A vicious smear campaign against the Greens candidate for Marrickville Fiona Byrne in the NSW state election reveals just how worried the powers-that-be were about the prospect of the NSW Greens winning a lower house seat.
This smear campaign focussed almost exclusively on the Greens pro-Palestine stand, in particular its support (along with ALP councillors) for Marrickville council's decision to sign on to the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign.
In the context of an election rout of Labor, and a shoo-in for the Coalition, the Greens had a real chance in two lower house seats.
But because Labor couldn't convincingly fight over environmental, social and economic policy against the Greens, they opted to conduct the scare campaign over the Marrickville Council BDS motion (that the Greens and Labour councillors had all supported). Backed by powerful interests, it was game on. The Greens were unprepared, and the result is history.
There was a de facto anti-Green alliance of both major parties, the Sydney Morning Herald, the Australian, the Daily Telegraph and the Australian Jewish News. Helped along by the former Greens MP Ian Cohen, Sergio "Ban-the-burqa" Redegalli, the Australian Protectionist Party, the Australian Jewish News, this powerful alliance ran a slanderous campaign asserting that the Greens are anti-Israel (or anti-Semitic) because they support BDS and Palestinian rights.
The anti-BDS and anti-Greens campaign in Marrickville – which reached fever pitch in the last two weeks of the election campaign – included the outrageous accusation that the Greens are "fascists" and "Nazis". Greens billboards in the Marrickville electorate were plastered with swastikas, as well as racist and sexist abuse.
The attempt to slur those who criticise Israel's treatment of Palestinians as fascists – or supporters of the Nazi's attempts to wipe out the Jewish population in Eastern and Central Europe during the World War II – is a crude and desperate attempt to silence critics.
While some anti-BDS campaigners would disagree with this sort of slanderous tactic, they nevertheless equate criticism of Israel's policies with a form of anti-Semitism.
Two weeks out from the election, a succession of editorials, comment pieces and articles asserted, hysterically, that Byrne (who is also the mayor of Marrickville) was one or more of the following: deranged, an extremist, immature and anti-Semitic.
The March 28 Sydney Morning Herald editorial said: "They [the Greens] may have paid a price for their Marrickville candidate's indulgence in childish gesture politics as a local councillor. Fiona Byrne's support for an absurd ban on firms with links to Israel from doing business with Marrickville Council only cast doubt on her and her party's commonsense."
An anti-BDS commentator to the online Green Left Weekly put it a little more crudely: "Singling out israel [sic] for boycotts and ignoring all the human rights violation in the Muslim world is anti Semitic, no matter if ur [sic] Jewish or not …"
The argument that any criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic is ridiculous but it is routinely used by supporters of Israel's apartheid policies to try and silence its critics. The accusation that critics of Israel's policy towards Palestinians ignore other human rights abuses around the world and just pick on Israel is also wrong. Anti-racists are just as outspoken about Western justifications for imperial wars, the treatment of refugees, and the treatment of Indigenous people in this country.
On the other hand, most of the people doing the smear job on the BDS campaign are not noted for speaking out against these injustices.
Many of the older activists were active in the global campaign to isolate apartheid South Africa – a campaign which, together with a powerful campaign by Black and white South Africans, finally brought down that apartheid system. A number of these activists have Jewish backgrounds.
Israel is a Jewish religious state: it privileges Jewish people over others and gives the right to people from this religion from all over the world to become Israeli citizens. And yet, some 30% of Israeli citizens are not Jews, another 4 million Palestinians live in the virtual concentration camp that is the Occupied Territories and another 4.7 million Palestinians are still living in squalid refugee camps fighting for their right to return.
The only reason the Israeli government has been able to continue with its flagrant human rights atrocities and the dispossession of the Palestinians has been because it has backing from the West. In Australia, that includes support from both major parties.
Anti-Semitisim – a hatred of people of Semitic "race", which includes Palestinians and some Jews – is racist. Racism, in all its forms (including the anti-Arab racism that is virulent in Israel), should not be tolerated.
Ironically, this vicious opposition to one council's BDS motion, shows just how powerful a peaceful campaign, such as the BDS, can be if we take on the attacks and don't back down. Consciousness-raising and community organisation is once again proving itself to be a powerful tool in the struggle against injustice and racism.
Pip Hinman ran for the Socialist Alliance in the state seat of Marrickville.