Jan 14, 2011

Boycott of Israel is beyond the pale

As part of Leonard Cohen’s successful world comeback tour in 2009 he included a concert at Ramat Gan stadium near Tel Aviv in his itinerary.

For that he was condemned by some activists for promoting a cultural exchange in Israel. Never mind the fact that proceeds from this concert were directed to the “Fund for Reconciliation, Tolerance and Peace”.

Groups which directly benefitted included the “Parents Circle”, made up of both Palestinian and Israeli parents who have lost children in the middle east conflict with the aim of promoting peace and reconciliation.

Cohen described the concert as “representing a triumph over the inclination of the heart to despair, revenge and hatred”.

The decision of the Greens Party controlled Marrickville Council to “boycott all goods made in Israel and any sporting, academic, government or cultural exchanges”, is unfortunate and misguided at best.

The Council goes even further and suggests that any organisation or company with links to Israel should be boycotted also. It is not clear how much ratepayer funds will be expended on this research.

It is doubtful how fair dinkum the Greens Party Councillors are, given that the resolution carried a month ago included a third point, that they would write to local Parliamentary representatives “seeking their support at the State and Federal level” and the Greens Party Mayor has not actually got around to sending the correspondence.

It’s not as if there are no policy challenges or local issues facing the Greens Party Mayor of Marrickville. The Council is in the process of laying off staff, the Mayor voted to close down Marrickville West Public School’s child care centre which provides vital support to disadvantaged families and the Greens have opposed a series of modest affordable housing proposals.

This ill thought out attempt to challenge the State of Israel through a single Local Council in the inner west of Sydney is clumsy and counterproductive.

I believe that engagement between peoples promotes understanding and tolerance and is worthwhile whether it be between national leaders or student exchanges.

Progressives have long argued for multilateral solutions to foreign policy issues and have therefore emphasised the role of the United Nations and other Institutions. The Marrickville Council resolution contradicts this with its unilateral declaration that sanctions will be imposed and funded by ratepayers.

As Local Government Minister during Labor’s first term I saw many examples of how Local Government has moved beyond rates, roads and rubbish, particularly in service delivery and community engagement.

International engagement through the development of sister cities programs is, in my view, positive as it promotes understanding and tolerance across geographic distances and cultural divides.

As a strong advocate of justice for Palestinians, I along with Joe Hockey established the Parliamentary Friends of Palestine Group and was its founding Secretary.

Any lasting resolution to the Middle East conflict cannot be at the expense of either Palestinians or Israelis. Surely contact and engagement between Palestinians and Israelis is a precondition for a peaceful settlement.

If simplistic slogans were enough to resolve this issue it would have become an historical footnote of the last century.

Australians are making a contribution to global tolerance by the way that we have developed as a multicultural society. The inner west of Sydney is a microcosm of what is desirable in the international community – a place where neighbours live in harmony regardless of religion or race.

As it stands all those who attended the recent concerts of Leonard Cohen are in violation of the decree from the Marrickville Mayor made on their behalf – lucky Cohen didn’t try to perform at the Enmore Theatre!