The Greens and Israel
Jun 27, 2016 | Ahron Shapiro
Pre-election polling and analysis suggests the Australian Greens party is likely to pick up one or more lower house seats this election – on top of retaining the seat of Melbourne. This gives it the potential to not only hold the balance of power in the Senate, but if a hung parliament results from this election, also determine who forms government – with very significant leverage over the minority government thus formed.
It is therefore worth reviewing the Greens’ official position and record on Israeli-Palestinian issues.
The Greens national policy on “Israel/Palestine” is anchored in a core resolution last updated in March 2010. The Greens policy does explicitly support a two-state peace outcome between Israel and the Palestinians, although there are caveats.
However, more controversially, anchored in this resolution is the Greens demand for the Australian government “to halt military cooperation and military trade with Israel.”
One of the key principles spelled out in the Greens resolution is to “recognise the ongoing injustice that has been done to the Palestinian people and aim to rectify that injustice in a way that will allow both Palestinians and Israelis to live in peace”.
In other words, according to the Greens’ principles and goals, Israel is the sole aggressor and must own up to it, make amends to the Palestinians and satisfy all “just and practical” Palestinian demands in order to be granted the right to live in peace. The Palestinians are not expected to do anything for peace.
The resolution also hints at a UN-imposed settlement that would leave the Israelis and Palestinians with little else to do than implement the deal under a set timetable.
It calls for “the establishment of an international commission under the auspices of the UN to effect a settlement of the conflict” and only then “peace negotiations facilitated by the commission leading to a schedule for the implementation of all the goals.”
It also calls for the deployment of “international” forces to protect Palestinians.
The Greens resolution calls for the “immediate end to all acts of violence against civilian populations” and includes (Palestinian) suicide bombings as one example. However, in practice, the Greens have never issued a condemnation of an act of Palestinian violence or terrorism on its own. In contrast, Greens Foreign Policy spokesman Sen. Scott Ludlam has made six statements on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since July 2015, all of them including condemnations of Israel. Among Ludlam’s statements have been baseless and inflammatory accusations copying Palestinian propaganda, such as his false claim in October 2015 that “Israeli military forces have repeatedly stormed the holy site of the Al-Aqsa mosque.”
All Greens members of parliament also signed the strongly anti-Israel 2014 Canberra Declaration on Gaza.
Since the last national election, the Greens have passed two further resolutions on the Israeli-Palestinian issue augmenting the 2010 policy.
In July 2014, amidst fighting between Israel and Hamas, the Greens National Council passed a resolution accusing Israel of waging war against civilians by putting “the might of its military force against the Palestinian people… this has not been proportionate to the Hamas rocket attacks.”
In a first, the resolution added a call for an arms embargo – not only on Israel but Hamas and “Palestinian armed groups” as well.
At its national conference in November 2015, the Greens passed a resolution formally recognising the State of Palestine “as a contribution to securing a negotiated two-state solution.”
Asterisk on two-state support
The Greens support for a two-state outcome, as said before, must be seen with caveats, as its leader, Sen. Richard Di Natale, is on record as opposing Israel’s demand to be recognised as a Jewish state or homeland under the widely used formula “two states for two peoples”.
In an interview in May 2015 with the Australian Jewish News (AJN), Di Natale responded to a direct question about the PA’s refusal to accept Israel as a “Jewish state”, by saying if “you have a two-state solution [and] refuse to acknowledge the right of one state to exist, it’s patently nonsense.” However, Di Natale walked it back after pressure from Greens supporters. As the left-wing website New Matilda reported at the time:
“Di Natale’s office responded to the inquiries by saying the Senator supported a peaceful two-state solution. ‘The establishment of a “Jewish state” (as opposed to an “Israeli state”) is not conducive to this outcome, and Senator Di Natale did not intend for his comments to be construed as such, and this is not Australian Greens policy.'”
In this, the Greens closely align with the position of the Palestinian Authority, which staunchly rejects recognising Israel as a Jewish homeland in any peace agreement.
Left and right-wing Israeli proponents of the demand to be recognised as a Jewish homeland or “Jewish state” – the language actually used in the 1947 UN Partition plan and in Israel’s Declaration of Independence – say that failure to do so would leave the door open for the conflict to be continued after a two-state peace deal.
While a number of Greens MPs periodically criticise Israel in parliament, some of their criticisms push the boundaries of debate.
For example, in August 2014, during Israel’s Operation Protective Edge against Hamas, Greens Acting Leader Adam Bandt called on Australia to pressure the US to cut off arms supplies to Israel. “Australia cannot stand idly by while its ally arms one side of the conflict in Gaza,” said Mr Bandt in a press release.
Bandt provocatively suggested Australia should suspend its own military cooperation with the United States as a form of coercion.
“Australia could, for example, suspend the basing of US troops in Darwin until the United States pulls back from restocking the Israeli government and taking sides in the conflict,” Bandt said.
In March 2016, Sen. Ludlum attempted to push a motion to halt military cooperation and military trade with Israel, in a vote that coincided with the visit of former Israeli Defence Forces Chief of Staff Benny Gantz to Australia. Referring to Gantz’s role in Gaza conflicts, the news item on the attempted motion posted on the Greens website was titled “Don’t mention the alleged war crimes”.
Sen. Lee Rhiannon, the most consistently extreme of the Greens on this issue, gave a lengthy adjournment speech on Dec. 1 last year about supporting the Palestinian struggle and also maintains a “campaign” on her website, “Ending the Military Occupation of Palestine.”
This election campaign season has seen two controversies surrounding Greens candidates with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian and Jewish community issue.
In May, Sen. Rhiannon used her Senate printing allowance to produce posters advertising a Naqba Day rally, to “Protest Against Israeli Apartheid”, calling for the “Right of Return” and for Australia to “Break ties with Israel”. Under Department of Finance rules, taxpayer entitlements are to be used by legislators only to “support their role as members of the Australian Parliament”.
At the rally, Rhiannon repeated her endorsement for the Palestinian “right of return” and accused Israel of “ethnic cleansing” in order to “make room” for its state in 1948. Rhiannon’s revisionist narrative ignored the fact that Israel accepted the 1947 UN Partition plan, while the Palestinians rejected it and instead embarked on a war, joined by invading forces from neighbouring Arab countries, which led to the refugee problem.
In a statement posted on the national website of the Greens, Rhiannon said “Although the word [‘apartheid’, to describe Israel] itself does not appear in Greens’ policy on Palestine, it is consistent with our policy and I have used it many times before.”
The fact that this statement – part of Rhiannon’s lengthy explanation defending her wholesale endorsement of the Palestinian narrative – gets equal billing on the national Greens website with statements by Foreign Policy spokesperson Ludlam is noteworthy and suggests it is implicitly being endorsed by the Greens party as a whole.
Similarly, while the national Greens officially rejects the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel, it apparently does not censure Rhiannon for supporting it. “It’s just not the party’s position,” Di Natale told the AJN. When asked by the Executive Council of Australian Jewry about MPs supporting BDS, the Greens campaign replied that MPs can “provide assistance to community groups through services like printing at their discretion” – apparently confirming that Greens representatives are free to support BDS if they wish.
Days after Rhiannon’s controversy in New South Wales, Greens candidate for Melbourne Ports Steph Hodgins-May touched off another in Victoria when she abruptly withdrew from a candidates forum scheduled for June 22 over her objections to the co-sponsorship of the event by Zionism Victoria.
The AJN reported that Hodgins-May had been well informed of Zionism Victoria’s co-sponsorship when she initially accepted the invitation, fuelling speculation Hodgins-May’s withdrawal was a result of internal pressure from anti-Israel Greens supporters.
A further issue in the Greens platform likely to concern many in Australia is its policy of removing clauses granting limited exemptions to religious organisations from anti-discrimination laws. This would likely impact significantly on Jewish schools and other communal institutions and concern has been expressed about this policy by Jewish community leaders.
Di Natale also controversially called for Australia to end its alliance with the US because of “the horrific consequences of US foreign policy.”