Australian Greens say Israel perpetrates the crime of apartheid

ctivists hold a large free palestine banner and flags in front of a statue and a neo-classical building

Activists wave the Australian Aboriginal flag and the Palestinian flag during an emergency rally to protest Israeli attacks on Palestinians at Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque, outside the State Library of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia, 25 April 2022. (Matt Hrkac/Flickr)

The Australian Greens have joined the growing consensus that Israel practices the crime of apartheid against the Palestinian people.

The party’s stance adopted earlier this month is drawing praise from Australia’s Palestinian community.

“The Greens are to be commended for their new policy position on Palestine and Israel,” according to Nasser Mashni, president of the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network (APAN).

“For too long Australian politics has been bogged down in the now defunct ‘two-state solution paradigm,’ it is well past time for Australian politics to speak to the facts on the ground,” Mashni adds. “Israel is guilty of apartheid.”

The Greens do not exactly break with the two-state solution, but they go beyond the usual peace process platitudes and stake out positions that are unusually radical in a US-aligned liberal democracy.

You can read the entire policy document below.

Right to resist

Notably, the Greens recognize that Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land is “settler-colonial in nature” and that Israel “continues to deny the right of self-determination of Palestinians and continues to dispossess them of their land.”

While the Greens call on “all parties” to comply with UN resolutions and international law, they recognize the inherent imbalance – that Israel, “as the sole state power exercising control over all Palestinians, has the primary obligation to comply with such laws.”

And while they “reject and condemn all forms of violence” by any party, especially against civilians, the Greens recognize “the right of the Palestinian people to resist Israeli occupation in accordance with international law.”

Crucially, for Palestinians, the Greens are clear about their support for the “right of return of Palestinian refugees and their descendants to their place of origin” in accordance with UN Resolution 194 and “support the establishment of international mechanisms” to make this happen.

Resolution 194 guarantees the right of return for Palestinian refugees or compensation for those choosing not to return.

Israel by contrast operates an explicitly racist policy which welcomes anyone it recognizes as Jewish from any country but bars the return of indigenous Palestinian refugees solely because they are not Jews.

Within Australia, the Greens call for an end to tax deductions for donations to organizations that facilitate Israel’s violations of Palestinian rights under the guise of charitable work – including settlement activity.

They also affirm that criticism of Israeli government policies and actions “is not anti-Semitic” and oppose the adoption of the so-called International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism “which conflates criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism.”

The IHRA, an organization made up of Israel and several dozen of its closest allies, has used the cover of Holocaust remembrance to legitimize and institutionalize a definition of anti-Semitism that has primarily been used to smear and censor supporters of Palestinian rights.

The Greens’ position is another sign of the growing international resistance to the imposition of the IHRA definition.

Israel lobby anger

Predictably, the Zionist Federation of Australia and the Israel lobby group AIJAC attacked the Greens’ new policy as motivated by hatred of Jews.

“This weaponization of anti-Semitism demeans the ZFA and AIJAC, whose influence is gradually declining, but more importantly it ignores undeniable facts on the ground in Palestine,” counters Antony Loewenstein, an Australian journalist and the author of the new book The Palestine Laboratory: How Israel Exports the Technology of Occupation Around the World.

It is arguable that organizations that have always acted as fronts for the brutal settler-colonial regime in Palestine can demean themselves any further, but what is clear is that they have run out of excuses even in Australia, where sympathy for Israel has historically been strong.

This appears to be changing, perhaps in step with Australia’s painfully slow and preliminary reckoning with its own settler-colonial past and present.

Changing attitudes about Australia’s colonial character put Australian defenders of Zionism in the awkward position of having to recognize settler-colonialism at home while denying it in Palestine.

The Zionist Federation of Australia, for instance, brags that it leads the way in acknowledging Aboriginal People and Torres Straits Islanders as the “traditional owners” of the land that became Australia.

At the same time, the pro-Israel group denies similar recognition to Palestinian Muslims and Christians who lived continuously in Palestine until their forced displacement by the self-described European Zionist colonial movement that began settling the land of the Palestinians in the 19th Century.

Attempting to square this circle, the Zionist Federation of Australia asserts that the Greens’ “suggestion that Israel is a colonialist country is a bigoted attempt to reject Jewish indigeneity to the land.”

Palestine a “vote winner”

APAN’s Mashni points out that support for Palestinian rights is increasingly a “vote winner” in Australia.

The Greens are not a major party, but they are gaining some ground electorally. They currently hold four seats in Australia’s lower house, 11 in its senate as well as a handful of seats in various state legislatures.

In a country where the balance of power can turn on a couple of seats, the hope among some activists will be that the Greens can push the ruling Labor Party, traditionally Australia’s major left of center party, to take more supportive positions on Palestinian rights.

There’s already evidence that the Greens are draining left-wing support from Labor, even among supporters of Israel.

By adopting a strong policy in support of Palestinian rights, the Greens “have really thrown down the gauntlet to the other major parties,” Mashni says.

Alongside their new policy, the Greens are calling on Australia’s government to boycott and sanction some of the most extreme figures in Israel’s ruling coalition, particularly Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich.

Small shifts

Since Labor won Australia’s last election in May 2022, the government of Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has slightly moderated the pro-Israel policies of his right-wing predecessors.

Notably, Albanese reversed Australia’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Australia also increased its contribution to UNRWA, the United Nations agency for Palestine refugees.

These minor steps enraged and alarmed Australia’s Israel lobby, which denies the existence of Palestinian refugees and falsely accuses UNRWA of promoting anti-Semitism.

Given how committed the Labor Party remains to Australia’s status as a minor outpost of a declining American empire, there’s little reason to expect too more from the Albanese government.

But that does not mean opinion within Australia is not changing.

“With this new policy in place, the Greens now must sell it to the Australian public beyond their own constituency,” Antony Loewenstein suggests.

“This should include organizing public events, rallies, films, social media activism and active lobbying to persuade an Australian population that is already increasingly supportive of Palestine.”