is not something new. It’s widely known that the evangelical churches in the United States were the ones who started this initiative, which was later embraced by religious and secular institutions in other Western countries, including Australia. Therefore, the attempt by some to suggest that this is a new initiative is incorrect. Furthermore, we should remember that Israel itself has a boycott movement of Israeli settlements products in the occupied West Bank. No one can be more Israeli than the Israelis themselves.

In my conversation with Marrickville Deputy Mayor, Mr Sam Iskander, (Labour), he said that the Green Party should have coordinated its decision so that there would be no clash with other municipal councils or local and federal governments.  Mr Iskander, too, believes that the boycott was a symbolic resolution and that his council was waiting for the report on the effects of the BDS before implementing the decision. Apparently, the interests of tax-payers come first, which is totally understandable and acceptable.

However, in Middle East politics the terms logical, realistic and true are always proportional, can have different meanings and may hide some truths. In this context, we should not forget that Israel’s supporters in Sydney were planning to engage in a “battle” against supporters of the Palestinian cause, particularly the Australian Anglo-Saxon dominated institutions and churches, since the defeat of the Jewish lobby during the reign of former NSW Premier, Mr Bob Carr, who refused the Jewish lobby’s pressures to repeal the award of Sydney Peace Prize to Dr Hanan Ashrawi, a well-known Palestinian legislator and advocate.

Unlike Mr Carr, Mr O’Farrell believes that he can weigh in Middle East politics by taking sides just because he has some powerful pro-Israel personal friends and a very strong mandate from the people of New South Wales.

Mr O’Farrell personal friendships are not our concern here, but his mandate is.  We believe Mr O’Farrell should ensure community cohesion and harmony and should not be tempted to use threatening tones in a very controversial issue, which is likely to divide the community on religious and national lines, if not dealt with in a rational and sensitive manner.  We, in the Arab community, believe that Mr O’Farrell should take steps to show that he is a Premier for everyone in this State, including more than half 350,000 Christian and Muslim Arabs.

During the last state election campaign, racist statements and slogans hostile to Muslims and Arabs were written on the walls of some inner Sydney suburbs by “unknown” persons.  Strange and peculiar alliances were also struck in Marrickville during the campaign. The BDS was a vehicle for every person or party interested in winning Marrickville seat.  The racist’s slogans were not written by lovers of Israel or the Jewish lobby but by those who hate the Arabs and the Green Party.  If faced by threats to their interests, these perpetrators will be the first to boycott and attack Israel.

Meanwhile, in the midst of the current Great Arab Revolt in the Middle East, which made the United States, the largest and most powerful country in the world, scramble out of the fiery and furious region, we find that there are some people in Australia who do the opposite and want access to the “Heart of the Storm,” whatever the cost.

We live in a world where information travels fast, so it is important for every politician, whether local, state or federal to be aware that taking sides in the Middle East conflict is not as easy as it used to be.  We are now living the first chapters of this Great Arab Revolution, which has also changed perceptions and attitudes towards Western countries, including Australia.

Australia has soldiers in Afghanistan Iraq and Qatar and on Arab -Israeli borders. It also has trade and economic interests.  Our politicians should put the safety and security of these soldiers at the top of the list of priorities; not to be taken by emotional stances with one party or another and to work as a fair and acceptable neutral intermediary to achieve a durable peaceful solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

In the meantime, the ongoing great Arab revolt has also changed the way Arabs will deal and treat foreign countries. Arab commercial interests can no longer ignore the pulse of the Arab street; every Arab official and corporation now knows that whoever ignores this pulse will pay a hefty price.

Who would have imagined a few months ago that the biggest friend of Israel and the United States in the Arab world, Mr Hosni Mubarak, will be housed with his children in prison cells? Who would have imagined this peaceful endurance, cultural and moral maturity of the great Arab revolutionaries who have been bearing torture and murder by pro-Western dictators without retributions?  And, by the way, for those who accuse Israel’s neighbours of stoning gays in public, we should remember that not one single gay or atheist was lynched or harmed in the course of this revolution! To set the record straight, Arab culture has implicitly tolerated sexual tendencies centuries before the onset of the Western sexual liberation movement.

Who could have imagined three months ago that the Egyptian Military Council would reject a request by America and its regional allies and its allies not to prosecute Mr Mubarak? Who would have imagined that senior Western officials greeted at the airports in the Arab countries would only be received by junior ministers.  Gone are the red carpets and the most luxurious suites in first class hotels.

The Great Arab Revolt also reclaimed the Arab human dignity. Some Australian media and politicians are still living in the old status quo.  We believe it’s time to deal with the new Middle East on basis of mutual respect.  Australia cannot afford to continue witnessing this anti-Arab and Islamic hysteria every now and then without its interests are affected.

Australian interests are better served if Australian politicians acknowledge that today’s Arab World is totally different from the one they used to deal with in the past.  Being one of the staunchest Israel’s friends in the Western world, Australia can still play an important mediating role in the Arab-Israeli conflict by curbing Israel’s excesses in the Palestinian occupied territories rather than encouraging them.

The stream in the Middle East has changed: however, whoever wants to swim against the current tide is free to do so provided they are smart enough not to drown in the region’s quagmire!


A Palestinian journalist, cross-cultural consultant and writer living in Sydney.


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