For Palestinians, political and diplomatic victories are as rare as rocking horse manure. But when they do occur, they not only renew hopes for liberation from occupation and colonization in what has been a more than five-decade-long struggle for freedom.
They also leave many Palestinian activists pondering if this is the moment the tide has finally turned in their favor, even if that moment occurs in unlikely places and tens of thousands of miles away from Palestine. This is happening now in Australia, where more than 100 artists and organizations withdrew from the Sydney Festival in January, which attracts over 500,000 visitors annually, over its sponsorship deal with the Israeli government.
The boycott disrupted more than 40 percent of scheduled events.
The boycott disrupted more than 40 percent of scheduled events and represents an unprecedented victory for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction (BDS) movement against the apartheid Israeli state in one of the world’s wealthiest democracies – Australia.
The move against the festival was sparked after it was revealed the event’s organizers had secured $20,000 in funding from the Israeli government, billing Israel as a “star” sponsor of the event. Human rights activists have labeled this a naked effort to “arts-wash” Israel’s human rights violations in the occupied Palestinian territories. This was especially jarring since the deal was negotiated in May, the same month Israeli warplanes killed 256 Palestinians in Gaza and violently expelled dozens of families from Sheikh Jarrah in occupied East Jerusalem.
More than 1,000 people signed a statement written on behalf of the boycotting artists. The declaration reminded the Sydney Festival event organizers that Israel has “long used culture and the arts to cloak its atrocities against the Palestinian people. For Palestinians everywhere, the freedom to speak, perform, critique, and express is suppressed daily by the Israeli regime and its machinery.”
BDS Australia patron and Sydney University professor Jake Lynch said the boycott “clearly shows the solidarity and intersectional nature of this struggle.”
This is a watershed moment in the history of the pro-Palestinian movement in Australia.
Without a doubt, this is a watershed moment in the history of the pro-Palestinian movement in Australia, a country, which like Israel, was built upon the genocide and dispossession of an indigenous population. It is also a country where the Israeli government has enjoyed uninterrupted bipartisan support from both major political parties – the Labor Party and Liberal Party.
Australia is one of seven countries that provides Israel with unflinching support at the United Nations. Along with the United States, Canada, Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, and Nauru, Australia can be relied upon to vote against any UN resolution that condemns Israel’s illegal occupation or calls for a halt to settlement construction. Indeed, Australia consistently draws high praise from the Zionist Foundation of Australia.
Two years ago, Australia joined the US in blocking an International Criminal Court (ICC) investigation into alleged war crimes in the occupied Palestinian Territories. The move drew scorn from Human Rights Watch, which slammed the Australian government for its “inconsistent support for justice, accountability, and the rule of law.”
This bipartisan political and diplomatic support for Israel operates within a profoundly pro-Israel media landscape, where all of Australia’s major newspapers provide unwavering and uncritical subservience to the Israeli government, as revealed in the recently published book by veteran Australian journalist and editor John Lyons, titled “Dateline Jerusalem: Journalism’s Toughest Assignment.”
As I wrote in a previous column, Lyons “provides a rare inside look at the pressure and threats Australian journalists and editors alike are forced to endure at the hands of right-wing supporters of Israel or what is loosely described as the ‘Israel Lobby’.”
“Editors view even mildly critical stories of Israel to be ’more trouble than it’s worth’.”
Lyons added, “Editors view even mildly critical stories of Israel to be ’more trouble than it’s worth’, which not only robs the Australian public of objective information about Israel and its occupation of the Palestinian territories, but also denies them the ability to ‘evaluate or question Australia’s voting for Israel at the United Nations, no matter the issue, or if Australia’s continued support of Israel’s 54-year occupation meets our values and interests’.”
He explained that he had lost count of how many of his colleagues have expressed fears about being falsely branded “anti-Semitic,” a fear I too had first-hand experience with when the Rupert Murdoch-owned The Australian, a national broadsheet, accused my editors at the Sydney Morning Herald of giving a “Stage to a Hamas defender.”
“Anyone who thinks this…doesn’t have a chilling effect is kidding themselves. I have seen its effect in the years of hesitancy on the part of editors and trepidation about any story which may show Israel in a negative light,” says Lyons.
Worse – Palestinian-Australian journalist Jennine Khalik described in a tweet how she was ordered by her editors at the Australian to “go to a local mosque wearing ‘the stuff they wear’ (hijab) to act as an informant and listen into sermons,” with the aim of smearing pro-Palestinian activists and to satisfy the Israel Lobby.
When I spoke to her recently, she said she was forced to navigate a “hostile” work environment by “constantly walking on eggshells.”
“I’d been roped into meetings [where] superiors would have a quiet word with me often after they’d received complaints and having meetings with pro-Israel lobbyists…they would complain about me tweeting about the [Israeli] Occupation. They didn’t want me there. I’d been moved to a different section, and then moved interstate. I was constantly anxious and watching over my shoulder. I had wanted to leave much, much earlier, but could not bear the idea of being bullied out, so I persevered.”
Clearly, the boycott of the Sydney Festival by more than 100 artists and organizations is illustrative of a growing awakening within the Australian community towards the nefarious influence the Israel Lobby has held over Australia’s political discourse and foreign policy.