In the country with the world’s largest per capita carbon footprint, it might seem lucrative for Greens to campaign on a diversionary anti-Israel ticket. But it wasn’t. From the Australian periodical National Affairs a story of a candidate – inexpert on the Israel-Palestine conflict as she acknowledges herself to be – who nevertheless found herself drawn to a boycott of Israel.
“The Greens’ post-mortem of their NSW election result will consider whether the party failed to win the seat of Marrickville because of candidate Fiona Byrne’s support for a boycott of Israel.
The Greens had hoped to win the inner-Sydney seats of Marrickville and Balmain on Saturday, based partly on an expectation that Labor voters angry with the party would not be able to bring themselves to support the Liberals.
Federal Greens leader Bob Brown admitted yesterday that voters were upset by Ms Byrne’s repeated misleading statements over her decision in December, as Marrickville Mayor, to support a motion boycotting goods and cultural exchanges from Israel. Ms Byrne said early in the campaign that if elected to parliament she would push for a statewide ban.
However, she subsequently labelled her comments a “falsehood” when they were reported by The Australian. Ms Byrne later denied she had “pushed” for the motion, but was revealed to have been planning to speak at an anti-Israeli-apartheid rally this week.
Asked yesterday whether Ms Byrne’s actions, which plagued the latter days of her campaign, had contributed to her failure, Senator Brown said: “I think it had an effect on it — that’s my feedback from the electorate and it’s no doubt something that the NSW Greens will be looking at.””
Meanwhile Australians For Palestine had posted a letter begging the electorate not to judge Fiona Byrne according to her politics on Israel, saying:
“I would much prefer that your newspaper concern itself with those policies of Ms. Byrne that impact on us voters here in Australia.”
I doubt the author meant to say that Palestine solidarity is irrelevant to voters in Australia, but that’s indeed what he’s saying and I think most people would agree with that to some extent.
The general approach of boycott advocates was to say that those who found the boycott of Israel antisemitic, extremist and worrying enough to raise an alarm were guilty of hijacking an election campaign, and that they were the disloyal ones prepared to sideline all other concerns.
The trouble is (based on my too-cursory look which doubtless has glossed over some of the subtleties) the positions politicians have taken about this Sydney election don’t seem to depend on whether they consider antisemitism is a trivial detail of little consequence, or whether they believe it should be taken seriously as symptomatic of a more ominous political malaise (or even – if this isn’t too far-fetched – as a harm and ongoing danger to Jews). Rather the split is becoming a matter of political expediency. After all, Marrickville Council’s boycott resolution gained cross-party support – the boycott is not only a Green initiative.
I don’t get the impression there is much of a will against antisemitism among Sydney politicians – more a nose for expediency. This is a problem, because no matter what its intention the boycott of Israel is an antisemitic endeavour and as such invariably attracts the kind of campaigning Major Karnage draws attention to below.
The left is relinquishing concern about antisemitism because Jews in the UK or the US or Australia don’t fit into the traditional oppressed/worth-fighting-for segment of the venn diagram (to quote David Baddiel). Hopefully antisemitism will continue to be a liability to Australian election prospects – but not in a way that is such ready fodder for the political right (some of whom are inadvertantly but no less busily creating associations between anti-antisemitism and misogyny against Fiona Byrne as I type this).