Grand Mufti moves to mobilise Muslim vote

Apr 26, 2019

The Australian Financial Review

“Labor dumped human rights lawyer Melissa Parke as its candidate for the marginal Western Australian seat after reports that she had called Israel’s treatment of Palestine “worse than the South African system of apartheid,” writes Bo Seo.

By Bo Seo

The Grand Mufti of Australia has convened an election forum to advocate for the interests of Muslim Australians, as community leaders press for action on Islamophobia in the aftermath of the Christchurch shooting.Islamophobia is not the only item on the agenda. The event invitation also lists social policy, employment and climate change as key interests.

But Australian National Imams Council spokesman Bilal Rauf estimated that combating hatred and vilification was “by far the most important issue” for the community.

“[Christchurch] highlights that words matter, and that they result in consequences … the people who are most vulnerable are women and children,” he said.

Grand Mufti Dr Ibrahim Abu Mohammed has convened a forum to promote the interests of Muslim Australians. Steven Siewert

Grand Mufti Ibrahim Abu Mohamed has previously called on the Prime Minister to enact anti-discrimination laws comparable to those prohibiting anti-Semitic speech.

Liberal Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, Labor member Tony Burke, and Greens leader Richard Di Natale will speak at the forum.

The organisers said their “objective is to present a positive and powerful impression on the Australian leadership, by the participation of Australian Muslims in the elections”.

But community leaders said they recognised the limits of their political leverage.

Islamic Council of Western Australia representative Zouber Sayed said Muslim groups had limited resources in terms of “funding and political alliances”, in addition to a relatively small population.

As of the 2016 census, 2.6 per cent of Australians identified as Muslims.

They comprised as much as 29 per cent of the electorate in Blaxland and 23 per cent in Watson, both in Western Sydney. These were safe Labor seats, held respectively by Jason Clare and Tony Burke.

Mr Rauf said that on issues such as protections from hate speech, politicians claimed to recognise the problem but failed to act.

“It’s a problem of political will and momentum,” he said.

The Australian National Imams Council has urged their 200 registered imams to use the Friday sermons to stress the importance of responsible voting.

The Curtin incident

Some Muslim and pro-Palestinian groups said their frustrations had been compounded by the Labor Party’s decision to abandon its candidate in Curtin over her remarks condemning Israel.

The Australia Palestine Advocacy Network (APAN) said the move was an “outrage”.

“Is it now a sin to criticise Israel? Is it against the law?”

“Isn’t that what you want from politicians: the guts to tell the truth of what they saw on the ground?” APAN vice president Bassam Dally said.

Labor dumped human rights lawyer Melissa Parke as its candidate for the marginal Western Australian seat after reports that she had called Israel’s treatment of Palestine “worse than the South African system of apartheid”.

Co-chief executive of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry Peter Wertheim rejected the claim that Ms Parke’s dismissal would deter criticism of Israel.

He focused instead on an opposite chilling effect: the harassment of Jewish organisations to deter them from speaking out against “false or misleading claims about Israel”.

“They want to intimidate us into silence. It’s outrageous to suggest that we don’t have the same rights as every other citizen to support or criticise our politicians’ statements,” he said.

APAN planned to campaign around the federal election under its recurring theme, “I support Palestine and I vote”.

Mr Sayed, who is a member of the Labor Party and a resident of the electorate that neighbours that of Parke, said he was disappointed in his party’s decision.

But he said he would not stop advocating for issues of importance to Muslims.

“The only way to have your voice heard is through social, political and economic action. It’s to be an active participant, rather than to keep yourself distant.

“There’s a lot of work to do,” he said.

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