Greens think anti-Israel campaigning lost them the election

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).

6 thoughts on “Greens think anti-Israel campaigning lost them the election

  1. Inna

    I don’t think that most people really care about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict one way or the other. Campaigning (or at least arching “in support of”) Palestinians (and yes, there are a few movements that genuinely do support Palestinians but they are few & far between IMO) is a way to feel good about yourself. To show how good you are. But that doesn’t mean that’s what people will vote for. Showing off how good you are is one thing; actually voting (in a secret ballot) for people who make a central plank of their campaign an issue you really don’t care about is quite another.

  2. MK

    I like the general thrust of this post, but some of the Australian politics is a little more nuanced.

    The motion didn’t quite receive “cross party support”. Marrickville Council is run by a coalition between the Greens, Labor and some independents. The Labor Councillors did vote for the motion initially, but mostly out of naivety and to make their lives easier whilst working with the Greens councillors. After all of the attention the motion received, they backed-down very quickly and committed to vote to rescind the motion if given the opportunity, meanwhile the State and Federal Labor party, as well as every other local council, have vocally opposed the idea.

    Also, the argument that made Byrne so unpopular and led to the massive campaign against the Greens was not to do with Israel or anti-Semitism or Palestine – it was simply that it is ridiculous for a local municipal council to be spending time, energy and taxpayer dollars playing at foreign policy.

    (P.S. I really like that you used my blog as an information source, but would it be possible to provide a link or some kind of acknowledgment?)

    1. Mira Vogel Post author

      Writing that post I was aware it could have done with a lot more investigation on my part. Thanks for the information.

      Still I’m reassured that campaigning against Israel as if that were the business of a municipal council doesn’t have the unifying power some hope it does, and that even some Australians for Palestine feel it had no place in Fiona Byrne’s campaign.

      The pic links to you MK (that’s how you found us, no?)
      I’ll add something more explicit right now, though.

  3. MK

    No worries and thanks for the edit.

    Unfortunately, Australians for Palestine are all completely behind Byrne. They are not exactly a rational organisation and are unequivocally pro-BDS.

    The Australian Greens though, different story. There are two factions in the Greens – one is the classic environmentalists, led by federal Greens leader Bob Brown – and the other is the “watermelon” (green on the outside, red on the inside) faction, led by Lee Rhiannon. In her former life, Rhiannon was a prominent member of the Australian Communist movement and stayed in the pro-Soviet faction when the party split.

    Rhiannon is the leader of the Greens in NSW and Byrne is one of hers.

  4. Pingback: Marrickville slings out boycott « Greens Engage

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