2 March, 2011

How the anti-BDS protest jerked its knee and shot itself in the foot

Filed under: Current affairs,Jewish community by Joel @ 11:15 am, 2 March 2011.

The Jewish community is often accused of knee-jerk reactions regarding Israel, but I am embarrassed by how true it was in the case of a petition against Marrickville Council’s boycott of Israel. I do not know how many people added their names to the petition, but it was many more than the four family members who emailed it to me asking for my signature, and the 847 who shared the link with their friends on Facebook (five of them my Facebook friends).

Right from the moment I looked at the petition, I thought it too crude and propagandistic to even consider signing it, and I only expect the ministry that it is addressed to would think the same. After all, who would think a campaign entitled Reprimand the Terrorist-Sympathisers at Marrickville Council could succeed? It’s rude to call people names. Labelling someone a terrorist sympathiser shows that one has made no sincere attempt to understand their case, and would rather appeal to fear than to logic.

The petition preamble’s main argument continued along this fear-mongering line:

By this action, the ten councillors have formally aligned their municipality with terrorist organisations seeking to overthrow the State of Israel, the one free and democratic nation in the Middle East … In short, they have espoused totalitarian values over Australian democratic values.

What unconvincing nonsense! followed by references to “playing into the hands of the Islamist Global BDS Movement” and “supporting the worldview of totalitarian Islam”. Woah.

In its final paragraph, this preamble tries to ridicule the council’s departure from traditional local governance, which is much closer to the argument of Federal MP Anthony Albanese, and may be fair enough.

But perhaps the most ironic line of the petition preamble states that local governments “must never be seen to side with … totalitarian, anti-democratic religious fanatics”. The petition was written by an organisation called Q Society whose slogan is “Upholding Australian values”. I don’t know what Australian values are. We have borowed this term from the USA, but there they have a very different understanding of values as defined by their constitution and its Bill of Rights, patriotism to a flag representing those values, and modelling (as statues, for instance) their founding fathers and presidents as the ideologues of those values. I only know of “Australian values” being defined by labelling Australians and their actions as un-Australian, a term which can only be used by someone who has undemocratically divined what Australian means and where its boundaries lie. To me, use of the term un-Australian to label one’s political enemies is edging much closer to totalitarianism and anti-democracy than the political activism of Marrickville Council with the broad democratic-electoral consent of its constituents.

The mission statement of Q Society is summarised as “Pro-Egalitarianism + Pro-Freedom + Pro-Democracy + Pro-Western + Pro-Multi-Ethnic + Pro-Israel + Anti-Islam + Anti-Fascist + Anti-Totalitarian + Anti-Moral Relativity + Anti PC”. (I assume the petition preamble is an example of “Anti-PC” that means “fear-mongering is fine”.) But I don’t see how “Pro-Western + Pro-Multi-Ethnic + Pro-Israel + Anti-Islam” can be deemed anything but hypocritical, hateful, and a likely clue that Q Society are precisely what they claim to be against: religious fanatics.

Read Q Society’s mission statement and I hope you will agree that these are people who the Jewish community should fear rather than find affinity with, and certainly, we should not be running to climb aboard the petition bandwagon built by them.

The actual petition statement is written in very different terms to its preamble, which also makes it extremely suspect. Even if only that carefully-worded petition statement is submitted to the NSW Minister for Local Government, it is not hard for the recipient ministry to find the original fear-mongering nonsense that people read before signing it, especially after it has been so widely disseminated.

The foolishness that allowed this petition to be the largest campaign against Marrickville Council’s decision shot that campaign in the foot. How could anyone who saw that petition virally passed from inbox to inbox take it seriously, and consider its undersigned sincere, intelligent, discriminating people?

Boycotts do not work. If they have any impact at all on the target population, they harm the wrong people, affecting the poorest and disadvantaged first. (Academic boycotts are equally foolish, affecting the most critical voices within.)

But Marrickville Council is too small to make a difference on the ground, and they know it. Like many BDS campaigns, the Marrickville boycott’s main effect is to raise awareness in the community where the boycott is being made. The Jewish community response has brought it greater attention, and one could certainly argue that there is a lot that Jewish community members should become aware of and be thinking about before their automatic click-and-forward response.

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