Dr. Hanan Mikhail Ashrawi is a woman, a professor of English, an international human rights activist, and a politician. A year ago she was chosen, unanimously, to receive the 2003 Sydney Peace Prize. The Premier, Bob Carr, will present Ashrawi with her award at State Parliament in 12 days. The first four recipients of the annual prize were honoured at functions in the Great Hall of Sydney University. They included South Africa’s Archbishop Desmond Tutu (1999), East Timor’s President Xanana Gusmao (2000) and Australia’s Sir William Deane (2001). However, for Ashrawi, the Great Hall is out of bounds.
This is not because Ashrawi is either a woman, an academic or a political activist. It is because she is a Palestinian. That is enough to ensure a virulent campaign of distortion and ridicule by Jewish critics to brutalise her image and try to have Carr renege on Ashrawi’s presentation and the award taken from her. So far Carr has refused to buckle. Not so Sydney University.
Earlier this year the university’s chancellor, Justice Kim Santow of the NSW Supreme Court, made it known to Professor Stuart Rees, director of the Sydney Peace Foundation, and to Kathryn Greiner, the foundation’s chairwoman at the time, that the Great Hall would be closed to Ashrawi. Rees and an academic colleague, Ken McNabb, took the matter to Sydney’s vice-chancellor, Gavin Brown. In what was called a “difficult and shameful” meeting, Brown confirmed the decision. The campaign now is about maximum political pressure for other corporate and civic sponsors to abandon Ashrawi and intimidate Carr.
Lucy Turnbull, Sydney’s Lord Mayor since Frank Sartor joined Carr’s ministry after the NSW elections in March, is the latest to fold her tent and take flight. Sartor, as lord mayor, had earlier arranged for the City of Sydney to be a $30,000 annual sponsor, for five years, of the Peace Foundation lecture, which is always given, in a separate function, by the peace prize winner the night before the award ceremony on the first Thursday in November.
On Tuesday this week, in a brief “Dear Professor Rees” letter dated October 20, Turnbull told Rees the Sydney City Council “will be unable to participate in this year’s Peace Prize events”. That is, the council was blackballing both the lecture and the award ceremony. Turnbull’s reasons for doing so were a travesty: the usual ignorant mishmash of allegations forever trotted out by the usual suspects against any Palestinian with international credibility and standing in the peace process.
Lucy Turnbull should read the letter from a Jewish academic at Oxford University published in the Herald yesterday. Then she should go hide her head in shame. The letter responded to Tony Stephens’s story in the Herald two days earlier about Turnbull’s craven cave-in to the anti-Ashrawi campaign. It said: “Opposition to awarding the Sydney Peace Prize to Dr Hanan Ashrawi has so far been based on historical ignorance, ideological blindness, wilful malevolence or provincial political opportunism.” (Are you listening, Malcolm?)
The letter continued: “Dr Ashrawi has been a rare and precious voice of reason in the peace process and her commitment to a just solution has been exemplary. She has consistently encouraged Palestinians to reject violence, despite continuing Israeli territorial expansion and systemic political oppression.” (signed) Ben Saul, Tutor in International Law, Magdalen College, University of Oxford, England.
And what does Rees think of Lucy’s white feather? He said yesterday: “When I negotiated the sponsorship contract with the City of Sydney, I did so with Frank Sartor, not Lucy Turnbull. She’s an interesting person. I’ve had face-to-face communications with all the major corporate sponsors who support us over this issue. I even flew down to Melbourne to talk to Rio Tinto. But Lucy Turnbull and co are like the Medicis of the Town Hall. She never talks to me. All I got was this summary note a couple of days ago in which, for her own purposes, she completely misinterprets Ashrawi’s public statements and says she won’t publicly support us this year.
“In other words, she won’t be seen in the same company as Ashrawi. She doesn’t even want to be seen in the lecture theatre. Apparently it’s more than her husband’s political life is worth.”
Ah, yes, of course - Malcolm Turnbull’s much publicised stalking of the Liberals’ Peter King in his pursuit of the eastern suburbs’ federal seat of Wentworth. Lucy Turnbull has gone to ground since her “Dear John” letter to Rees this week. But a senior business figure phoned Rees on Tuesday to tell him of a conversation he’d overheard at a function the previous night. It apparently included Lucy being told something like: “That wretched King is going around saying you support the Palestinians because you’re a party to this peace prize.”
Rees commented: “So Hanan Ashrawi gets her name sullied and ridiculed because the Turnbulls want to be more important that they already are.”
And Kathryn Greiner? Greiner was chairwoman of the Sydney Peace Foundation for four years until her resignation this year over an issue of solidarity involving her husband, Nick, against the Senate of Sydney University and unconnected with the peace prize bitchiness. She was one of the jury of six who selected Ashrawi unanimously in September last year as this year’s recipient (the other five: Rees; social researcher Hugh Mackay; Dr Jane Fulton from University management; Stella Cornelius, Sydney’s 83-year-old grand dame of conflict mediation; James McLachlan, a director of Kerry Packer’s PBL).
Greiner remains a non-voting member in support of Rees. But two weeks ago, on October 9, she phoned Rees to talk frankly about her concerns with an accelerating campaign against Ashrawi. A file note of their conversation reads: KG: “I have to speak logically. It is either Hanan Ashrawi or the Peace Foundation. That’s our choice, Stuart. My distinct impression is that if you persist in having her here, they’ll destroy you. Rob Thomas of City Group is in trouble for supporting us. I think he must have had a phone call from New York. And you know Danny Gilbert [partner in the law firm, Gilbert and Tobin] has already been warned off.”
SR: “You must be joking. We’ve been over this a hundred times. We consulted widely. We agreed the jury’s decision, made over a year ago, was not only unanimous but that we would support it, together.”
KG: “But listen, I’m trying to present the logic of this. They’ll destroy what you’ve worked for. They are determined to show we made a bad choice. I think it’s Frank Lowy’s money. You don’t understand just how much opposition there is. We cannot go ahead. If only there was progress in the Middle East, this would not be such a bad time.”
SR: “I won’t be subject to bullying and intimidation. We are being threatened by members of a powerful group who think they have an entitlement to tell others what to do. This opposition is orchestrated. The arguments are all the same - that Hanan Ashrawi has not condemned violence sufficiently, that she was highly critical of Israel in her address to the UN’s Johannesburg Conference on racism, and wilder accusations that do not bear repetition.”
KG: “But you’re not listening to the logic. The Commonwealth Bank - I was at a reception last night - is highly critical. We could not approach them for financial help for the Schools Peace Prize. We’ll get no support from them. The business world will close ranks. They’re saying we are being one-sided, that we’ve only supported Palestine.”
SR: “Kathryn, we need to avoid the trap of even using the language of ‘one side’. That’s not the issue. We are being bullied and intimidated and you are asking that we give way to it. The letter writers and the phone callers who this group encourage have spent weeks bullying a 25-year-old colleague of mine who handles the foundation’s administration. You are asking me to collude with bullying.”
KG: “I’ll tell you how serious this is. Bob Carr won’t come to the dinner. He’ll flick the responsibility to [his deputy, Andrew] Refshauge at the last minute. And you won’t get the Town Hall. It is more than Lucy’s life is worth. They will desert us as well.”
SR: “I’ve never given way to bullying. Public life is too much characterised by cowardice. If we give way I’d be so ashamed I couldn’t face myself. The image of the Peace Foundation would be shameful. Our reputation would count for nothing.”
KG: “My friend, I am telling you what the reality is. The foundation will be destroyed. I’d hate to see its work come to nothing over this. Our critics are saying it’s an awful choice.”
SR: “These critics are ‘they’ and ‘them’, invisible but powerful people. They stay powerful because they are invisible. They bully and intimidate in the same breath they behave as unblemished pillars of the community. Do you mean to say that in cautious, often gutless Australia we are not going to follow through on this? No. I remain completely committed to our decision.”
Watch this space.
This story was found at: http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2003/10/24/1066974313719.html