Genocide? Yes. Protests? No, says NSW government

14 October 2023
Josh Lees

As Israel carpet bombs and starves the population of Gaza, and prepares for a ground invasion that could unleash an unprecedented slaughter of civilians, governments in the West are whipping up a frenzied repression of Palestine supporters.

In France, Palestine protests have been banned outright, with protesters facing arrest or deportation. In Australia, Opposition Leader Peter Dutton has called for protesters who aren’t Australian citizens to be deported. In NSW, Premier Chris Minns has declared: “The idea they’re going to commandeer Sydney streets is not going to happen and I’m sure the NSW police will make that clear”.

NSW police are blocking demonstrators from marching and threatening to invoke extraordinary powers to harass and intimidate those showing solidarity with Palestine. These include the power to stop and search any individual or vehicle, without any reason, and the power to demand people produce identification—a particularly chilling and racist measure given Dutton’s call for deportations.

This follows a hysterical political climate whipped up by politicians and the media, depicting Palestine protesters as violent and anti-Semitic.

They have seized on an anti-Semitic chant by a tiny number of demonstrators at a protest in Sydney on 9 October to try to smear the whole cause. The chant took place after the rally organised by the Palestine Action Group had concluded, and by people who had arrived for a separately advertised event. It was immediately denounced by protest organisers, who told those involved to stop the chant and to leave.

The Palestine Action Group subsequently put out a strongly-worded statement condemning anti-Semitism and reaffirming: “This is not what our movement stands for. We oppose Zionism, an ideology distinct from Judaism. We oppose Israel, a racist state which has waged genocide on Palestinians. We are a anti-racist and anti-colonial movement and we refuse to fight racism with racism”.

The other purportedly great crime of protesters was to throw a few flares on the steps of the Opera House, which had been lit up with the Israeli flag—the flag of the country currently bombing their families. In the last fourteen years, Israel has massacred civilians in Gaza on five separate occasions. Not once has the Opera House or any other monument been lit up with the Palestinian flag.

It’s worth putting all this in perspective. The NSW government and the federal government are giving whole-hearted support to an apartheid state ruled by a far-right government—one with nuclear weapons, F16s and tanks—as it bombs and starves 2.3 million largely defenceless people, nearly half of whom are children. And they want to call Palestine protesters racist and violent?

We are witnessing a return to the racist tropes of the “war on terror”. Israel, we are told, represents civilisation, modernity, European values. Palestinians represent barbarism, savagery.

So dehumanised are the Palestinians—so absent are their lives, their stories, their suffering, and their deaths from the dominant narrative presented in the West—that the protests of Palestine supporters are presented as nothing but bloodthirsty celebrations of dead Israelis, the only victims that our media and politicians deem worthy of grieving and of avenging.

Protesters are not taking the repression lying down. Civil liberties organisations, unions, Muslim groups and the Greens in NSW have all stepped up to defend the right to protest against Israel’s crimes. The Palestine Action Group will be rallying this Sunday, despite police threats, and have vowed to take to the streets from next weekend.

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