Julie Bishop MP – moved motion condemning BDS campaign

photo of Julie Bishop MP
October 31, 2011

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.

Full speech

Ms JULIE BISHOP (CurtinDeputy 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.

Link to parliamentary Hansard