Senate clampdown on liberation slogan is dangerous, anti-democratic overreach

May 16, 2024

The Australia Palestine Advocacy Network (APAN) is appalled that a motion conflating Palestinian words of liberation with antisemitism has passed the Senate today, with both the Labor and Liberal parties teaming up to support it.

The motion, which passed 56 votes to 12, with only the Australia Greens and Independent Senators Lidia Thorpe and David Pocock opposing it, states, “that the slogan ‘from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free’ opposes Israel’s right to exist, and is frequently used by those who seek to intimidate Jewish Australians via acts of antisemitism.” 

This echoes the words of Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who this morning criticised Senator Fatima Payman for invoking this cry for justice yesterday, as she called out the government for its inaction over Israel’s genocide in Gaza.

This move to contort the words of a liberation movement that is advocating for an end to Israeli apartheid in Palestine and for the global values of freedom and equality for all, represents dangerous anti-democratic overreach on the part of both the major parties.

It should be disturbing to every person on this continent that Australia’s two major political parties have taken this stance and are colluding to clamp down on freedom of speech.

The call for freedom from the river to the sea is a call for equality and for justice that Israel, with the backing of western powers, has for too long now violently withheld from 14 million Palestinians.

Australians, in their hundreds of thousands, have joined millions across the world in using these words to cry out in rejection of Israel’s apartheid, oppression and ongoing violations of international law and human rights.

It’s a bitter irony that in passing this motion, the Senate has willfully overlooked and failed to condemn the genocidal violence that Israel is committing in Gaza right at this moment, and Israel’s apartheid, oppression and control of every element of Palestinians’ lives.

Quotes attributed to APAN President Nasser Mashni:

This motion reads as if it was scripted by Zionist lobby groups, in yet another desperate bid to shrink the space for Palestinians and civil society groups to defend human rights, and to divert attention from the real issue at hand – that Israel is, in broad daylight and with the support and resourcing of western governments, committing brutal genocide in Gaza.

Our liberation cry, “from the river to the sea” is a call for equal rights and justice for all, which sits in stark contrast to the genocidal words and actions of the Israeli Government, which has implemented racist policies of apartheid to strip Palestinians of rights, self-determination and life, for 76 years.

We are alarmed that the Australian Senate has today taken this step to try and silence the Palestinian justice movement, and to shore up Zionist Israel’s oppression of Palestinians.  

It’s in this context that we applaud Senator Fatima Payman for her humanity, courage and commitment to the principles of international law, particularly at a time when we’re seeing the space for public debate and public political action chipped away at by our two major parties.

Senator Payman has opened the door for the Australian community and other elected representatives to stand up for freedom and human rights, and the Prime Minister must step through this door with us, not slam it shut in our faces.