The BDS movement involves a boycott of goods produced in Israel and of cultural and sporting exchanges with Israeli institutions, withdrawal of funds from institutions and companies that invest in or do significant business with Israel, and the implementation of government actions (sanctions) that indicate disapproval of Israeli policies in the illegally occupied Palestinian territories.
It is certainly not an issue that generates apathy. Since the resolution we have received considerable support, not only from residents but from further afield. There has also been some opposition.
Besides letters of support from members of Jews Against the Occupation, just today I received a phone message from someone in Tasmania who kindly took the time to let me know how much he supported Marrickville Council’s decision. We have also recently received a statement of support from Michael Pearson, Emetrius Professor of History at the University of New South Wales.
The resolution has attracted a variety of media attention. This week the state Member for Marrickville, Deputy Premier Carmel Tebbutt, commented on radio regarding Marrickville Council's capacity to instigate such a boycott. She asserted that Council should more appropriately focus on local issues. She was joined in her opposition today by Federal MP Anthony Albanese.
These comments, while perhaps holding the party line, are contradictory to the resolve of the local Labor Councillors, are out of step with the community view that Marrickville should speak out against injustice no matter where it occurs, and demonstrate a lack of understanding of how BDS is both relevant and applicable at a local government level.
Marrickville Councillors interact with the people we represent on a day to day level. We have spoken with many local residents, with community and multi-faith groups who have told us of their feelings towards the unresolved issue of Palestine and Israel and their desire to be able to take direct action.
Some Councillors from Marrickville have also had the opportunity to visit Palestine, and our sister city of Bethlehem, experiencing firsthand the day to day restrictions of the Palestinian people within their own country.
This decision to institute the BDS in Marrickville is well within Council's jurisdiction. Every day as an organisation we make decisions about who we will or will not do business with as we spend ratepayers' money to provide community services.
Just as our Council will not invest with companies who manufacture weapons, or who do business with the government of Burma, we will now look at who we do business with and whether they support the occupation of Palestine. I can envisage similar resolutions in the future addressing issues such as the use of child labour in cocoa farms in the Ivory Coast.
Council has not expressed an opinion about the future of Israel and whether Palestine should be a separate state. Rather, Council's concern is Israel's violation of the human rights of the Palestinian people, especially its blockade of Gaza and its establishment of illegal settlements on the West Bank, which are ongoing sources of conflict.
A handful of people have assumed that Marrickville Council’s support of BDS implies that we support a one-state solution to the conflict. This is not at all the case. The BDS is not an anti-Israel resolution. It is about identifying institutions that directly support the occupation of Palestine, and choosing not to do business with them.
BDS is not a fringe movement. Its impact is growing as the Israeli government continues to contravene international law. Growing numbers of prominent Australian unions back the BDS, such as the ETU, the AMWU and the CFMEU, as do most Palestinian Civil Societies, and a growing number of Jews and churches around the world.
Last week at least 165 Israeli professors signed a petition declaring a boycott on activities at the Ariel University Centre in the occupied West Bank declaring Ariel an “illegal settlement” which has the intention of preventing the Palestinian people from establishing an independent state.
At a hands-on level, Marrickville Council’s support of the BDS means taking a close look at and making ethical and informed choices about which businesses and institutions we engage with. The boycott of products and services has an immediate local impact, given that Council is a regular purchaser of goods and services on behalf of the community.
This month the European Union heavily criticized Israel in a statement to its Consuls General in Jerusalem. They cited “restrictive zoning and planning, ongoing demolitions and evictions, an inequitable education policy, difficult access to healthcare, (and) the inadequate provision of resources and investment.”
Many Australians remember how international boycotts and sanctions of South African goods in the 1980s helped to bring an end to apartheid. It is no accident that Archbishop Desmond Tutu is today one of the most outspoken critics of Israeli policies in Palestine and one of the principal advocates of the BDS movement.
In Marrickville we are fortunate to live free from fear of human rights violations, free from fear of dispossession of our land for new foreign settlements, and with access to basic goods and services to ensure safe and healthy living. We believe the people of Bethlehem, and of Palestine as a whole, are entitled to these freedoms too.
Marrickville Council supporting the BDS is a practical measure for our local area to communicate this to any institution which supports the occupation of Palestine.
Fiona Byrne is the Greens candidate for the electorate of Marrickville and the current Mayor of Marrickville Council.