Aust. for palestine logoPalestinians’ supporters forum keeps audience engaged
Sol Salbe
“Israeli Apartheid” or “Apartheid Israel”? Australians for Palestine seems to have used the two terms interchangeably: The advertisement used one, while glossy leaflets used the other The two terms may be linguistically different, but for the forum organisers, Apartheid is an adjective that goes with Israel, just like “sunny” or “modern”.
Whether their usage becomes common is something that will depend on the way they, and others, present their arguments. But on 9 March 2010, at a forum in Melbourne, they laid strong foundations for their viewpoint with an interesting and highly informative forum on a range of related subjects. Members of the Australasian Union of Jewish Students who stood outside replete with fluorescent jackets and Hazard signs warning of a “hate zone” were in for a disappointment. There was no hate speech. While several AJDS members in the audience occasionally found one or two speakers going overboard in their criticism of Israel, it was all argued rationally.
Actually I am not sure if the AUJS members were disappointed, for I am not sure if they actually came in, although some Jewish students were present and were able to ask questions. Certainly no one tried to argue the line presented in their leaflet handed outside about total equality between Arab Israelis and Jewish Israelis. My favourite line was about Jews, Christians and Muslims learning together.
The first speaker was Professor John Docker, who referred to his own efforts, alongside those of his son, Ned Curthoys, in opposition to the state of Israel. He alluded to his efforts as an originator of the Boycotts Divestments and Sanctions (BDS) movement in this country, particularly on the academic boycott front. His talk consisted of a long discussion of modern partitions such as India, Ireland and Cyprus and the political views of Martin Buber. Turning to the work of Walid Khalidi, he described some of the latter’s historical work on the Peel Commission and the proposal to compulsorily “transfer” Palestinian Arabs out of the envisaged Jewish state. Docker tried to tie together the Golden Age of Jews in Moorish Spain (where Jews prospered under Arab-Muslim rule), the one-state solution and BDS, in this writer’s view drawing far too long a bow.
A much more focused presentation was given by Associate Professor Jake Lynch, the Director of the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at Sydney University. As a former journalist (including a stint as a BBC anchorperson) his talk concentrated on the media and the conflict. His PowerPoint presentation on such books as Bad News from Israel by Greg Philo and Mike Berry explained the inherent disadvantage under which the Palestinians, and others in a similar situation, suffer, regardless of the quality of their spokespeople or the contents of their messages. He even went on to suggest that this was not necessarily attributable to the conscious policy of the media owners. When coverage of events took precedence over processes, then the media covers what happened rather than asking why. Lynch then turned to a local example: the way in which the award of the Sydney Peace Prize to John Pilger was criticised. [Here I need to disclose that I have been highly critical of Pilger’s recent writings on Israel which have been riddled with errors and show a lack of elementary fact checking.] He looked at the critique by Melbourne social work academic Philip Mendes. In the quote that he produced from Dr Mendes, the latter suggested that Pilger was a committed long-term supporter of the one-state solution, which in turn biased Pilger’s work. Lynch then played a segment from Pilger’s best known documentary on the subject, Palestine is still the issue (2002), in which Pilger expresses clear support for the two–state solution. Whether Pilger has changed his view between 2002 and 2009 is not known to the present writer.
By far the most interesting contribution to the evening came from Samah Sabawi – a Palestinian from Gaza, a writer/playwright and poet who advocates for Human Rights and Social Justice. Her talk concentrated on Netanyahu’s Economic Peace. Sabawi explained that the Netanyahu plan was just the latest manifestation of a long line of plans to ensure close economic dependency on Israel. While her link to Herzl seemed tenuous, the connection to Moshe Dayan’s Open Bridges policy was on a much firmer footing. She pointed out that such dependency reached its zenith in the ‘eighties.
The highlight of her presentation, and the entire evening, was her account of the eighteen new Industrial Zones designed to serve as the economic engines for the emerging Palestinian West Bank economy. Israelis. Palestinians, other Arabs and international investors will find great advantages in these new zones. The labour is cheap, being a small fraction of Israeli wages (despite a recent High Court of Justice ruling to the contrary). There are none of the safety restrictions that apply to Israeli workers. Sabawi listed a veritable list of dangerous, high polluting industries already destined for the Mishor Adumim industrial zone. Workers may be forced to pay their dues to the Histadrut [Israeli Labour Federation] although they receive little or no industrial coverage. But the greatest advantage to Israeli investors would be the Made in Palestine label affixed to the goods produced in these zones. Not only would they circumvent any BDS restrictions, they would bypass natural objections by ordinary people in the region to Israeli products.
The final speaker for the evening was Professor Jeremy Salt, who directed his comments to analysis of the way in which Israel fitted, and did not fit, the Apartheid mould.