Aboriginal journalist Stan Grant told the ABC’s Recognition: Yes or No? program on 20 September: “I have been to Israel and I have seen the sense of Jewish belonging, whether you are an Ethiopian Jew or a Russian Jew or an American Jew, with a whole range of ethnicities and everything else around it that coalesce around a sense of belonging and kinship”.
Grant was attempting to highlight the resilience of Aboriginal identity in the aftermath of European colonisation. But this praise for Israel shockingly ignored the Palestinian people and the fact that, like Australia, Israel is a settler colonial society in which the indigenous population has endured invasion, colonisation and dispossession.
Israel, far from being a society that embraces all ethnicities, is an apartheid state.
It isn’t as if Grant isn’t aware of this, having reported on the Palestine-Israel conflict at different times during his career. And it isn’t as if he doesn’t understand what settler colonialism entails. In October last year, he eloquently spoke about the impact of settler colonialism on Aboriginal Australia, noting: “The Australian Dream is rooted in racism. It is the very foundation of the dream. It was there at the birth of the nation. It is there in terra nullius. An empty land. A land for the taking”.
The history of Israel is no different, its establishment being rooted in the racist dispossession of the Palestinian Arab population. Like Australia, Palestine was also deemed an “empty land” by the Zionists who founded Israel, proclaiming it to be “a land without people, for a people without land”.
The similarities between Australia and Israel should come as no surprise. Settler colonial societies are a distinct type of imperialist formation, which are premised on the racist elimination of the indigenous population through various means, including ethnic cleansing, genocide and/or assimilation.
All settler colonial states are characterised by massive inequalities that often are codified in law and built structurally into the economic, social and political system, ensuring that the settler population is legally, socially and politically privileged over the indigenous population.
In Australia, Indigenous people continue to be the most disadvantaged group in the country, including in health, education and employment. Indigenous people also have the highest rates of incarceration, making up one-quarter of the prison population, despite being less than 3 percent of the total population.
Palestinians similarly face structural racism, oppression and disadvantage. Four million Palestinians currently live under Israel’s brutal military occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. Five million live in exile due to Israel’s ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948.
In addition, 1.5 million Palestinians living inside Israel, despite being citizens, face daily discrimination and apartheid. According to Adalah – the Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel – more than 50 discriminatory laws have been enacted since 1948 in relation to political participation, access to land, education, state budget resources, criminal procedures, employment, property and family matters, such as marriage and family reunification.
Grant’s whitewashing of Israeli apartheid, while shocking, is unsurprising. While he has often been an eloquent advocate for Aboriginal people, Grant has also promoted himself as a diplomat and pragmatist who seeks “equilibrium and balance” so that Australia can “come together”.
In doing so, he has repeatedly tried to find some sort of mythical common ground between Aboriginal people and their oppressors. Such diplomacy does not eradicate racism. It gives it comfort.
Similarly, by holding Israel up as a beacon of cohesion and inclusivity, Grant is giving comfort to an apartheid regime, deliberately whitewashing its settler colonial history and disappearing the Palestinians.
Rather than Indigenous people lauding Israel, as Grant wants us to do, we need to recognise that the Palestinian people’s history is our history and vice versa. By standing in solidarity with the Palestinians and recognising our commonalities, we will not only strengthen both our struggles. We will also take both our people one step closer to winning justice, human rights and self-determination.
Kim Bullimore is a Murri activist from north Queensland. She has been active in the struggle for Aboriginal rights for over two decades and in the Palestine solidarity movement for more than 15 years, including working in the occupied Palestinian territories