In defence of the Greens

23 June 2024
Jasmine Duff

Labor and Liberal politicians, and nearly every major newspaper in the country, are running a smear campaign against the Australian Greens. The party has taken a strong stand against Israel’s genocide in Gaza, and the political establishment is therefore determined to punish it.

Foreign Minister Penny Wong and other Labor MPs have blamed the Greens for encouraging a series of actions at and attacks on Labor offices. Wong, during question time in early June, said that the Greens “engage in violent and aggressive protests and incite them”. Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus accused the party of “encouraging really riotous behaviour, sometimes violent behaviour”.

The Australian newspaper’s 6 June front page lead was “Party of anti-Semitism”, below which was a picture of Greens leader Adam Bandt. The same day, Liberal leader Peter Dutton said in a radio interview: “People need to have a conversation with their kids and their grandkids, with their next-door neighbours, just about how evil the current Greens party is”.

Labor’s smears reveal a faux progressive government flustered by the fact that broad left opinion is clearly against Israel’s offensive. Hundreds of thousands have marched against the complicity of Albanese and Wong—their unbreakable bond of solidarity with the apartheid state.

The Palestine solidarity movement has, for more than 30 weeks, sustained thousands-strong weekly demonstrations in major cities. The protests explicitly call out the Labor government for backing Israel. But the ALP are trying to pretend they’ve done nothing wrong, complaining that they’ve become a target for criticism only because of what they call “misinformation”, which, naturally, they also say is spread by the Greens.

That so-called misinformation includes Bandt’s entirely correct assertion that Labor awarded a $917 million contract to Israeli arms company Elbit Systems this year, as part of a project to build infantry vehicles for the Australian Army.

Elbit Systems manufactured the drone that killed Australian aid worker Zomi Frankcom in Gaza in April. In parliament, Bandt questioned Albanese over the deal. He and other Labor politicians performed extensive verbal gymnastics to dodge the question, lying about its content to avoid having to answer.

Last November, Greens senators walked out of parliament in protest against the Labor government’s complicity in Israel’s violence. Since then, Greens politicians and members have spoken at countless Palestine solidarity rallies around the country and in parliaments have defiantly worn keffiyehs, a symbol of Palestinian resistance. Bandt moved a motion in May that Australia recognise Palestinian statehood, and the house voted not even to discuss it.

Previously, the Greens had a mixed record on Palestine, and were riven with serious divisions over the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. In 2010, the NSW branch led the Marrickville Council in Sydney’s inner west to pass a motion supporting BDS, a position that members of the Greens’ NSW left such as Lee Rhiannon and David Shoebridge had long held.

After media backlash and a crackdown by more conservative Greens leaders including Bob Brown and Cate Faehrmann, the branch abandoned support for BDS. The party’s 2010 national conference specifically rejected BDS, and in 2012 then federal leader Christine Milne remarked in the Senate, “The Greens reject the BDS and have never supported it in any way”.

But last June, the party released a national position paper on Palestine. It acknowledges that Israel practises apartheid, and backs the BDS movement for the first time. The new position remains somewhat conservative—it supports the so-called two-state solution defined by the borders prior to Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. That purported “solution” has for several decades operated as a fig leaf over Israeli expansionism and denies the right of return to Palestinian refugees expelled from their homes in the 1948 Nakba. And it does nothing for the Palestinians living as second-class citizens in the Zionist state. But the broader shift of the party is nevertheless positive.

The Greens obviously have an agenda to relate to young progressives and Muslim voters. The party wants to pick up traditional Labor seats. But their intransigence on Palestine has had a positive effect on Australian politics. The party has helped to add legitimacy to the movement, given it a voice in parliament and repeatedly brought Palestine back into the news.

Palestine was an untouchable issue for most Australian progressives until the past few years. It was common to be “progressive except for Palestine”. White progressives in particular capitulated to Islamophobia and wouldn’t stand up to the politically motivated charges of antisemitism levelled against Palestine solidarity activists.

For decades, socialists were one of the only groups in Australia who consistently campaigned for Palestine alongside Arabs and Muslims. One of the main champions of Palestine within the Greens was former Senator Lee Rhiannon, who, unsurprisingly, has a socialist background.

Now, the tide has turned; large sections of progressive opinion finally support the Palestinian cause. But Australia’s key institutions still use their power and privilege to back Israel, including the Labor and Liberal parties, most of the media and the university bosses.

So, as the Greens withstand a smear campaign for the crime of opposing the mass slaughter of children, they ought to be defended.

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