All Australian Members of Parliament are required to publicly declare their outside “interests” to try to limit actual or perceived conflicts of interests.
While most parliamentarians use these declarations to note their fairly predictable list of personal assets and memberships – residential property, superannuation funds, memberships of trade unions and local sporting clubs – other declarations provide an insight into personal passions.
This is certainly the case with two Australian Green senators: NSW Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon, who is well-known for her outspoken anti-Israel views but will be retiring at the next election after losing pre-selection, and Victorian Greens Senator Janet Rice, who, in the past 12 months, appears to be following in her footsteps.
Among other interests, parliamentarians are required to declare donations of more than $300 to any organisation over a single calendar year.
In the past 12 months, Senators Rhiannon and Rice have declared five such donations to a range of groups and individuals that actively advocate for boycotts against Israel, refuse to acknowledge Palestinian aggression against Israelis and accuse Israel of “massacring” Palestinians.
Both senators have also travelled to Israel and the Palestinian territories in the past 12 months – although surprisingly neither declared it as sponsored travel.
In April 2017, Senator Rice was taken to the region by the Australian Palestine Advocacy Network (APAN). She told the Senate that she had spoken to “Israelis and Palestinians, people who were working to end the illegal military occupation of Palestine by Israel and remove the illegal Israeli settlements”, including representatives from the New Israel Fund and B’Tselem.
She seems most pleased with her visit to an Israeli military court, where, she declares, her presence as an observer “had a significant bearing” on a trial that saw charges against a Palestinian man dismissed.
She told the Senate: “But we were there, and the judge, I think, knew there were observers in that courtroom, and there was what seemed to be a blue moon miracle.”
Senator Rice does not seem to acknowledge that in Israel – a liberal country with respect for the rule of law and an independent judiciary – it is unlikely her presence, or that of anyone else, had a bearing on the result of the particular case she attended.
During her trip, Senator Rice also met with Issa Amro, the founder of Hebron-based Youth Against Settlements, and an activist who has been arrested by both Israel and the Palestinian Authority on incitement and other charges.
Since returning from that trip, Senator Rice declared two relevant donations: one to Hebron-based Youth Against Settlements and the other to her host, APAN.
In July last year, Senator Rhiannon visited Israel on a “self-funded fact-finding trip to Palestine” assisted by Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA and EuroPal. She too did not declare any sponsored travel, but she did deliver polemics to the Senate upon her return.
In the harshest – and most misleading – terms, she denounced Israel for committing “extreme crimes” in Gaza “regardless of the 2005 so-called withdrawal”, for “crippling” the Palestinian economy and for the “destruction and desecration of sites holy to the Palestinians”, among a litany of other accusations.
Senator Rhiannon – who has been Parliament’s most dedicated Israel basher for the duration of her political career – declared three donations to Palestinian-related causes over the past 12 months.
In April, she made a donation to the Independent and Peaceful Australia Network (IPAN). While it may have an innocuous sounding name, IPAN counts among its members groups that actively support the flawed Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign.
And recently, rather than condemning Hamas’ incitement on the border of Gaza and Israel, IPAN promoted an event with the tagline “Australia has been doing arms deals with the Israeli government while the Palestinians are attacked”.
In June 2017, she declared a donation to “Peter Manning for Palestine Project”. It is unclear what exact project this donation was for. Manning is a former ABC journalist and now key Palestinian advocate. He is described as the chair of the BDS Forum, convenor of the Coalition for Justice and Peace in Palestine and a member of APAN.
In 2016, Senator Rhiannon gave a gushing review of Manning’s “stunning” book called Janet Venn-Brown: A life in art”. The book centres on Janet Venn-Brown, the one-time fiancée of Wael Zuaiter, a Palestinian terrorist who was allegedly assassinated by the Mossad in Italy in 1972.
Senator Rhiannon told the Senate that Zuaiter was “remembered as a passionate and gentle man, as an artist and intellectual”. In the same speech, she says that Zuaiter’s “non-violent activism” continues in the BDS movement, which she supports. The Australian Greens do not officially support BDS.
“The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement is now an international nonviolent mass movement for Palestine. This is a movement based on the rules of international law that gives people the ability to act where governments do not,” she told the Senate.
Senator Rhiannon’s most recently declared donation was $300 in January 2018 to the “Palestine Theatre Project”. According to its fundraising page, the Palestine Theatre Project has so far raised only $1515 of its $30,000 target, with Rhiannon having provided nearly 20% of total funds raised. Senator Rice also contributed $120 to the project, although this was not declared in her interests because it fell under the $300 limit.
Organisers of the Palestine Theatre Project are trying to fund a performance in Bethlehem of the play, Where the Streets had a Name. The play is based on a book for young adults by prominent Australian-Palestinian advocate Randa Abdel-Fattah centred on a girl’s experience living under Israeli occupation.
Senator Rhiannon and Senator Rice’s registers of interest provide a key insight into, not only the Greens’ rhetorical support for so-called progressive organisations which openly demonise Israel – the Middle East’s only fully functioning democracy – but their willingness to put their money where their mouths are.