SABAWI: Don’t erode our democracy 9Aug11 August 9, 2011

by Samah Sabawi  -  9 August 2011

It has come to our attention that the Victorian Consumer Affairs Minister Michael O’Brien has singled out our organisation as well as a few others for investigation by the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) for an alleged suspicion that we may have been involved in  ‘secondary boycotts’ against Israeli-owned businesses in Australia. This claim is dangerous and is indicative of the usual hysteria we face every time we highlight Israel’s violations of human rights in this country.

While millions of people rise to protest in the Middle East calling for their civil rights, risking losing their lives in the pursuit of democracy, here in Australia Minister O’Brien wants us to slowly erode our democracy and roll back our rights to freedom of political thought, affiliation and freedom of protest.  This draconian move doesn’t bode well for Australians, to see their government trying to intimidate its electoral constituencies who are critical of the actions of a foreign state.

For the record, Australians for Palestine was not part of the protests against the Max Brenner store. Having said that, we must make it clear that we believe that Max Brenner and other Israeli owned businesses that support violations of human rights are legitimate targets for the boycott call.

Palestinian civil society has issued a call for nonviolently boycotting Israeli goods after decades of living under a brutal Israeli military occupation marked by years of house demolitions, population transfer, bombardments of civilian structures, siege and failed peace negotiations.  The boycotts target Israeli-owned institutions and businesses that have been instrumental in these violations, and not Jewish businesses, as Mr O’Brien hinted at in his comment to The Australian (8/8).

In fact, the BDS call does not target Jews, or even Israelis qua Jews; the call is strictly directed against Israel as a colonial and apartheid power that violates Palestinian rights and international law and, as such, is against all forms of racism including anti-Semitism.

Australians have embraced boycotts of South Africa in the past to bring an end to its system of apartheid.  Australians have also practiced their rights to boycott a range of businesses and products in countless campaigns for animal rights, environment, fair trade and other issues.  Boycotts are considered a legitimate non-violent tool of protest in all free democratic nations.

For Minister O’Brien to suggest that we, as an organization or that Unions and individuals can be prosecuted because of our support of boycotts is an infringement of our democratic rights and an attempt to undermine all legitimate forms of dissent when it comes to protecting Israel’s interests.

We will continue to support BDS for as long as Israel continues to be in gross violations of international humanitarian law.  We will continue to fight for our democratic right to express freely our political views and to advocate for use of boycott as a non-violent political tool.

Mr. O’Brien needs to be reminded that taxpayer money should be spent to safeguard our democratic rights and values and not to be wasted in the pursuit of appeasing foreign powers and interest lobby groups at the expense of our own citizens’ liberties.

Samah Sabawi is the Public Advocate for Australians for Palestine.  This statement is made on behalf of the AFP Steering Committee.

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