Parliament discusses BDS and Durban III

Parliament discusses BDS and Durban III

For the third time in three months, on September 13, the Senate debated the Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel. In a fiery debate, the Coalition criticised the Greens for failing to condemn BDS in Parliament.

Senator Ron Boswell, (Queensland, Nationals), moved that Senate:

a) Condemns the intensification of the Global Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions campaign being conducted against Max Brenner chocolate cafes;

b) Rejects this tactic as a way of promoting Palestinian rights; and

c) Agrees with the New South Wales Greens MP Mr Jeremy Buckingham’s assertion ‘that the tone and the public perception of the Max Brenner protests may be counterproductive to the cause of peace and human rights in the Middle East’.

Greens Leader Senator Bob Brown (Tasmania) was denied leave to replace the all the words after “condemns” in Senator Boswell’s motion with:

i) Senator Boswell’s unwarranted and cowardly comparison of the trade practices commissioner, Mr Rod Sims, with Pontius Pilate.

ii) Senator Boswell’s rejection of the Victoria Police as doing their job.

iii) Senator Boswell’s repugnant association of the Greens with the events in Germany in 1939.

Senator Boswell’s original motion was passed 40 to 9. Only the Greens voted against the motion.

Senator Eric Abetz (Tasmania, Liberal) then sought leave to move a motion condemning the Australian Greens and their leaders “for failing to condemn the vile boycott, divestment and sanctions, or BDS campaign against Israel.” However, leave was not granted.

Senator Abetz then moved that:

“That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent me moving a motion to provide for the consideration of a matter – namely, a motion to give precedence to a motion condemning the Australian Greens and their leaders for failing to condemn the vile boycott, divestment and sanctions, or BDS campaign against Israel.”

When speaking to the motion, Senator Abetz criticised Bob Brown for publicly saying that that the Greens did not support BDS, while failing to publicly condemn it in Parliament. Senator Abetz said:

“After the NSW election campaign, Senator Brown allegedly took a ‘robust’ line against Lee Rhiannon’s support for the boycott, divestment, sanctions campaign in the March NSW election…But every time the Coalition has put up a motion in the Senate condemning an aspect of the BDS campaign, Senator Brown has some excuse for not supporting it and has registered the Greens’ opposition.”

Senator Abetz also commented on the Green’s request on notice for detailed information from the government about whether the government was satisfied that all goods originating from Israel or the occupied territories were truthfully labelled. The Greens have also sought further information on whether the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission or any government agency had taken action against products labelled “Made in Israel” when they were “partly or in full in the occupied territories.”

Senator Abetz’s motion to suspend normal business to consider his motion was defeated 29 to 34. The ALP joined with the Greens to vote against the suspension.

The Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) carried an Australian Associated Press report on the debate which focused mainly on the Greens complaints about the debate. Entitled “Israeli boycott a low point for senators” , it stated:

“Accusations of destructive, disgraceful and unjustified behaviour were thrown across the chamber, with Australian Greens leader Bob Brown accusing the Coalition of bringing the whole the upper house down. His deputy Christine Milne, a senator since 2005, said it was ‘one of the lowest points of Senate debate since I have been here.'”

The article focused on the Greens reaction to Senator’s Abetz speech, which alluded to comparisons between BDS and attacks on Jewish shops in the 1930s. Senator Abetz stated:

“[The Senate’] should not tolerate the boycotting of businesses because the ownership is Jewish…We know enough about world history never to go down that track.”

On another issue, Michael Danby (Melbourne Ports, ALP) on September 12, made a notable speech on Australia’s decision to withdraw from the upcoming UN Durban Conference that will be held in New York on 22 September. Danby stated:

“Two weeks ago, Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced that Australia will not participate in the Durban Review Conference to be held in New York on 22 September. The Durban process is a controversial international conference that stirs up more passion than it resolves. Ironically, rather than opposing racism-its purported purpose-it seems to have become a conference for promoting racism. Durban is the nom de guerre for the United Nations World Conference against Racism. Ostensibly it is an occasion for the world to unite against racism in all of its forms.

In 2001, the original world conference against racism held in Durban South Africa, degenerated into a festa of hatred of Israel and the Jewish people. At that conference an Australian novelist, Alan Gold, was threatened, spat upon and demonised because he was a Jewish delegate from Australia. Durban singled out Israel for criticism, while other countries were ignored for their human rights violations. For the same reasons, then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd cancelled Australia’s participation in the Durban II conference held in April 2009 in Geneva.

Again ignoring issues of racism and intolerance in developing countries and other places around the world, the conference focused almost exclusively on Israel and the Middle East. UN members including Australia, Canada, the US, the Netherlands and Germany decided to boycott the conference. Iranian President Ahmadinejad behaved in the most abhorrent manner, fulfilling the worst nightmares of the conference’s critics. He stated that the war in Iraq was planned by Zionists and he continued with his calls for eradication… At the conference, delegates from the EU and other countries, including Jordan and Morocco, staged a walkout in protest at his speech.

Following the principled stand Australia took in 2009, Prime Minister Gillard outlined the reasons for Australia not participating in Durban III, and they are worth examining.

The Prime Minister said that Australia would not be attending the Durban III conference on racism in New York, as there would be no guarantee that the high-level meeting would avoid the unbalanced views that had marked it in the past. Last week while I was in New York I spoke of Germany’s decision not to attend the Durban III process, joining other important UN members-Australia, Italy, the United States and Canada. Australia’s stand is principled and courageous, and the Prime Minister should be praised for making this important decision…”

For more on the latest developments related to Durban III, have a look at the additional blog post on the subject I posted today.

Sharyn Mittelman