23 May 2013

Australian Left must avoid centuries-old hatred

From: The Australian, May 23, 2013, by Cassandra Wilkinson:
           
The clearest example was the Greens' promotion of the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign that happily saw them come to grief in the NSW state seat of Marrickville. The BDS movement seeks to shut down militant agents of Palestinian oppression such as the Max Brenner chocolate shop. No doubt the coming revolution of their imagination will provide a politburo-approved carob alternative to Mr Brenner's treats.
The student activists who tried to prevent the University of NSW from allowing Mr Brenner to open on campus, claimed the BDS campaign was initiated in 2005.
Such sloppy referencing and fact-checking wouldn't pass muster on their exams, I hope. As it happens, I studied history at UNSW -- something the protesters could profit from before they graduate. A basic grasp of history shows us the boycotting of businesses is a longstanding tactic in the campaign of hate against the Jewish people.
Boycotts of Jewish merchants were practised in the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Ottoman Empire and later across eastern Europe, especially in Romania, Poland and Russia where anti-Jewish activism was serious enough to bequeath us the word pogrom. In 1922, the Fifth Palestine Arab Congress called for a boycott of all Jewish businesses. In 1943, the Arab League banned the purchase of "products of Jewish industry".
The BDS presents itself as a reaction to the power of the state of Israel. In reality it is the most recent name for a centuries-old economic persecution of Jews for having the temerity to become educated and entrepreneurial despite their exclusion from many occupations, geographies and institutions.
This makes it all the more ironic that the University of Sydney's Students Representative Council would seek to ban ties with Haifa's Technion, the world's most successful commercialiser of university research. It isn't a cunning reprisal, it's an act of pointless self-harm.
Julia Gillard, to her credit, was swift to sign the London Declaration. NSW Labor leader John Robertson has followed her lead, calling the declaration "an important step in the ongoing efforts to eliminate anti-Semitism in all its forms". But both face resistance from members of their teams who are courting the Muslim vote or flexing their ideological credentials.
During a recent visit by Israeli politicians, NSW Labor MLC Shaoquett Moselmane disgraced the house by accusing Israel of running torture camps and claiming Israel is driven by a, "craving to take over other people's lands". His actions were rebuked by Labor MLC Walter Secord, a long-time friend of Jewish people.
Moselmane is particularly guileless in his views but others in caucus apply more subtlety to their anti-Israel positions. Several ALP members of the NSW, Victorian and federal parliaments have refused to support resolutions to condemn the BDS.
The BDS and the signing of the declaration may seem marginal with an election looming and a fresh budget to critique. It matters not as an issue of scale but as one of direction for progressive politics. It matters because, as the declaration states, there has been a "resurgence of anti-Semitism as a potent force in politics, international affairs and society".
The student protests at UNSW and Sydney University may seem trivial or childish -- hardly a "potent force in politics". However, when a significant minority of our political leaders supports these protests it begins to be possible for them to become potent. All social change, good or bad, begins at the margin, with a campus boycott, a rally or a parliamentary debate. This is when we need to take note and nurture change that is good or discourage change that is bad.
The London Left is starting to examine the consequences of having made friends with the enemies of Israel. Seeing leading Left politicians such as Ken Livingstone posing with extremists who vilify homosexuals, women and Jews has British lefties such as Nick Cohen asking how a shared hatred of imperialism can paper over the differences between the radical Left and radical Islam.
The Left in Australia can avoid this London problem by signing the London Declaration and by sticking to its own basic principles.
Stand with those who educate women, stand with those who let gays serve openly in the military, stand with those who allow free speech and political activism.
Stand, in short, with the Jewish people and their state of Israel.