Socialist local councillors take on Labor over Palestine

1 December 2023
Liz Walsh

Socialist representatives in local government have led a push for councils to take a stand against Israel’s war on Gaza. Opposing them have been Labor Party councillors.

On Tuesday 21 November Maribyrnong Council in Melbourne’s inner west voted up a motion on “supporting peace in Gaza and Palestine”. The motion was moved by Victorian Socialists councillor Jorge Jorquera and gained the support of two Greens councillors and a nominal independent. It was opposed by the three Labor councillors.

Maribyrnong was the second council in Victoria to pass a motion against Israel’s war on Palestine. In early November, Merri-bek Council in Melbourne’s inner north voted up a motion moved by Socialist Alliance councillor Sue Bolton. It too was supported by Greens and independent councillors but opposed by those from the Labor Party. On 27 November a motion calling for a permanent ceasefire and “an end to illegal occupation of the Palestinian Territories” was voted up by Greens and independent councillors on Dandenong Council too.

Jorquera’s motion called on the federal government to advocate for an immediate ceasefire and an end to Israel’s indiscriminate bombing, as well as an end to the siege on Gaza and the illegal occupation of Palestinian land. It also committed Maribyrnong Council to flying the Palestinian flag on a council building and a council boycott of businesses that profit from Israel’s occupation—in line with the call from Palestinian civil society organisations for a global movement of boycott, divestment and sanctions.

In an emotional speech at the council meeting, Jorquera highlighted the terrible death toll of children in Gaza. “I do not recall”, he said, “such a politically and ideologically motivated and calculated genocide as that which the Israeli state is now carrying forth”.

When the motion passed, cries of “free, free Palestine” rang out loudly and jubilantly from a crowd of supporters who had gathered to urge the councillors to stand on the right side of history. While motions like this won’t liberate Palestine, they are a means of increasing the pressure on all levels of government to stop backing Israel’s crimes.

The celebration, however, was short lived. A mere 24 hours after the Maribyrnong motion passed there was a push to overturn it.

The motion succeeded with the support of Anthony Tran, who was elected as an independent councillor but who consistently votes with the three Labor councillors to provide them with a majority. In speaking in favour of the motion he pointed to the sustained mass protests for Palestine as evidence of community support.

However, Tran quickly backflipped, submitting a motion the following day to “rescind supporting peace in Gaza and Palestine” that was co-signed by the Labor councillors. It seems—although he has not responded to media requests for comment—that a little pressure from them was enough for him to go to water.

When speaking against the peace motion, Labor councillors argued that opposing war is not council business. Jorquera, however, pointed out that no such qualms were expressed when, last year, 1,000 local councillors attending the National General Assembly of Local Government voted unanimously for a motion against Russian aggression and “in solidarity with the people of Ukraine”.

Another argument they tried was that speaking out against Israel’s war crimes harms “social cohesion”. The double standard is equally clear here. Why is it damaging to social cohesion when Palestine supporters speak out against Israel’s crimes, but not damaging when the Australian government speaks out in defence of them, or even provides Israel with material support in carrying them out? But of course it’s not really about social cohesion at all—it’s about silencing the pro-Palestinian side so that Israel’s crimes, and the government’s support for them, can continue with impunity.

Attempts to pass ceasefire motions in New South Wales—in the Inner West and Bayside councils—have also been blocked by Labor councillors. At every level, from federal to local council politics, Labor is proving itself to be an enemy of justice for the Palestinians, and a loyal ally of Israel and of US imperialism.

In most places, most of the time, they will—with the support of the Liberals and other conservatives—be able to win these votes. But they don’t speak for the growing number of people who recognise the horror and barbarity of what Israel is inflicting on the Palestinians today. The past two months have been grim. What has filled our hearts with hope has been the hundreds of thousands of people who have taken to the streets around Australia, turning grief into productive rage and love for humanity.

The motion to rescind Maribyrnong’s anti-war stance will be debated at the next council meeting on 12 December. Victorian Socialists is organising a community rally outside the meeting to send a clear message in support of the original motion, for peace and against Israel’s ongoing genocide in Gaza. The rally details can be found here.

protest details

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