Over 100 people packed into popular St Kilda bookstore ‘Readings’ to attend the launch of a noteworthy book, ‘Boycotting Israel is Wrong,’ authored by Monash University academics Philip Mendes and Nick Dyrenfurth.
Shadow Justice Minister and Member for Batman David Feeney officiated the launch together with emcee Michael Borowick, Assistant Secretary of the ACTU.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten’s Parliamentary Secretary and Member for Melbourne Ports Michael Danby congratulated A/Prof Mendes and Dr Dyrenfurth on the hard-hitting book and commended Mr. Feeney on an outstanding speech, which focused on the kind of Israel that Labor people would like to support, but which already exists.
David Feeney, the Member for Batman in Victoria, confronted sentiments of Labor figures of yesteryear such as Bob Carr and questioned why so much energy was being focused by these people on the Middle East’s only democracy, Israel. Feeney argued that all across the Middle East, atrocities to women and minorities are what should be motivating people who think of themselves as progressive.
Danby said that last night’s event complemented the outstanding pro-Israel address by the Premier of Victoria Daniel Andrews at Wednesday night’s celebration of Israel’s 67th Independence Day. Mr. Danby recounted the Premier’s support for the anti-BDS hot chocolate sit-in that Mr. Danby organised a few years ago at the Max Brenner’s in South Melbourne. State Parliament happened to be sitting that evening and so Mr. Andrews, who was Opposition Leader at the time, insisted that all his colleagues join the sit-in during the dinner break.
The Hot Chocolate sit-ins across Australia attracted massive pro-Israel publicity and were the most effective PR weapon against the BDS. After each BDS action, we staged a public support for Israel, attended by senior-ranking MP’s including then Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd, Treasurer Wayne Swan and Communications Minister Stephen Conroy. After that, the BDS virtually gave up.
In his address, co-author Philip Mendes said: “Why would anybody write a book about the BDS movement? For me personally, it’s all been a bit of a political catharsis. For much of the 1980s and indeed 1990s, I was part of a tiny minority of a few dozen Australian Jews – barely a minyan – who favoured recognizing Palestinian national rights alongside the State of Israel via a two-state solution.
But even in those days, there were anti-Zionist fundamentalists on the far Left who demanded absolute justice for Palestinians even if this meant Israelis were denied any national rights. One of these dogmatists was an academic called John Docker who was active in the academic body, the Australasian Middle East Studies Association (known as AMESA), which was really little more than a pro-Palestinian advocacy group. When I proposed in 1998 that AMESA host a conference on the theme of “Jewish/Arab dialogue and friendship historically and today”, Docker bizarrely accused me of trying to promote “surveillance and control of AMESA by Zionists who had allegedly suppressed “debate and discussion” in the media.
It was no coincidence that the same John Docker emerged as one of the leaders of the Australian call for an academic boycott of Israel in early 2002. It is perhaps worth remembering the context of this boycott proposal. By any reasonable judgement, the month of March 2002 had been a particularly horrific episode in the long-standing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. During that awful period, there were eight separate suicide attacks by Palestinian Islamic terrorists on Israeli civilians resulting in the deaths of no less than 63 people and many hundreds injured. The final straw was the attack on the Passover Seder in Netanya’s Park Hotel which killed 30 people and injured 140. This attack provoked the Israeli invasion of the leading West Bank cities known as Operation Defensive Shield in an attempt to destroy the terror networks and stop the carnage.
Yet it was precisely at this point that the international campaign for a boycott of Israel commenced. Two UK academics Steven and Hilary Rose proposed a boycott of all Israeli academics and academic institutions. Their initiative was copied in May 2002 by two Australian academics John Docker and Ghassan Hage. Their boycott petition, which was signed by 90 Australian academics, was based on the binary opposites of good and bad nations stereotyping the Israelis as evil oppressors, and the Palestinians as defenceless and innocent victims.
Even putting aside the question of whether this petition may have been interpreted as supporting the Palestinian perpetrators of suicide bombings rather than the Israeli victims, the philosophical intent was obvious. The Australian BDS movement did not endorse the national and human rights of both Israelis and Palestinians and did not seek to promote Israeli-Palestinian peace and reconciliation via a two-state solution. Rather, its concern was the end of Israel as a Jewish state.
As we note in our book “Boycotting Israel is Wrong”, the BDS movement’s extremist agenda has not changed since 2002. The major local manifestations include:
- The Max Brenner chocolate shop protests led by angry far Left extremists from the Socialist Alternative group who urge the restoration of Palestine from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea which means the elimination of the State of Israel;
- The Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Sydney whose Director Jake Lynch ironically boycotted the visiting Israeli peace academic Dan Avnon. Lynch has publicly argued that Jewish financial pressure was responsible for the ALP switching leaders from Kevin Rudd to Julia Gillard in June 2010.
- The NSW Branch of the Australian Greens which voted in December 2010 “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 colonization of Palestinian territory, the siege of Gaza and imprisonment of 1.5 million people and Israel’s institution of a system of apartheid”, later resulting in the embarrassing Marrickville Council BDS saga during the 2011 state election.
- The Victorian Trades Hall Council which hosted a BDS Conference in October 2010 with the American BDS activist Anna Baltzer, who favours the abolition of the State of Israel, as the key-note speaker.
- The Sydney University Staff for a BDS who construct Israelis as monolithically evil oppressors whilst its powerful supporters around the world allegedly bully and threaten any who challenge its hegemony.
The common theme here is that the BDS movement is not concerned with ending the Israeli Occupation of the West Bank or challenging specific Israeli policies towards the Palestinians. Rather the sole aim is to paint Israel as an allegedly racist and colonialist state which has no right to exist, and to transform Israel into an international pariah similar to South Africa under the former apartheid regime.
In doing so, the movement also demonizes any pro-Israel Jews elsewhere, whatever their varied views on conflict, as the political enemy, and openly use the language of bigotry and xenophobia to hit their target. This has been particularly apparent during the recent and continuing debate over Jake Lynch’s role in the aggressive disruption of Colonel Richard Kemp’s talk at Sydney University. Lynch’s supporters have constructed the debate as an apocalyptic battle between allegedly brave supporters of justice for the Palestinians versus powerful Jewish pro-Israel lobby groups.
For example, Professor Stuart Rees, Lynch’s predecessor at CPACS and founder of the Sydney Peace Foundation, has accused pro-Israel groups of engaging in intimidation, verbal battering, venom, hate mail and death threats. He refers to the alleged “financial and political power” of these groups, and yet oddly denies any link between anti-Semitism and the extremist BDS movement. He should also note that Palestinian BDS activists have actually been physically breaking up Israeli-Palestinian peace conferences in Jerusalem and elsewhere (www.gatestoneinstitute.org/5750/palestinians–anti–peace)
Nick Riemer and David Brophy from the Sydney University Staff for a BDS group raise the furphy of a powerful pro-Israel lobby allegedly threatening the jobs of University Staff involved in pro-Palestine activism, http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2015/05/08/4232595.htm but provide no names or evidence as to which groups or individuals are involved in what they call a “witch-hunt”. Their argument suggests a bizarre misrepresentation of the combative interest group politics associated with the Israel-Palestine conflict. Hardliners from both sides (what we have identified as the Greater Palestine and Greater Israel groups) tend to use shrill and aggressive bullying tactics in promoting their beliefs, and seeking to discredit those with whom they disagree. Everything that we have heard from a wide range of academic colleagues at The University of Sydney would suggest that the Sydney Staff for BDS group are active sinners as much as being sinned against in this regard.
And finally, back to Jake Lynch who laughably claims that he is neither anti-Semitic or even anti-Israel despite supporting the global BDS agenda for the elimination of Israel and the ethnic cleansing of its Jewish population. https://profjakelynch.wordpress.com/2015/05/17/bds-and-the-kemp-affair-clearing-up-misunderstandings/?preview_id=2 But Lynch is confident that he can call on five self-denying Australian Jews to support his argument, all of whom happen to also be supporters of the extremist BDS movement. www.amust.com.au/2015/04/why-boycotting–israel–isnt–anti–semitic/ So he prioritizes the views of this tiny minority against the will and rights of the great majority of the other 120,000 Australian Jews who detest his views. Obviously when they taught the most basic community development principle at Sydney University – start where the community is – Lynch was absent from class.
To conclude, the BDS movement has clearly become a major source of intolerance in Australian society as has also been the case in the UK and USA.”
The book was also launched in Sydney.