Eurovision and the Greens’ green light for BDS

An edited version of this article was published in The Australian, May 16, 2019


With all the excitement this week around Eurovision this week, it’s worth recalling that last May, then-Greens senator Lee Rhiannon pressured then-SBS managing director Michael Ebeid to drop its annual broadcast of the Eurovision song contest in 2019 because it would be held in Tel Aviv and therefore “could impact on Palestinians”.

The former senator, sitting on the Senate Standing Committee on Environment and Communications on behalf of the Greens, melodramatically told the committee, it “could actually impact on who lives and who dies”, without explaining how that could be so.

More recently, Greens candidate for the eastern Sydney seat of Kingsford Smith, James Cruz tweeted his own call to boycott Eurovision in Israel.

Rhiannon’s replacement in the Senate, Senator Mehreen Faruqi has spent her first few months in Federal Parliament appearing at events hosted by Palestine Action Group Sydney, an organiser of the Eurovision boycott.

Not surprisingly, in Senate Estimates at the time, Ebeid dismissed Rhiannon’s calls for a boycott.

“The whole point of Eurovision is to forget politics, forget all of that and unite communities and countries together in the spirit of song,” he said. But for so many in the Greens, when it comes to Israel and the Palestinians, nothing is beyond politics.

Moreover, with new reports of Greens Federal candidates outed as supporters of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel – despite BDS not being official Greens policy – the question arises on the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, whether the Greens are a party that cynically says one thing, but does another.

While the Australian Greens’ policy platform does not actually support anti-Israel BDS, unofficially many of its lawmakers and party activists do, quite openly. This disingenuous shell game has allowed the Greens to portray themselves as the party of environmentalists and social justice crusaders, while at the same time providing a safe space for BDS activists and obsessive Israel-haters.

In fact, in the eyes of your local Greens candidate, support for Israel could lead to your complete political disenfranchisement. In the last election, Greens candidate for Melbourne Ports Steph Hodgins-May buckled to political pressure from far-left sources in her party and withdrew from a candidates’ debate for the Jewish community organised by the Australian Jewish News due to Zionism Victoria’s co-sponsorship of the event. Yet she had no such qualms attending an election forum by the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network. Can such a candidate claim to be prepared to represent an entire electorate?

In 2015 Greens leader Senator Richard Di Natale recognised Israel as a Jewish state, only to walk back that recognition shortly afterwards, and tactlessly used a condolence motion in the Senate to bash former Israeli President and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Shimon Peres.

In 2017, Di Natale called for a debate in Australia about “appropriate” economic sanctions against Israel, adding that all military trade between Australia and Israel “has to stop”.

And it’s not only Zionists that the Greens have a problem with. In 2017, the Federal Greens refused to condemn the New South Wales Young Greens after they had told the Australasian Union of Jewish Students (AUJS) it was their official policy to boycott Jewish students.

Last year, Greens MP and acting Deputy Leader of the Australian Greens, Federal MP for Melbourne Adam Bandt removed from his social media a caricature of a banker that mirrored Nazi caricatures of hook-nosed Jews. His spokesman meekly apologised for “any offence caused”.

The record has shown that virulent one-sided animus towards Israel – venturing far beyond the confines of official party policy – is not something limited to a single lawmaker, candidate, or state branch. It has become pervasive throughout the party, because activists know very well that the party will not censure them for such activity.

Australians are the ones that lose from such political game-playing. For make no mistake, BDS undermines Australian interests, not only regarding peacemaking in the region, but our trade with Israel, our democratic ally and one of the world’s foremost hubs for technological development and innovation.

The Greens Party propagates on its website the views of Hiba El-Farra, whose articles speak not of an occupation that began in 1967, but in 1948. Indeed, Israel’s entire existence since its establishment is portrayed as one continuous “occupation”. El-Farra scolds anyone depicting the relationship between Israelis and all Arabs between the river and the sea as one of “conflict” saying the only valid language is that of occupier and occupied.

This suits El-Farra, because a conflict could be resolved through negotiated peacemaking that endorses the right of self-determination for both Palestinians and Israelis in their own respective homelands. But El-Farra’s vision of peace, which unequivocally demands a Palestinian “right of return” to Israel and not a separate Palestinian state, does not allow for the continued existence of Israel as the Jewish national home.

Such are the views marketed on the Greens’ website, and it matters little that the post is tagged as “opinion” that is “not official policy of Greens WA”. The fact is the website does not publish views that deviate far from the maximalist Palestinian narrative that is antithetical to peace.

Yet not only is the Greens’ one-sided policy against Israel out of step with Australian interests, it also contradicts the party’s own platform when it comes to the environment, LGBTQ and gender quality issues, anti-Islamophobia, religious tolerance, democratic freedom and indigenous rights.

On these and other progressive issues, especially compared to its regional neighbours, Israel stands alone as a beacon of liberal values the Greens claim to hold so dear.

A political party that aspires to compete on centre stage with the Coalition and ALP, the Greens must avoid reducing this complex issue to black and white absolutes, and ensures it practices what it preaches regarding two states for two peoples.

Ahron Shapiro is a senior policy analyst at Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council.