Senator Eric Abetz – condemned the Labour Party for its “failure to strongly oppose the BDS campaign”

photo of Senator Eric Abetz
August 17, 2011

The truth is that Mr Rudd wilts when it comes to opposing those in his own party and in the union movement who support this vile BDS campaign.

Full speech

Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Opposition in the Senate) (18:34): I seek leave to move a motion in relation to the response by the Minister for Foreign Affairs that has just been tabled.

Leave granted.

Senator ABETZ: I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

I wish to briefly note the Minister for Foreign Affairs’ response to the motion passed by the Senate on 5 July relating to the ugly boycott, divestment and sanctions, or BDS, campaign against Israel. Mr Rudd needs to be unequivocal in his condemnation of this campaign, as does the government. Unfortunately, Mr Rudd wilted when it came to opposing those in his own party and the unions who are also supporting this vile campaign. The Senate motion which was carried noted with concern the resolution carried at the 2010 regional conference of the Queensland branch of the ALP to support the BDS campaign; initial support for the BDS campaign against Israel by four Labor councillors on Marrickville Council; the decision by the New South Wales ALP to preference Greens candidate and Marrick­ville mayor Fiona Byrne in the seat of Marrickville at the New South Wales state election; and reports that David Forde, convenor of Labor 4A Just Palestine, who supports the BDS campaign, is a frontrunner for ALP preselection for the Queensland state seat of Stretton.

The motion also denounced support linked to the BDS campaign against Israel by numerous unions and called upon the ACTU to oppose the BDS campaign. In an unpublished comment given to the Age, a spokesperson for Mr Rudd explained the government’s position thus:

The government has a longstanding practice of  not dealing with complex foreign policy matters through Senate resolutions and therefore did not support the motion as it was moved by Senator Abetz. The government proposed simpler lang­uage and was disappointed that Senator Abetz chose political point scoring rather than making a strong bipartisan statement in support of Israel.

For the record, Mr Rudd’s office never proposed simpler language. The evening before, Mr Rudd’s office implored the coalition to take the references to Labor’s support for BDS out of the motion. The next morning, Mr Rudd’s office said Labor would support the full motion. However, just prior to the debate, Mr Rudd’s office said they would not support it and would say that it was a complex foreign policy matter. In the House of Representatives Labor also voted to move sections of a similar motion condemning Greens and Labor Marrickville councillors who supported the BDS campaign. The truth is that Mr Rudd wilts when it comes to opposing those in his own party and in the union movement who support this vile BDS campaign. We see a similar double standard from the Foreign Minister in his reply to the resolution to support the BDS campaign that was carried at the 2010 regional conference of the Queensland branch of the Australian Labor Party, his own home division. In his reply he played up the government’s support for the Palestinian Authority and failed—and I stress this: failed—to dissociate himself from this motion’s support for the BDS campaign.

We now see Mr Rudd recommending to the Prime Minister that Australia abstain from the UN vote to recognise a Palestinian state. It is time Mr Rudd put principle ahead of politics. In his, if I might say, quite disrespectful letter to the Senate in response to the motion, he fails to refer to the detail of the Senate’s resolution and to the fact that all Labor senators shamefully voted against the motion. Labor and the minister stand con­demned for their vote in this place and for the minister’s response, which does not take the strong principled stance that I think the Australian people would want—that is, a strong stance against the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel, which has now shown itself with a demonstration outside a coffee shop because it is owned by Jewish interests. That this has come to pass in this country is unfortunately a result of the failure to strongly oppose the BDS camp­aign. People now think that they can demon­strate outside Jewish businesses in Australia to try to stop customers from going into the shop and doing business. I must say that it has hallmarks of events in the last century that I thought had been well and truly left behind.

The Labor Party does have to come to grips with this. There are many within the Labor Party who take very principled stands in this area. I simply refer to Mr Paul Howes of the Australian Workers Union—and I do not often quote him as an appropriate person. He has taken a strong stance on this and if he can one wonders why Mr Rudd and the rest of the Labor Party cannot.

Question agreed to.

Link to parliamentary Hansard