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An Australian block to BDS

 APAN’s decision means choosing to be shackled by the Zionist Lobby’s fraudulent ‘toxic’ propaganda that BDS is anti-semitic and calls for the destruction of Israel; it means normalising the indefensible status quo and allowing politicians to dictate strategies that reinforce the government’s anti-BDS policies.


Vacy Vlazna

At its 2014 AGM,  the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network (APAN) , shamefully voted for No.1 from the following options,

1 APAN not to actively engage in BDS

2 APAN to engage actively in all aspects of BDS

3 APAN to engage actively in BDS ‘across the green line’

4 APAN to engage actively on a settlement boycott

Izzat Abdulhadi
Izzat Abdulhadi

With 80 members including 33 groups, APAN purports to be the ‘leading Palestine advocacy group’, but as APAN is the brainchild of the Palestinian Authority ambassador, Izzat Abdulhadi, it comes as no surprise that APAN mimics the PA silence and inertia on BDS.

The flaccid decision against BDS engagement was not made in an uninformed vacuum. Attending members had been given advance access to a comprehensive ‘Discussion Paper regarding APAN’s Position on BDS,’ prepared by executive member Dr Peter Slezak, which reminded attendees that the BDS call to target companies and institutions, Israeli and foreign, that profited from the illegal Israeli occupation came from civil society INSIDE Palestine (not the PA) and

‘was endorsed by over 170 Palestinian political parties, organizations, trade unions and movements. The signatories represent the refugees, Palestinians in the OPT, and Palestinian citizens of Israel.”

BDS is a strategy that allows people of conscience to play an effective role in the Palestinian struggle for justice until Israel complies with international law and Palestinian rights.”

BDSThe Palestinian call for BDS was made in desperation by Palestinians worn down by 67 years of political isolation  and Israel’s violence; their resistance crushed and betrayed by the Israeli/ PA/PLO alliance as well as betrayed by a slovenly UN and its high contracting parties eg Australia, USA, EU nations, Canada, who substituted their international law obligations to protect Palestinian political and human rights with granting impunity to Israel to commit state terrorism.

Notwithstanding, the APAN vote on BDS was postponed for a year and we have all witnessed what tragically happens in Palestine in a year.

Marcelo Svirsky BDS walk
Marcelo Svirsky BDS walk

On the other hand, Australian activists have honoured the Palestinian request in 2014 with: -AFOPA’s weekly BDS protests; The Jake Lynch successful academic  boycott win in the court over Shurat Hadin; JFPM*** organised renowned French BDS activist Olivia Zemor’s  tour of Australia; Brisbane**** BDS Walking Tour, BDS protests in Sydney & Adelaide, against Israel’s dance group Batsheva; BDS spokesperson Samah Sabawi reinstated onto a forum at Wheeler Centre Melbourne (Ambassador Abdulhadi withdrew); The BDS occupation of Israeli  arms manufacturer Elbit in Melbourne; Usyd  protestors stage boycott sit in at Max Brenner; Israeli academic Marcelo Svirsky’s BDS walk from Sydney to Canberra; Red Card for Israel FIFA campaign in Adelaide and Melbourne; Sodastream Campaigns in Adelaide, Perth, Brisbane;The WA branch of the Plumbers Union motion in support (BDS) New groups: Australians for BDS, Palestine Action Group,  Sydney [university] Staff for BDS.

French BDS activist Olivia Zemor’s tour of Australia
French BDS activist Olivia Zemor’s tour of Australia

APAN Palestinian Vote

Palestinian APAN executive member, Bassam Dally strenuously argued against full support for BDS citing doors would be shut against APAN.

IDF night raids
IDF night raids

Suffice to say, Dally, as a diasporan Palestinian, has never experienced  the impoverishment when Israel welded the shop doors shut in Shuhada Street Al Khalil, or was never woken by doors that are nightly burst open by Israeli military thugs who, over 2014, kidnapped 1266 terrified children or never heard prison doors slam shut on 6800 Palestinians, or is not rendered homeless due to the thousands of doors bombarded to rubble in Gaza by Israeli war crimes.

Perplexingly, Dally is also on the AFOPA* executive. Dally represented AFOPA at the  2014 BDS conference in Paris to which AFOPA was featured as an inspiration because the AFOPA-BDS group, led by Margaret Cassar, was about to celebrate its 4th year anniversary of commitment to weekly BDS protests in Adelaide.

Dr Peter Slezak
Dr Peter Slezak

Ironically, the pro-BDS position was energetically, intelligently and morally argued by the aforementioned Dr Peter Slezak, who is also a founding member of Independent Jewish Voices.




The Ecumenical Vote

Surely, Jesus of Nazareth, champion of the poor and oppressed, would have overturned the ecumenical vote postponing BDS involvement in the APAN temple?

Bishop (ret.) George Browning, APAN President, had a piece published ,Julie Bishop silent on Palestine pointing out that the Foreign Minster “failed  to mention Australia’s decision to oppose the  resolution [ on December 31, in the UN]” –  rather rich given APAN failed to mention the whys and wherefores of its, in effect, anti-BDS decision anywhere on its website suggesting either a sense of shame, or an arrogance that it is beyond transparency.

According to the grapevine, Browning, privately supports BDS – but lacks public boldness. APAN needs the boldness of the Christian Shepherd, like Archbishop Desmond Tutu who leads with the spiritual conviction of his conscience on the rightness of BDS.

While viewing BDS as a stigma, Browning would, nevertheless, be aware of the Kairos Palestine Document: a call by Palestinian Christians to Christians world wide to endorse BDS officially.

It was adopted by the World Council of Churches and the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI).

As recent as 20 November 2014, a Peace and Justice Commission proposal to distribute again the Kairos Document to the member churches in NSW was adopted by the Executive of the NSW Ecumenical Council. Support for BDS by Pax Christi Australia is welcomed by its president, Fr Claude Mostowik.

Judith Anderson, representing  AJPP ** walked out of the AGM in disgust, deeply disappointed that the APAN executive would argue supporting BDS activity would destroy APAN- thus placing the survival of APAN above the survival of Palestinian families threatened by daily Israeli oppression.

The Union Vote

The scaremongering threats, by APAN’s union members, that unions would withdraw from APAN ignored the fact that Australian unions have already passed motions and resolutions to endorse and support BDS: WA Plumbers Union 2014,Victorian Trades Hall  2011, Australian Services Union, NSW & ACT, 2010   South Coast labor Council Resolution endorsed CMFEU call for BDS, 2010, Rail, Tram and Bus Union, 2010, Queensland Teachers Union 2010, Quensland Council of Unions, 2010, Newcastle Trades Hall Council, 2010, Maritime Union of Australia WA  2009 etc to name but a few.

APAN and Political Advocacy

On August 29th, while the Israeli war devastated Gaza, APAN held a fancy fundraising dinner raising $40,000; not for the 250,000 homeless and war traumatised Gazan families, but for its “strong and effective work in the Australian parliament”- its sole advocacy arena.

Strong? It dares not educate respect for BDS to politicians. Effective? Australia, a member of the UNSC voted against the recent UN resolution to end the Israeli occupation and didn’t utter a whisper of condemnation of Israel’s monstrous war crimes in Gaza over July, August September despite APAN‘s photo ops in the corridors of power.

The AGM discussion paper sets out APAN’s self-serving (not Palestine serving) objections based on fear to ‘not engage actively on BDS’:

a) The history of BDS in Australia has resulted in BDS being ‘politically toxic’. Parliamentarians have indicated to APAN again and again that it is important to be able to be seen as supporting Palestine, without being seen to support BDS.

b) All of the main political parties, including the Australian Greens are highly anxious about the capacity of BDS to be used as a political weapon against them.

c) If APAN was to engage actively in BDS campaigning, there is a risk to compromise our access to Parliamentarians and close some doors that we have pried open.

d) While a vote will be taken by all members some organisation may not agree with decision and withdraw their membership.

a) APAN’s decision means choosing to be shackled by the Zionist Lobby’s fraudulent ‘toxic’ propaganda that BDS is anti-semitic and calls for the destruction of Israel; it means normalising the indefensible status quo and allowing politicians to dictate strategies that reinforce the government’s anti-BDS policies.

b) APAN is not a political party and its weapon should be the honourable imitation of ‘sumoud’ – the Palestinian steadfastness to resist Israel’s violations of international law and war crimes.


c) Rather than keeping the APAN foot in doors of politicians paralysed by the anti-BDS party line, APAN should be vigorously encouraging closet-BDS-supporting politicians to follow Melissa Parke’s recent historic and magnificent tabling in parliament of the BDS petitions presented by Marcelo Svirsky; she is the first Australian politician to break ranks with party policy on BDS, and won’t be the last.


d) Solidarity with Palestine is not a popularity quest or a high-tea party, it is an ethical responsibility, that is also at the heart of Christian and union ideals, to end the literal life and death struggle of Palestine’s oppressed. Dr Slezak puts it beautifully:


“We have a responsibility to take the lead as the premier advocacy group precisely because we can make the most difference in generating a groundswell of public and political support for BDS by setting the example…  Our position places a responsibility on us. By accepting the “toxicity” argument we are permitting vilification and deceit to succeed. In doing so, we diminish our own standing and invite disdain even from our critics who will see our timidity as proving the effectiveness of their slanders. The response to the “toxicity” claim is our forthright stand on the high moral ground, asserting unimpeachable principles of peaceful protest and “ethical investment” on behalf of human rights and international law.”

*The Australian Friends of Palestine Association Adelaide, South Australia (scroll down for Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s support letter for AFOPA’s BDS activities.


** Australians for Justice and Peace in Palestine Canberra


*** Justice for Palestine Matters, Sydney


**** Justice for Palestine, Brisbane

First published in Intifada Palestine Countercurrents

Dr. Vacy Vlazna is Coordinator of Justice for Palestine Matters and editor of a volume of Palestinian poetry, I remember my name. She was Human Rights Advisor to the GAM team in the second round of the Acheh peace talks, Helsinki, February 2005 then withdrew on principle. Vacy was convenor of  Australia East Timor Association and coordinator of the East Timor Justice Lobby as well as serving in East Timor with UNAMET and UNTAET from 1999-2001.

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