Australian BDS campaign gains ground
This article was written in 2010 as a contribution to a BNC e-magazine commemorating the 5th anniversary of the BDS call in July 9th 2005. Click here to read other articles in the magazine.
Australia has long been a supporter of Israel. With the exception of the Whitlam Labor government of 1972 -75, Australian governments have successively supported the Zionist colonial project. In recent years, the Howard government had taken Australia’s support to new heights. With the political demise of Howard, some had hoped Australia would take a more critical stance on Israel. However, any illusion that this would happen were quickly dashed.
Just days before the 2007 Federal Election, Kevin Rudd, who was to win the election, pronounced his undying support for Israel at function organised by the Australian Israel Cultural Exchange. Rudd told those assembled that “Israel is in my DNA”. In March 2008, Rudd moved a motion calling for the House of Representatives to “celebrate and commend the achievements of the State of Israel ” and to reaffirm Canberra's support for “Israel's right to exist”. Rudd’s motion confirmed categorically that there would be no change in Australia's policy towards Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories under his Prime Ministership.
Rudd’s Labor government support for Israel was displayed again when Israel commenced its bombing of Gaza in 2008/2009. Rudd’s deputy, Julia Gillard (who was acting Prime Minister at the time) refused to denounce Israel’s attacks on Gaza, despite 500 Palestinians already being confirmed dead. Instead Gillard defended Israel’s right to attack the unarmed civilian population. More recently, despite expelling an Israeli Mossad agent over Israel’s faking of Australian passports, Foreign Minister Stephen Smith made it clear the Rudd government would continue to remain a “firm friend of Israel”.
The support for Israel by successive Australian governments is unsurprising. Like Israel, Australia is a nation built on the back of colonialism and the dispossession of another people. Australian Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, like the Palestinian people, have suffered under the brutal heal of invasion, dispossession and colonialism. Subjected to racism and discrimination, Indigenous Australians, like the Palestinian people, had their lands stolen and their civil and human rights systematically violated.
Despite government support for Israel, ordinary Australians don’t necessarily hold the same position. In 2009, Sydney based Coalition for Justice and Peace in Palestine and Adelaide based Australian Friends of Palestine commissioned a survey on Australian views of Israel’s war on Gaza. The survey revealed that 42% of Australians thought Israel’s military action in Gaza was unjustified, while just 29% thought it was justified. When asked how aware they were of Israel’s military campaign in Gaza, those who said they knew “a lot” or “a fair amount” (38%) also expressed more sympathy for the Palestinians (44.5%, compared to 29.5% for Israelis).
For Palestine solidarity activists in Australia, this reveals how important education is in building support for the Palestinian struggle. In Australia, the BDS campaign is still in its infancy and education has been key to building support within unions and the wider community. In January 2009, in the wake of Israel’s assault on Gaza, after solid collaboration between activists from West Australia Friends of Palestine and trade unionists, the West Australian delegates of the Maritime Union of Australia became the first union in Australia to support BDS. Over the last year, Palestine solidarity activists and individual unionists have worked to educate Australian unions about the Palestinian struggle and BDS campaign.
In the last few months support for BDS has begun to accelerate within the Australian labour movement. In May, prior to Israel’s massacre of the nine activists on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, one of the biggest Australian unions, the Constructions, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union became the first union in Australia to announce national support for BDS. Support for BDS was also announced by the Queensland Branch of the Electrical Trades Union.
In the wake of Israel’s brutal murder on the Mavi Marmara, more of the Australian labour movement has announced support for BDS. Six Australian unions and labour councils, including the Services Union NSW and ACT Branch, Health & Community Services Union, Victoria, Australian Education Union, the Geelong Trades Hall Council, the South Coast Labour Council, Newcastle Trades Hall Council, have now announced support for BDS. While the MUA is yet to nationally come on board the BDS campaign, their national secretary issued a statement condemning Israel’s attack on the Flotilla, calling for the lifting of the siege of Gaza. The Australian Nurses Federation, NSW Teachers Federation and the Australian Council of Trade Unions also condemned Israel’s attack and called for an end to the siege.
In the last year, Palestine solidarity activists have also taken the BDS campaign out into the wider community. In 2009, a coalition of Palestine solidarity groups and activists in Melbourne mounted two major BDS leafleting campaigns. The first called on the Victorian State government to dump Connex (known as Veolia in some countries) as the contractor for the Melbourne suburban rail network. The campaign saw more than 100,000 leaflets handed out on the streets of Melbourne. The leaflets highlighted that Connex is a subsidiary of the French company, Veolia, which was breaking international law by constructing a light rail system to link illegal Israeli settlements in Occupied East Jerusalem. On June 25, the Victorian State government announced it would dump Connex. While the primary reason for the dumping was related to Connex’s poor performance, the BDS campaign around Connex also contributed significantly to the public pressure placed on the state government to dump the company.
The second BDS leafleting campaign highlighted Israel’s “cultural partnership” with the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) and called on the Festival to abide by the Palestinian Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel and to forgo Israeli government funding. Famed film maker Ken Loach, whose film Eric was due to be shown as part of the festival, withdraw his film after the Festival organisers refused to address the concerns raised by PACBI and Melbourne solidarity activists.
Australian Palestine solidarity activists, in both Sydney and Melbourne, have also organised a series of BDS pickets outside of chocolate company Max Brenner in order to highlight the support of Israeli company Strauss for Israel’s occupation forces. In Western Australia, activists are concentrating on developing a BDS campaign focusing on the role of Caterpillar in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
While the BDS campaign is now starting to get a foothold in Australia, there is still much work to be done. In developing a national campaign in support of BDS, Australian activists will seek, like our counterparts in other countries, to focus on the three planks of BDS. Over the coming months, our focus should be not only on winning more support in the unions, but also in the wider community for the boycott of consumer goods and divestment from Israeli businesses, but also to demand that the Australian government break economic, political and military ties with Israel.
Developing the relationship between Palestinians and the Australian Indigenous community will be important to the growth of BDS in Australia. This relationship will be an important advance for both people and the struggle against dispossession and ongoing colonialism of both our lands.
The significance of BDS is increasingly being seen five years after its initiation by Palestinian civil society. Not only does BDS offer a solid political strategy which allows Palestinians and their supporters world-wide to move from defensive reaction to every Israeli atrocity, it allows for pro-active campaigning which can increasingly set the agenda. This was noted recently by the New American Foundation’s Daniel Levy in Israel’s Haaretz newspaper. Levy, while not specifically naming the BDS campaign, noted that there has been a “dramatic acceleration” in Palestinian becoming centre stage as a global cause and that “in the absence of something resembling a credible peace or de-occupation effort - the global Palestine solidarity movement is now competing to set the agenda.”
Kim Bullimore is an Indigenous Australian who is active in supporting the Palestinian national struggle, both in Australia and Palestine. She is a human rights volunteer with the International Women's Peace Service in the Occupied West Bank, www.iwps.info Kim writes regularly on the Palestine-Israel conflict for the Australian newspaper, Direct Action www.directaction.org.au and has a blog at www.livefromoccupiedpalestine.blogspot.com
 Julia Gillard refuses to condemn Israeli attacks, 5 January, 2009, The Daily Telegraph
 Israel responsible for faking Australian passports used in Hamas killing, 24 May 2010, News.com.au http://www.news.com.au/world/israel-responsible-for-faking-australian-passports-used-in-hamas-killing/story-e6frfkyi-1225870689380
 Australians vote for Palestine, Survey results http://www.coalitionforpalestine.org/survey09.html
 Levy, Daniel (11 June, 2010) A glimpse of the future, Haaretz http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/opinion/a-glimpse-of-the-future-1.2...
Photo credit: Justice for Palestine Brisbane