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Steve Lieblich's blog
Greens NSW Senator Lee Rhiannon today issued a statement calling on the Israeli government “to immediately release Michael Coleman”, an Australian member of the Freedom Waves to Gaza Flotilla, who has been arrested by the Israeli Defence Force.
"I have also asked the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to work hard to ensure Mr Coleman is safe and is released without delay," Senator Rhiannon said. "It is the Israeli Defence Forces that have acted illegally as the boat Mr Coleman and other Freedom Waves participants were on was in international waters when intercepted.
Senator Rhiannon added: "The United Nations Human Rights Council Inquiry Report of September 2010 found that the Israeli blockade of Gaza is illegal. It is time to end it once and for all”.
The President of the ECAJ, Dr Danny Lamm, issued Rhiannon with a stinging rebuke. “As usual when it comes to Israel, Senator Rhiannon has blundered badly. She is wrong on the facts and wrong on the law. There is not a skerrick of evidence that Michael Coleman is in any danger, as she has implied.” Dr Lamm said.
“Senator Rhiannon’s characterisation of the blockade of Gaza and the boarding of vessels that are used to break the blockade as “illegal” is mendacious nonsense, as will be immediately understood by anyone who has read the Palmer Report.
Unlike Senator Rhiannon, Sir Geoffrey Palmer of New Zealand, is an expert in international maritime law.” Dr Lamm said. “Palmer and other legal experts, Alvaro Uribe (Colombia), Joseph Ciechanover Itzhar (Israel) and Süleyman Özdem Sanberk (Turkey), investigated this issue earlier in the year. They concluded that Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza is legal, describing it as a legitimate security measurein response to the real threat posed by terroristsin Gaza.”
“The experts also concluded that ships that are being used for the purpose of breaking the blockade may lawfully be boarded and commandeered by Israeli forces, even in international waters.” Dr Lamm added.
“It is ludicrous to suggest that this latest attempt to break the blockade is necessary to bring medical supplies to Gaza”, Dr Lamm stated. “More than 30,000 tons of supplies are transported into Gaza from Israel every week, including at least 5 truckloads of medical supplies. The people who want to break the blockade are not interested in providing humanitarian assistance to the Palestinians. If that was their fundamental aim, they could send their supplies in by land via Israel. Their main purpose is to harm Israel and her people”, Dr Lamm concluded.
Debate resumed on motion by Ms J Bishop:
That this House:
(1) condemns the:
(a) Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel; and
(b) targeting of Max Brenner chocolate cafes as part of this campaign;
(2) rejects this tactic as counterproductive to the promotion of the rights of Palestinians;
(3) reiterates Australia's support for the two-state solution and the right of the Israeli and Palestinian people to live peacefully within internationally recognised borders; and
(4) urges the leaders of the Israeli and Palestinian people to resume direct negotiations.
Ms JULIE BISHOP (Curtin—Deputy Leader of the Opposition) (12:03): I rise to move this motion condemning the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign that continues to be waged against the state of Israel and its people, and reiterating our support for the two-state solution and for the resumption of direct negotiations by the leaders of the Israeli and the Palestinian people for a lasting peace.
The provocative, counterproductive and highly discriminatory actions of this BDS campaign
come at a time of increased uncertainty and upheaval in the Middle East and North Africa, as the hopes and aspirations of restless populations have cast aside old regimes. Israel is confronted with a new strategic environment more hostile to its interests and the security of its people than perhaps at any other time in recent history. At a moment when the community of nations should be offering their hands in support, Israel faces renewed pressure on the international stage.
The coalition has never supported and will not support any attempt in the United Nations, other fora or elsewhere that results in Israel's international isolation and that is the purpose of this BDS campaign. We wholeheartedly reject the attempt by members of the Socialist Alliance, the Australian Greens and the 21 trade union movement members and affiliates who seek to hold Israel, its people and its business community hostage to their ideologies and prejudices. This intolerance has found expression in recent times through the BDS campaign initiated in 2005, which now has targeted action against the Israeli owned Max Brenner company, which operates chocolate cafes in Australia. The worst of the clashes took place on 1 July 2011 at a Max Brenner store in Melbourne. Protesters forcibly prevented customers from entering the store. Three police officers were hurt during the incident and 19 protesters were arrested. Charges laid included assaulting police, riotous behaviour, besetting premises and trespass.
Other businesses targeted by protesters as having an Israeli connection include Sara Lee, Revlon, Starbucks and Coca-Cola. Their crimes, according to the BDS campaign, include having a company chairman who has supported Israeli causes or having received recognition by the Israeli government—in the case of Sara Lee over 13 years ago—for supporting trade and investment opportunities with Israel.
Even The Body Shop, an outlet well known for its strong commitment to social and environmental justice issues, has been targeted for its 'deep and extensive involvement in business relations with Israel'. One has to question the sanity of a campaign that seeks to boycott The Body Shop, a company that has been involved with Amnesty International from 1988 when it launched its first human rights campaign. It has worked closely with Amnesty since then helping to raise awareness and funds through its stores. In 1991 Gordon Roddick, co-founder of the Body Shop, helped establish the Big Issue, a magazine which has supported thousands of homeless people throughout the world to achieve a measure of financial support. The Body Shop is currently leading a campaign to stop sex trafficking of children and young people in partnership with Child Wise, Australia's leading international child protection charity.
The actions of the BDS campaign protesters have not only hurt this business and its consumers but also the individuals and non-government organisations that depend on its support for their welfare and community outreach. Despite the positive contribution that these stores and their staff have made to the wider community, protesters were not deterred from targeting the chain during a rally in Perth last month.
It is with much regret that I note that support for this BDS campaign against Israel has also been taken up by the Australian trade union movement. According to the instruction manual for supporters of the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign, 21 Australian trade unions or affiliates are committed to a full or partial boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel. These are the same trade unions that play a leading role in the Australian Labor Party, including the preselection of its political representatives. About 32 of the current Labor caucus are former union officials and every member of the Labor caucus is a union member. I look forward to their support of this motion and their rejection of this BDS campaign that has been supported by their union bosses. Having witnessed the foreign minister's brutal dumping as Prime Minister orchestrated by the former union bosses and faceless men of the Labor caucus, the Australian public can be in no doubt as to the power these unions yield over our democratic process.
A recent posting to the BDS website dated 11 September 2011 reveals the strong support from Australia's trade union movement to this campaign against Israel. The posting describes a motion of support for the BDS campaign passed by the Victorian Trades Hall Council executive, expressing concern at the involvement of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission in investigating the recent protests against the Max Brenner store in Melbourne. According to this union motion, this was an aggressive smokescreen to stifle legitimate industrial and political activity by unions. It made no attempt to balance its view by recognising the concern of the Victorian government and others that these protests verged on secondary boycotts aimed at causing substantial loss or damage to a business in contravention of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010. With this in mind, it was essential that investigation by the ACCC was carried out. The Victorian Trades Hall Council also criticised police for their tactics in responding to protests.
The intolerance displayed by protesters during these incidents has also found expression in the upper reaches of Australia's tertiary education system. The BDS campaign has spread to the issue of academic freedom, a cornerstone of higher education in this country. It has been revealed recently that Associate Professor Jake Lynch, Director of the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, called on his colleagues at the University of Sydney to withdraw from an upcoming gathering of visiting Israeli scientific researchers. It transpires that Associate Professor Lynch was asked to boycott this scientific meeting by the same supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign that led protests against Max Brenner chocolate cafes. The Israel Research Forum—to be held today—involves important academic discussion in fields such as neuroscience, tissue regeneration, obesity, diabetes, water, food and agriculture, energy, information technology and the pedagogy of teaching a second language. The prospect of further discovery in any of these areas promises not only to enrich our own lives but also the lives of others in less fortunate societies around the world.
In an interview with the Australian newspaper, Dr Lynch warned that Sydney University:
... risks sustaining reputational damage if the forum goes ahead.
Sadly, for Dr Lynch, the only reputation that has been damaged by this fiasco has been his own. The very freedoms that allow Dr Lynch to express his beliefs and to associate with supporters of this BDS campaign are the very same freedoms that he now seeks to deny to others—others, it should be pointed out, who wish for nothing more than to engage in intellectual debate with respected international colleagues.
Professor Graeber, a participant in the forum, has rightly pointed out what should have been apparent to Dr Lynch and the supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign:
Academics must not be held hostage by ideologies.
The principles guiding academic freedom are restated in the Magna Charta Universitatum signed in 1998 at the University of Bologna. It celebrates the deepest values of the university tradition. This charter has been taken up by the universities of Sydney and Melbourne as well as other Group of Eight research institutions. It declares:
3.Freedom in research and training is the fundamental principle of university life ... Rejecting intolerance and always open to dialogue, a university is an ideal meeting-ground ...
4.A university is the trustee of the European humanist tradition; its constant care is to attain universal knowledge; to fulfil its vocation it transcends geographical and political frontiers ...
In signing the document in 2010, the University of Melbourne noted that:
The document declares a commitment to the fundamental principles of university tradition, including moral and intellectual independence, the inseparability for teaching and research and the task of spreading knowledge to society throughout the world.
In calling on the University of Sydney to cancel the upcoming Israeli Research Forum, Dr Lynch broke with these deepest values of university traditions, allowing his political beliefs to overrule his obligations as a scholar and a teacher. Those associated with the BDS campaign that spoke to Dr Lynch to get him to cancel this forum stand condemned. The shadow minister for education and I have expressed our deepest concerns about the actions of Associate Professor Lynch and his supporters to the Vice Chancellor of the University of Sydney. We also voiced out strong support for the leadership displayed by the Deputy Vice Chancellor, Professor John Hearn, who rejected these calls for a boycott of this forum and defended the importance of academic freedom.
Our opposition to Dr Lynch's actions, as well as the targeting of Max Brenner's chocolate cafes—as promoted by the BDS campaign—is shared by Mr Izzat Abdulhadi, head of the General Delegation of Palestine to Australia. Mr Abdulhadi has made the acute observation that a BDS campaign is:
... sensitive to the Jewish people (because) in 1937 their businesses in Europe were boycotted.
The coalition is firmly of the view that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign is counterproductive to the promotion of the rights and interests of the Palestinian people. I believe that this Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions regime against Israel will only serve to inflame tensions on all sides, harming the chances of a peaceful resolution to the long-running conflict in the Middle East. There is enough emotion on both sides to damage the fragile path to peace without being recklessly stoked by these protesters and their supporters.
In introducing this motion, the coalition also desires to reiterate Australia's strong support for the two-state solution and the right of the Israeli and Palestinian people to live peacefully within internationally recognised borders. We urge leaders of both sides to resume direct negotiations. There can be no illusion. If peace is to succeed, hard decisions must be made. This includes difficult sacrifices by both sides. It is important that the pressing matter of Palestinian statehood is progressed in the spirit of open, constructive and, most importantly, cooperative dialogue. Unilateral efforts on behalf of one side will only build greater levels of distrust. There is no easy solution to this issue—only shared ones.
We call on the government to make plain its position in relation to the vote at the United Nations on the question of Palestinian statehood. There is some confusion, given the reports that the foreign minister has advised the Prime Minister to abstain on a vote, and reports that the Prime Minister intends to oppose. For the interests of Australia's reputation and for our long-held foreign policy positions, the government must clarify this position immediately.
At the United Nations Australia has long fought to end the institutional discrimination against the state of Israel, as evidenced by our response to the 2001 Durban antiracism conference. When in government the coalition was consistent in opposing one-sided United Nations resolutions against Israel, choosing not to sacrifice long-held foreign policy values in pursuit of temporary gain. At the same time, we played an important role in supporting the Palestinian people. The Howard government contributed much-needed financial assistance to aid development in areas such as agriculture, provided vital shelter for refugees and advanced the reconstruction of health and education services. This assistance, which has been continued by the Rudd and now Gillard governments, aimed to support the Middle East peace process through reducing the vulnerability of the Palestinian people to poverty and conflict.
The actions of the Howard government were based on an awareness that, while Australia will not play a major part in the peace process in terms of direct involvement, we can play a positive and constructive role in support of the conditions which are required for peace to take hold. The coalition is of the view that both parties share responsibility for rebuilding the mutual confidence on which any resumption of negotiations has to be based. Unilateral action will not, in my view, progress the current process.
This motion specifically condemns the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel and we look forward to unanimous support from the members of this House. This motion also condemns the targeting of Max Brenner chocolate cafes as part of the campaign and other stores which I indicated have been targets of this campaign. We look forward to the unanimous support of this House in that regard.
This motion also rejects the BDS campaign as counterproductive to the promotion of the rights of Palestinians. Not only is it harmful to the interests of the Israeli people and the state of Israel; we believe it is counterproductive to the promotion of the rights of the Palestinians. This motion also reiterates Australia's support for the two-state solution and the right of the Israeli and Palestinian peoples to live peacefully within internationally recognised borders. I look forward to the unanimous support of the members of this House on that issue.
Finally, this motion seeks to urge the leaders of the Israeli and Palestinian peoples to resume direct negotiations. We believe that is the only way that a lasting peace can be achieved. I commend this motion to the House.
Mr DANBY (Melbourne Ports) (12:18): I want to congratulate the member for Curtin and opposition spokesperson on foreign affairs for moving this resolution. Over the last few months I have been travelling around Australia from South Melbourne in my electorate to Newtown in Sydney and to Southbank in Brisbane, where prominent leaders of politics and the media in Australia have been having a hot chocolate at Max Brenner's to show the opposition of mainstream Australia to this boycott campaign that the member for Curtin has raised in this resolution. Every Max Brenner shop I have gone to—including in Brisbane with the estimable member for Blair, who is sitting here with me—has been packed full with couples and friends. None were there for political reasons; they were enjoying each other's company and some hot chocolate.
Max Brenner is actually an Australian company that employs hundreds of employees and is going about its lawful business. The boycott protests are very movingly described by a young Australian woman in South Melbourne as 'more than simply a boycott'. They are loud, aggressive and angry, and they amount to intimidation. Seldom have I seen such a reaction from the overwhelming mainstream of Australian political and public life. I think that is because, as the member for Blair knows, deeply etched in Australia's memory are those black-and-white films of the Nazi boycott of Jewish commerce in 1930s Germany. That is why an average Australian, such as sports broadcaster Ben Fordham—and I would urge every Australian to listen to his interview with Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon about her support for the boycott campaign—gets stuck into militants who chant outside Max Brenner's chocolate shops, 'From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.'
That is why the Deputy Prime Minister joined the member for Blair and me; the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy; the Parliamentary Secretary for Defence; Sydney Morning Herald columnist Gerard Henderson; and union leader Paul Howes—unions were decried by the member for Curtin; it is the only part of her speech that I disagree with. Indigenous leader Warren Mundine was also there. All of them were there to show that decent, middle-of-the-road Australians are opposed to these discriminatory boycott activities of this particularly militant group. There is no mention of Darfur in any of their activities, where many more people have been killed, or the 300,000 people in the gulag, North Korea, or the tens of thousands of people caught up in the tragic situation in Tibet where nine young religious people have immolated themselves in the last month.
As Austen Tayshus said on Q&A to Senator Rhiannon, 'Thousands of people have been shot in Syria over the last few months. Why aren't you leading a boycott there?'
The boycott was founded by the Palestinian activist Omar Barghouti in 2003, specifically to oppose the moderate two-state solution that all mainstream political parties in Australia support.
Good riddance! The two-state solution for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is finally dead. But someone has to issue an official death certificate before the rotting corpse is given a proper burial …
This discriminatory boycott came to prominence during last year's New South Wales election, when Marrickville mayor Fiona Byrne introduced a one-sided motion calling on Marrickville council to boycott all Israeli made goods. Senator Lee Rhiannon is of course a member of the New South Wales wing of the Greens political party and was a key supporter of this campaign. She wanted to extend the boycott even further, beyond the New South Wales election.
Senator Rhiannon recently told a 'Politics in the Pub' meeting in Sydney that she wanted to extend the boycott to the federal parliament. It was irrational for a local council to pass motions on foreign policy and to support a boycott. It is absurd and illogical to pass one only against Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East. It is ironic, as the member for Curtin pointed out, with Dr Lynch, at the Sydney University Peace Institute, and with the Greens political party and some of the more militant activists who support this activity, that they are protesting against the only country in the Middle East that protects the rights of gays. There is the rule of law there where women have complete equality and where there are minorities. There are nearly 20 Arab members of the Israeli Knesset at the Israeli parliament. You do not see minorities represented like that in other countries in the Middle East. It is plainly ludicrous.
Recently experts from around the world agreed that Israel is a laboratory for eco-innovation and can serve as a platform for other countries looking to harness sustainable technology. In five weeks time, Professor Daniel Shechtman, from the Israel Institute of Technology, will receive the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Of the nine Nobel Prize winners this year, five are Jewish. With respect to winners of the Nobel Prize in Economics, 42 per cent were Jewish; Nobel Prize in Medicine, 27 per cent were Jewish; and Nobel Prize in Physics, 25 per cent were Jewish.
As Israeli ambassador Yuval Rotem pointed out in a wonderful speech last week:
So where are all those on the fringe left; where are the academics, where are those members from the New South Wales Greens Party who think that boycotting the country of ground-breaking innovations, life-saving medications and grand contributions to man-kind will change the world for the better?
Perhaps these hate-mongers are too busy picking out bits of their computer hardware, invented and manufactured in Israel. Perhaps it is more time consuming than they first thought, removing all the drugs from their medicine cabinets that were created and developed in Israel.
As we saw in Brisbane and in Melbourne a few weeks ago, some of the protestors outside Max Brenner are anything but peaceful. Their chant "from the river to the sea," as I pointed out, is the Hamas extremist cry for a one state, an Islamist state, between the Jordon River and the Mediterranean. They are not peaceful protesters calling for a Palestinian state next to Israel; they have a discriminatory attitude which should not be tolerated.
They seek to boycott businesses such as Revlon and Westfield—I have their booklet here—simply because the chair of Revlon is Jewish and because Frank Lowy is Jewish. They advocate a boycott of the Beersheba dance company and the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra. What would you rather see—the Beersheba dance company and the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra or a protest by some of these crazy groups outside Max Brenner shops?
They seek to boycott the Max Brenner shops because they claim those shops are owned by the Strauss Group. In fact, any company search here will show that Max Brenner is an independent Australian company. The Strauss Group happens to own another chocolate company in Israel called Elite, which puts chocolate products into reserve packs for soldiers. That is the extent of the connection between the protests here and what really happens over there. At the time the Marrickville motion was passed, Prime Minister Julia Gillard described it as 'stupid and repugnant' and said that:
Israel is a democracy with whom we have a long-standing relationship … anyone who stands in the way of that is doing the wrong thing.
Other government ministers have lambasted the Greens and Fiona Byrne for their boycott campaign.
I call on Senator Brown not to back his rogue senator, Lee Rhiannon, in her plan to extend the boycott beyond the activities taking place outside the Max Brenner shops. Senator Brown has reprimanded Senator Rhiannon in the past for her support of the boycott campaign and has stated that the Greens support a two-state solution. This boycott campaign does nothing to promote such a two-state solution. In fact it hinders the process by promoting hate. Both the Liberal and Labor parties support a just two-state solution to the Middle East peace process and we have done so from the beginning. The original resolution which Australia voted for in 1948 was for an Arab Palestinian state next to an Israeli Jewish state.
As the member for Curtin pointed out, the Palestinian representative in Australia, Abdulhadi—the head of the General Delegation of Palestine to Australia—to his great credit rejected the violent element in the boycott campaign. I think it is very interesting that an actual representative of the Palestinians understands the hurt and fear that emanates from such a boycott of commerce and the historical resonance that it has—he appears to understand this much better than some of the extreme Left people who are involved in that campaign. Mr Abdulhadi is a person whom I have debated before and he is an example of the fact that there are many Palestinians who want a peaceful and just solution to the Middle East situation. He is, as Margaret Thatcher said of Mikhail Gorbachev, the kind of person 'we can do business with'.
This campaign is seen by some as coupled with the unilateral Palestinian bid for statehood. Both of them undermine negotiations which would actually advance the two-state solution in the Middle East. It is very interesting that the unilateral bid for Palestinian statehood has not gone very far internationally. It seems that the international community is tiring of one-sided solutions or one-sided advocacy in this area. It is most interesting that, given the make-up of the United Nations, it seems there are not nine votes at the Security Council for this unilateral announcement of a Palestinian state. I think what that is showing is that the international community—certainly mainstream countries such as Australia, Canada, Germany and most other European countries—more and more favours a negotiated arrangement between the two parties. My feeling is that the bid by the Palestinians to go to the Security Council will not progress and that they will then take their bid to the General Assembly. Of course, with the automatic majority of the organised Islamic countries and the Arab League, this will probably pass. But I think many countries like Australia will have a chance to stand up and say that this is not the way to approach peace in the Middle East. Unless there is a determination by the international community to involve direct negotiations between the parties, this is not a resolution that Australia should support. That view has been very clearly put by the Prime Minister. In many countries around the world—for example, the US congress—there has been great concern that, while there are things on the table for direct discussions between the Israelis and the Palestinians, this bid would be tried to be pushed through the United Nations.
In a book that Condoleezza Rice has just published she recounts the fact that she was present with former President Bush, former Israeli Prime Minister Olmert and Mr Abbas when Mr Olmert offered an extensive compromise which would have seen 95 per cent of the West Bank become a Palestinian state and territorial exchanges to compensate for suburbs around Jerusalem that would remain part of an Israeli state—the existing state of Israel being given to the Palestinians to compensate them for those four or five per cent of territories around Jerusalem.
That is a practical way of this issue being advanced. It is a great shame that Mr Abbas did not take up that opportunity when it was offered to him. I commend both Mr Olmert and Condoleezza Rice for pointing out that that was offered. I have previously tabled in the parliament the map that he offered, and it is available to anyone who wants to follow this debate. It is extensive; it is fair; it is comprehensive; and it in fact gives the Palestinians the equivalent of 100 per cent of the territory of the current West Bank.
My program for a peaceful resolution between the two parties is for Mr Abbas to get in his car in Ramallah and drive to Mr Netanyahu's office, put the Olmert plan on the desk and say, 'Let's do it.' That would have a lot more support amongst the Israeli people and would have much more support from the international community than this attempt to force through a one-sided resolution at the Security Council or the general assembly with their automatic majority. Go to an election, Mr Abbas, and get a mandate again. You have not been elected since 2006, even by any standard of international political legitimacy. Put the plan back on the table, negotiate directly and let us finally achieve peace for the two parties in the Middle East.
Ms O'DWYER (Higgins) (12:33): I rise to speak on this motion and join with my colleagues on both sides of the chamber to advocate very strongly that we condemn this boycotts, divestment and sanctions campaign that has been so insidiously waged here in this country. The BDS is designed to economically destroy any business that has a connection with the democratic state of Israel and forbids any trade with businesses or organisations that trade with Israel. At its very heart the campaign is aimed at the delegitimisation of the state of Israel.
Having failed to destroy the state of Israel through war and terror, those who are committed to her destruction now use weapons of a different kind. At the second conference of the Inter-Parliamentary Coalition for Combating Antisemitism last year in Ottawa, the Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, said:
… when Israel … is consistently and conspicuously singled out for condemnation, I believe we are morally obligated to take a stand. Demonisation, double standards, delegitimisation, the three Ds, it is the responsibility of us all to stand up to them.
The BDS campaign has seen businesses in my home town of Melbourne subject to hateful protest, where patrons are prevented from entry or exit from a business, where they are subject to verbal abuse and intimidation and where violence has occurred. In the case of one such business, the chocolate shop Max Brenner, this has occurred on more than one occasion. What is the offence? Why are they subject to this BDS campaign? It is because, according to these protestors, it is 100 per cent owned by an Israeli company which, according to protestors, is too pro-Israel. These protestors claim that they are part of a peace movement, that they are pro-Palestinian, but they are anything but. They are anti-Israel and, dare I say it, many of them are anti-Semitic.
The BDS, when applied, would mean quite the reverse for these Palestinian groups. It would mean that support for charity groups like Shevet Achim, which sends Palestinian babies with congenital heart defects to surgery at acute centres in Israel, would be completely caught up in this BDS campaign, as would the AFL Peace Team, which matches Israelis and Palestinians together in the AFL International Cup. These would be banned. These are groups that are intended to bridge the gap, but instead this BDS widens it.
Singling out private businesses in response to foreign policy is not only incredibly offensive but also extremely counterproductive and wrong. Secondary boycotts are contrary to freedom of association. I think it is incumbent upon us to look at this movement, not only from a global perspective, but also from how it sprung up here in Australia. At its heart it has been, as my colleague on the other side of the chamber has said, most notoriously advocated for through the Marrickville Council. It has also been advocated for through prominent members of the Greens and through a number of people within the union movement as well.
This motion today is a real test of the Greens. It is a test of Adam Bandt, the member for Melbourne. He needs to declare where he stands on this issue and where the Greens stand on this issue. The BDS is a truly insidious campaign. It is also time that the Leader of the Greens, Senator Bob Brown, rejects this violent and ignorant campaign to delegitimise Israel and instead declare Israel's right to exist in peace. Senator Brown needs to condemn this campaign, which is supported by his new Greens senator Lee Rhiannon, just as leaders of the union movement should also condemn this campaign, and not only condemn it but have nothing to do with it.
Israel, as we know, is a lone beacon of democracy in the Middle East. We hope that she will not be a lone beacon for much longer but we must be mindful that in the tumult of the Middle East anything is possible. The unity between Hamas and Fatah is something that we should be deeply concerned about. Hamas is a group that represents the antithesis of democracy and peace and is very much behind this worldwide campaign to delegitimise the State of Israel. It celebrates the terrorist Osama Bin Laden as a holy martyr and it actively opposes Israel's right to exist and is committed to her destruction. In its very charter it has at its centre the fact that it wants to destroy the State of Israel and is committed to killing Jews wherever it finds them.
I visited Israel with the Australia Israel Leadership Forum last year with a number of people from both sides of this chamber, a number of people from business and also the media. We went to Ramallah to meet with a number of Palestinians. What was incredibly interesting in the conversation we had with them was that they openly declared that they were swapping some of their former heroes, like Che Guevara, and were instead wrapping up their campaign and associating it with human rights leaders such as Gandhi and Martin Luther King. We know, though, that this association is completely false. There is no human rights element in this delegitimisation of Israel or in this BDS campaign, and such an association is repugnant to any right-thinking person.
Australia and Israel have so much in common. We share a great democratic tradition, and it is vital that we support these democratic traditions and support freedom in the Middle East, whether for Arabs, Jews or Christians. I think it is very important as well that we stand together to condemn this BDS campaign, which would do so much to cause harm to unity in the Middle East and to the advent of peace and a peaceful two-state solution.
On Sunday, 4 September this year, I stood shoulder to shoulder with other Liberal MPs—including federal MPs Senator Mitch Fifield, Senator Scott Ryan and Josh Frydenberg, along with state MPs David Southwick and Elizabeth Miller—as well as the Australian Liberal Students Federation and the Young Liberals in condemning this campaign. I know that there are others across the chamber, such as the member for Melbourne Ports, who have also been very vocal in condemning this insidious campaign. We stood together on the steps of the State Library of Victoria to speak out about the violence and hate that have been preached in the name of peace. We joined together for a cup of hot chocolate at the Max Brenner chocolate shop, which has been the target of so many of these protests.
I would like to conclude today by echoing the words of the Prime Minister of Israel, who said earlier to the United States congress:
We stand together to defend democracy. We stand together to advance peace. We stand together to fight terrorism.
We should also, in this chamber today, stand together to condemn this boycott, because this boycott is not for peace. This boycott is for hate, and this boycott is insidious and wrong in the way that it will harm the interests not only of Israelis but also of Palestinians and all those who support a peaceful two-state solution.
Mr NEUMANN (Blair) (12:42): We have seen enormous change in the Middle East: uprisings and aspirations for freedom, liberty and democracy in places like Tunisia, Libya and Egypt that I never thought I would see in my lifetime. There has been silence from so many people who were advocating the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign in relation to the aspirations of people from the Middle East in Arab countries seeking the kind of liberty that we enjoy in this country. This campaign, initiated back in July 2005 by many Palestinian organisations, had a number of stated goals, but one of them was, of course, the end of what they say is Israel's occupation and colonisation of all Arab lands. This is simply nonsense. What is happening here is some far-left groups selectively picking on a democratic country in the Middle East—namely Israel—for their own political agenda.
Israel, like Australia and a lot of other countries in the West, is not perfect. No nation in the world is perfect when it comes to the way it runs its economy or in terms of justice, equity and fairness. But Israel, for all its failings, faults and foibles, has been a great and consistent friend of Australia in the Middle East and in the Western world, standing up against the tyranny of communism and against dictatorship. So many people who have been advocating the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign have been silent when authoritarian, fascist and communist regimes in Asia and Africa—terrible regimes like that of North Korea, for example—have been perpetrating terrible iniquities upon their people. They have been silent because they have been selective. There is also a certain selectivity of economic consequence. For example, many Palestinian people work with and for Israeli businesses. There is significant trade, commerce and intercourse between the West Bank and the state of Israel, but I do not see the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement picketing Israeli businesses in Israel or in the West Bank, guarding the portal saying, 'Don't go across there; don't work for Israeli businesses.'
There is a real sense of hypocrisy here in relation to this particular campaign. The Australian government has been absolutely consistent in being committed to peace and security in the Middle East and in supporting progress. We have been vigorous in supporting humanitarian efforts and in institution-building assistance. Since 2007 this federal Labor government has provided nearly $170 million in assistance to the Palestinian Authority and refugees. In fact, we are the 10th-largest donor to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the area. We have a good and consistent record, and I concede that on both sides of politics there has been bipartisan support for the state of Israel. Australians are friends of Israel, and after World War II we took about 35,000 people from a Jewish background who were fleeing Europe and the terrible holocaust of the Nazi dictatorship in Germany.
I recently read a biography on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a wonderful, great German theologian who, two days after Hitler came to power, was on national radio denouncing the Nazi regime and Hitler. But they cut him off while he was speaking. He was like the spiritual person or mentor to the Valkyrie attempt to get rid of Hitler. As I was reading the book I was struck by the correlation, if I can put it that way, between what happened to the Jewish people in Germany and what seems to be advocated here. No-one says that you cannot engage in lawful protest and no-one says that you cannot go about saying that you disagree with the political stance of a business, an individual or an institution. But you cannot go around preventing people from going about their lawful business or preventing people from being patrons of a store such as Max Brenner. To engage in the kind of thuggery we saw in Melbourne, where 19 people were arrested and three police officers were injured, is a disgrace. In fact the BDS campaigners deserve all the criticism that was levelled at them in relation to that particular event.
The member for Melbourne Ports asked me, along with the Deputy Prime Minister and the member for Oxley, to come to Max Brenner in Brisbane. I was very happy to stand with him—and I have to say that the hot chocolate was pretty good that night. I was there in Brisbane on 28 August—
Mr Danby: Big crowd.
Mr NEUMANN: It was a very big crowd indeed; I agree, and I commend the member for Melbourne Ports for his advocacy on this issue. Also present at the chocolate shop was the Ipswich mayor, Paul Pisasale. Paul is very good when it comes to being in the media—I accept that—but Paul also has had a very strong hand and consistent position on this issue. The Chamber of Commerce and the Ipswich City Council have also had a lot of dealings with businesses in Israel and have been very strong advocates, as have the member for Oxley and I, because we believe that Israel is a good friend of Australia and that Australia is a good friend of Israel.
It is not just the selectivity of these campaigners and their far left Green agenda they seem to be pushing; they seem to be protesting against businesses like Revlon and Westfield for tangential reasons. I was happy to be at what I would describe as the counter protest. It was a lawful, peaceful protest, drinking chocolate, and I know a number of members of both sides of the House were at various locations in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. I note that there has been criticism of what has gone on. In October 2011, Izzat Abdulhadi, Head of the General Delegation of Palestine to Australia said that he is against the full-scale BDS campaign. In particular, he expressed his frustration, if not anger, at the violent protest at the Max Brenner stores in Australia. He said:
BDS is a non-violent process and I don't think it is the right of anybody to use BDS as a violent action or to prevent people from buying from any place.
While I do not agree with the BDS, I certainly agree with the sentiment. People should not have the right to engage in violent activity.
In the 21st century there is no place for targeting businesses in this country that have a tangential impact with what I would call 'Jewishness' in the Australian economy or in Australia's community life. This challenges our ethics, values and morals in this country, and what we think about democracy and liberty. I know a number of Labor politicians, Labor union leaders and Labor identities have been involved in standing against the BDS campaign: Warren Mundine, a former president of the Australian Labor Party; and Paul Howes, the general secretary of the Australian Workers Union. We also saw the Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd involved. I applaud them for standing up for liberty, democracy and the right of a business to go about its lawful activities.
I do not really believe, at its heart, this BDS campaign is about economic pressure because of the inconsistencies I have raised. I think it is about, as someone said previously, demonising and vilifying Israel. I agree with the member for Higgins about the anti-Semitic aspects of some of these campaigns; I am worried about that too. I note Senator Bob Brown has distanced himself somewhat. But this stance is still being advocated by the New South Wales Greens. It was only fairly recently the Marrickville Council in Sydney overturned its sanctions against Israel. What does a council have to do with it? It should be engaged in roads, rats and rubbish, in my view. That would make a lot more sense to the people who live in that particular region than sanctions becoming a political stance. I think it is important that we say this. The union leader Paul Howes summed it up brilliantly and succinctly when he said:
are trying to equate the campaign against apartheid in South Africa with a campaign against a Jewish chocolate shop, they've got rocks in their head.
I think he is absolutely correct. I would call on the Greens leader Bob Brown to distance himself from the BDS campaign in a strong way and sanction Greens senator Lee Rhiannon, who previously backed this particular campaign. I think we need to take a stand. I applaud the member for Curtin but I disagree with her comments on the trade union movement. (Time expired)
Mr FLETCHER (Bradfield) (12:53): I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak on this motion to condemn the boycotts, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel. I do so firstly as the member for an electorate which has a large and vibrant Jewish community, particularly but not exclusively in the suburb of St Ives. Indeed, the seat of Bradfield has the second largest Jewish community in New South Wales, second only to the seat of Wentworth. We are also fortunate to have, within the boundaries of the electorate, a Max Brenner store. One of the absurdities which this motion correctly identifies is the truly ludicrous idea of targeting a chocolate cafe as part of some purportedly high-minded campaign.
The most important reason for which I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak on this motion is that I do so as a citizen and as a parliamentarian in a democracy which upholds key values of tolerance, of human rights and of the rule of law. On all of these grounds, I unreservedly condemn the so-called campaign of boycotts, divestments and sanctions directed against Israel and against businesses with Israeli ownership or an Israeli connection. To see how absurd, how offensive and how Orwellian this campaign is let me quote from the media release issued by Marrickville Council, about which we have heard a little already, in January this year:
Marrickville Council has adopted a resolution that will preclude the purchase of goods or services provided by those organisations or companies that do business in, or with, Israel.
The Global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (GBDS) campaign is a world-wide movement that seeks to end human rights violations.
Marrickville Council Mayor Fiona Byrne said ...
'The support for the GBDS recognises the role of Council in promoting universal respect for human rights and the protection of democratic principles with a view to ending human rights injustices and violations' ...
As previous speakers have noted, this resolution appears to overlook the core roles of council of collecting rubbish and efficiently processing development applications. Anybody who knows anything about Marrickville Council could have a lengthy discussion on that topic but that is not the topic for discussion today. Let us examine some of the absurd, illogical contradictions in the statement by Marrickville council.
I remind the House that Israel is a functioning and highly successful multiparty democracy. If the BDS proponents are serious about their stated principles, why are they not targeting Iran or Syria or any one of a range of unsavoury regimes which intimidate, repress and murder their own people? How do we make the leap in logic from Marrickville council apparently supporting universal respect for human rights to the council supporting a campaign which targets one set of alleged human rights violations in one particular country—quite without proof, it must be added. What about such basic human rights as the freedom of association and the freedom to carry on one's work and business without thugs using violence to prevent you from doing so, which of course has been the unfortunate experience of those Max Brenner stores which have been targeted. I need hardly remind the House that 19 protesters were arrested and three policemen were injured earlier this year when a rally outside a Max Brenner store in Melbourne turned violent.
As other speakers have correctly noted, it is extremely troubling that we are seeing in Australia the same kind of anti-Semitic targeting of Jewish businesses that was a technique of the Nazi regime. The risk of anti-Semitism is something against which we must always be on guard. It is troubling that, as the New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies has noted, the Occupy Wall Street movement has also included some troubling suggestions of anti-Semitism, and it is deeply troubling that a municipal council would associate itself with the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. I am sorry to say that I am not surprised that there was involvement by the Greens in this unsavoury episode. This appalling action was championed by Fiona Byrne, Mayor of Marrickville and of course a Greens candidate for the New South Wales state election in March 2011.
The issue here is not the need for a two-state solution. The coalition strongly supports the two-state solution and the right of the Israeli and Palestinian people to live peacefully within internationally recognised borders. The issue here is appropriate and civilised conduct, and this conduct fails to meet the standards. (Time expired)
Mr MURPHY (Reid) (12:58): More than 10 per cent of my constituents are of Muslim faith and about six per cent are of Middle East background. In a letter to former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1993, former PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat wrote:
The PLO recognizes the right of the state of Israel to exist in peace and security. The PLO accepts United Nations Security Council resolutions 242 and 338.
This commitment was never reciprocated by Israel, which has not recognised the state of Palestine or accepted resolutions 242 and 338, which require Israel to withdraw from the 1967-occupied territories. The Palestinians are annoyed that two decades of face-to-face talks between Israel and the PLO have not delivered Palestinian national aspirations but have prolonged and deepened the Israeli occupation while making Palestinian institutions weaker. The failure of the United States to mediate a peace agreement has led the Palestinian leadership to conclude that, although it has done everything that was asked of it, from recognising Israel, maintaining security and institution building to continuing peace talks, the West has not delivered its end of the bargain. Some people have denigrated the Palestinian application to the United Nations as a unilateral move for statehood or a move to delegitimise Israel. Neither is true. It is not even the preferred course of action of the Palestinian leaders. The credibility of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is based on a promise to bring change through peace negotiations. The failure of the peace process to deliver anything for the Palestinians has led Mr Abbas to try the UN strategy. He has said repeatedly that the United Nations bid is a measure of last resort and he prefers direct bilateral negotiations with Israel.
The Palestinians under military occupation want freedom and human rights. With the peace process at a dead end, many Palestinians have concluded that perhaps there are no peaceful options remaining. The leadership's UN bid was partly in response to this popular pressure. The Palestinians' chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, said that, until Israel and the United States can pursue the peace process more seriously, the option of a two-state solution must be preserved despite the fact that this option is disappearing under the never-ending expansion of Israeli settlements, checkpoints, restrictions on movement and confiscation of land. The head of the General Delegation of Palestine to Australia and New Zealand, Mr Izzat Abdul Hadi, has emphasised the need for a two-state solution.
In 2005, on the first anniversary of the ruling by the International Court of Justice that the Israeli concrete wall is illegal and should be removed, frustrated Palestinian NGOs and trade unions called for a boycott, divestment and sanctions—BDS—targeted at Israel with the stated goals that:
These non-violent punitive measures should be maintained until Israel meets its obligation to recognize the Palestinian people's inalienable right to self-determination and fully complies with the precepts of international law by: 1. Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall; 2. Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and 3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.
Boycotts have a long tradition over the centuries. The BDS movement has caught on around the world. I note Archbishop Desmond Tutu as a prominent supporter.
The reality of the BDS movement in Australia is that it has been captured by political parties whose main agenda is not the welfare of the Palestinians under occupation or for a peaceful solution in the Middle East. The Palestinian Authority has distanced itself from the civilian BDS movement except for advocating a limited boycott against companies actually operating in illegal settlements. It does not support general boycotts against Israel, because boycotts are incompatible with negotiating a two-state solution.
When the issue of Palestinian statehood rose again recently, the feedback to my office from the Arab community and all its supporters was limited but consistent: they want Australia to recognise the state of Palestine as part of the two-state solution to the conflict and they oppose the use of violence by those who have taken over the BDS movement. A boycott must be voluntary and peaceful; otherwise it is not a boycott but merely coercion. (Time expired)
Five Labor members of Federal Parliament have reported on their recent participation in an AIJAC Rambam Israel Fellowship Program visit to Israel.
Senator Mark Furner
Senator Catryna Bylik
Participating were Queensland Senator Mark Furner, Tasmanian Senator Catryna Bilyk, Member for Kingston in South Australia Amanda Rishworth, Member for Wakefield in South Australia Nicholas Champion and Member for Bass in Tasmania Geoffrey Lyons. Three of the participants Ms Rishworth, Senator Furner and Senator Bilyk shared their impressions at a recent Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) luncheon.
During the visit the Labor politicians met with a wide array of analysts,politicians and community figures,travelling south to Sderot,to the Lebanon border as well as meeting with senior Palestinian figures including in Bethlehem.
Senator Furner said that he was shocked by the number of rocket attacks into Southern Israel from Gaza and the extensive network of bomb shelters that were required including in children's playgrounds. He noted that there had been over 5000 rockets fired into Israel between 2005 and 2009, and that he could not "imagine what sort of stress, what sort of anxiety those residents of Sderot would be going through on a daily basis."
Amanda Rishworth was struck by the diversity in Israel and its "vibrant democracy" as illustrated by the peaceful social protest movement, which she witnessed during her time there said the trip was an "amazing experience".
She emphasised the importance of visiting Israel to understand its complexities. She was surprised by how small Israel is and how close it was to Lebanon, Hezbollah and Gaza. Her trip enabled her to now understand the vulnerability of Sderot and that "Israel is in a tough neighbourhood".
Regarding peace efforts, Rishworth expressed that from her perspective peace is only possible through bilateral negotiations and that the Palestinians now needed to come to those negotiations. Senator Furner said that as a former negotiator he believes what is needed in negotiating is "genuine commitment that must be reciprocated by all the parties involved", and said that he knew that the Israelis were genuine but he had doubts about the commitment on the part of the Palestinians.
Following a meeting with Palestinian Media Watch, Senator Bilyk said that as a mother, a politician and an early childhood educator she was deeply concerned by the brainwashing of Palestinian children by the Palestinian media and the tendency to treat Israelis as dispensable and disposable. Senator Bilyk said that the concept of brainwashing children from the cradle "planted seeds of war" and was "child abuse".
They all said that they had a profound educational and moving experience visiting the Israeli Holocaust Museum, Yad Vashem. Rishworth saidvisiting the museum "provided dimensions that I had no idea ofŠbeing in a place where its all brought together gives you a real emotional perspective rather than just a knowledgeable perspective on the suffering that occurred."
The trip also emphasised the close relationship between Australia and Israel that crosses a broad spectrum of activities, Rishworth noting that the connection "runs deep between our two countries".
The politicians said the study visit had provided them with a profound experience and a crash course in Middle East political realities.
Jamie Hyams, Senior Policy Analyst at AIJAC accompanied the Rambam group in Israel and said, "the variety of the program allows participants to experience a broad range of perspectives about Israel and the challenges it faces."
Dr Colin Rubenstein, Executive Director of AIJAC said, "the perceptive comments made by the politicians indicated that their understanding of Middle East realities had been greatly enhanced by the visit as had their appreciation of the obstacles on the path towards a viable peace process."
UNIVERSITY of Sydney scholars set to exchange ideas with visiting Israeli experts on neuroscience, tissue regeneration and other cutting-edge research areas are being warned the event will offend potential Muslim undergraduates.
Associate Professor Jake Lynch, director of the university's Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, has urged his colleagues to withdraw from the research gathering, and the university administration to cancel it.
Dr Lynch has been a strong supporter of the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign designed to isolate Israel. He says he has been asked to intervene by the Campaign for Justice and Peace in Palestine, a group that has pushed the BDS campaign among councils in Sydney.
The Israel Research Forum, to be held next Monday, will bring local scholars together with researchers from Israeli universities and institutions.
...In an email to staff due to take part, Dr Lynch condemns the lack of Palestinian involvement and the failure of Israeli universities to teach in Arabic.
In his letter to the university's deputy vice-chancellor, Professor John Hearn, he says the forum is contrary to the university's social inclusion policy, which requires it to reach out to students in western Sydney. He says most Muslim students live in the west and feel "a sense of resentment and alienation resulting from the predominance of pro-Israeli voices in Australia's political and media discourses".
But one of the local scholars billed for the event, neuroscientist Manuel Graeber, has emailed a strong defence of the forum to Dr Lynch, pointing out that a similar meeting with Arab scholars is scheduled for next year. "The event with Israel should go ahead exactly as planned," Professor Graeber writes.
"There is absolutely nothing questionable about it. Academics must not be held hostage by ideologies."
In his reply to Dr Lynch, which he provided to The Australian, Professor Hearn says:
"In the interests of academic freedom we should ensure that the upcoming forum with Israel and the 2012 forum with the Arab countries should be peaceful and productive."
An organiser of the forum, University of Sydney physiology professor Rebecca Mason, said collaboration between Australian and Israeli scholars could shed light on problems.
I've been reading the Times pretty much every single day since I was ten-years-old.
That's more than a half-century by now. Along the way, I've been informed, inspired, and occasionally infuriated.
This week, there was cause for infuriation.
First, it came on Monday, in the form of four photographs that appeared on the first page (p. A4) of the International section. The largest of the four, 6 x 9 inches, was at the top of the page and immediately caught the reader's attention. It was a poignant picture of a little girl leaning against a largely empty wall and staring upward, as the caption explained, to a small picture of her grandfather.
Walid Aqel, 48, was to be among those Palestinian prisoners released in the exchange for Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier kidnapped by Hamas in 2006 and held incommunicado until his release this week.
The paper failed to mention, in the caption or elsewhere, that Aqel was a founder of Hamas' military wing, had much Israeli blood on his hands, and was sentenced by Israel to life imprisonment.
Instead, the overriding impression conveyed was that Aqel was, above all, a grandfather, whose adorable granddaughter was pining for his return from his Israeli captors.
Then, just below the photo was the article itself -- "Israel Names 477 to Go Free in Trade for Hamas-Held Soldier." And beneath the article were three small photos, each measuring 2 x 3 inches, which conveyed images of the human havoc wreaked in Israel by some of those Palestinians to be released in the deal.
ecause of their diminutive size and busy images, those photos didn't draw the eye easily, although they should have been the heart of the story. After all, they conveyed the nature of the terrorists to be freed, helping readers understand how gut-wrenching the decision must have been for Israel.
Yet those photos, together totaling 18 square inches, were submerged, while the single, stark photo at the top, 54 square inches, dominated.
Then came the Times' editorial, "Gilad Shalit's Release," on Wednesday. It was, frankly, among the most upsetting I've ever read.
The day after Shalit was released and returned to Israel, with 477 Palestinian prisoners sent to Gaza, the West Bank, and elsewhere, and a second group to be freed soon, the paper chose to go after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yet again.
He's been a favorite whipping boy for the editorial writers since he assumed office in 2009. They give him little credit for what he's done to advance prospects for peace and Palestinian development -- the ten-month settlement freeze, the lifting of blockades and checkpoints on the West Bank, oft-expressed support for a two-state outcome, and help for the rising Palestinian economy. And they spare no criticism for his alleged misdeeds.
But this editorial took the cake. By the second of eight paragraphs, and barely 24 hours after the drama of what had just taken place with Shalit, the editorial was already darkly suggesting this was really a Machiavellian plot to further weaken chances for peace -- and the blame, predictably, was laid at Netanyahu's doorstep.
Of course, the editorial could have gone in other directions.
It might have dwelled on the extraordinary importance Israel attaches to human life, in this case the life of one soldier.
It could have focused on the nature of Israeli democracy, where Gilad Shalit's parents never stopped mobilizing on behalf of their son, and created a national movement to liberate him, irrespective of the cost.
It might have reminded the world of the contrast between Shalit's captivity -- more than five years without a single visit by the International Committee of the Red Cross, much less his family -- and that of the Palestinian prisoners, none of whom surely would have wished to trade their diet, access to the outside world and, indeed, to sunlight, or opportunities for education with what Shalit endured.
And it might have contrasted the moods following the swap. Israel warmly welcomed home its son's return, while engaging in a sobering debate about the meaning of it all and what might loom ahead. Meanwhile, in the West Bank and Gaza, there were no expressions of remorse for the Israeli blood spilled by the freed terrorists in pizzerias, lynchings, discotheques, and Passover Seders.
To the contrary, there were frenzied calls for the kidnapping of more Gilad Shalits, while Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, not wanting to be outdone by Hamas, lauded the arrivals: "You are freedom fighters and holy warriors for the sake of God and the homeland."
But as usual, Abbas got a pass in the editorial. Ultimately, he never seems to be responsible for anything.
A fiery speech at the UN last month, where he denied the Jewish people's ancestral connection to the region, while citing the Muslim and Christian link? Avoiding bilateral talks?
Setting preconditions for negotiations, while refusing Israel's right to do the same?
A reconciliation agreement with Hamas?
PA spokesmen who continue to call for Israel's eventual destruction and a judenrein West Bank?
All of that seems to count for little, since, we're told, it's Netanyahu's fault anyway.
Then there was one final reason for infuriation. With Muammar Al-Gaddafi's demise on Thursday, I was reminded again of just how shocked I was on January 21, 2009, when I opened my daily edition of The Times to see an op-ed, entitled "The One-State Solution," by, of all people, the Libyan leader.
Surprise of surprises, he called for an end to Israel and, addressing a topic to which he brought such great expertise, the creation of one big, happy family in Israel's place.
Having some idea of how difficult it is to get published on that page, I couldn't quite grasp why the paper would give this tyrant prime real estate to spout off his irrelevant, absurd views on such an issue.
All I can say is, to better times!
THE images speak volumes. We have one Israeli soldier, kidnapped on duty and held kept captive for five years without basic international human rights, released looking pale, gaunt and weak.
In contrast, we have more than 1000 Palestinian convicted criminals and terrorists, nearly 600 of whom are responsible for murdering more than 1200 Israeli civilians, freed, jubilant, faced with a hero's welcome. Since when did the murder of innocent civilians become hero-worthy?
And yet our global society sits back and watches this utterly immoral, unbalanced and grotesque "trade".
We heard plenty of noise by the anti-Israel boycott movement when the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra was recording a Proms concert. They made a racket at chocolate shops across Australia simply because the owner happened to be Jewish. We've heard the green movement make a farcical accusation of Israel being an apartheid state.
Where is the voice, to quote Judea Pearl, of the coalition of the decent? Those individuals who will stand up to cultures of hate, prejudice and terror?
Libby Burke, Ashgrove, Qld
This 4-minute inspiring video, posted on May 26, 2011, of an Israeli pioneer who died in the last few days, explains how ridiculous it is to ask the Jewish people to freeze building construction in "East Jerusalem", including in places that were illegally occupied by Arab forces in 1948.
Exactly 1,934 days after Hamas kidnapped Gilad Schalit near Kerem Shalom on the border with Gaza, the cabinet met in a dramatic meeting Tuesday night, approving a deal for his release. Twenty-six ministers voted to approve the prisoner exchange deal signed with Hamas, with only three voting against the deal.
"The Jewish people is a special people, responsible for one another," Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said at the opening of the cabinet meeting. "Our sages teach that those who save one Jewish life, it's is as if they have saved an entire world. Today I am bringing a proposal for the saving of Gilad Schalit in order to bring him back, finally, after five years, to his home, to Israel."
The cabinet vote brought close to conclusion a saga that tortured the Schalit family - and the country - for more than five years, and which made the kidnapped soldier, now 25, a household name in large parts of the world.
In return for Schalit, Israel will release 1,027 prisoners, some 400 of them prisoners serving long sentences for some of the worst terrorist atrocities in the country's history.