Wednesday 20th of August 2014

a shameful & embarrassing display .....

a shameful & embarrassing display .....

In candid interview, Julie Bishop expresses scepticism about the peace process, says boycott Israel activists are ‘anti-Semitic’.

In a rare show of support for Israel’s settlement enterprise, Australia’s foreign minister has said that the international community should refrain from calling settlements illegal under international law, without waiting for their status to be determined in a deal with the Palestinians.

In an exclusive interview with The Times of Israel, Julie Bishop suggested that, contrary to conventional diplomatic wisdom, the settlements may not be illegal under international law. She refrained from condemning Israeli initiatives to build additional housing units beyond the Green Line or from calling on Israel to freeze such plans, merely saying the fact that settlements were being expanded showed the need for the sides to quickly reach a peace agreement.

“I don’t want to prejudge the fundamental issues in the peace negotiations,” Bishop said. “The issue of settlements is absolutely and utterly fundamental to the negotiations that are under way and I think it’s appropriate that we give those negotiations every chance of succeeding.”

Asked whether she agrees or disagrees with the near-universal view that Israeli settlements anywhere beyond the 1967 lines are illegal under international law, she replied: “I would like to see which international law has declared them illegal.”

The position that settlements breach international law — adopted by the United Nations Security Council, the European Union and many other states and international bodies, but rejected by Israel — is based on an interpretation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Article 49, paragraph 6, states that an occupying power “shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” Violations of the convention are considered war crimes under international law. Israel is a party to the convention and therefore bound by it.

“Our interest is in a negotiated peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians and we believe that every opportunity should be given to those negotiations to proceed to its solution,” said Bishop, who came to Israel on Monday to attend the funeral of former prime minister Ariel Sharon. “I don’t think it’s helpful to prejudge the settlement issue if you’re trying to get a negotiated solution. And by deeming the activity as a war crime, it’s unlikely to engender a negotiated solution.”

The issue of Israeli settlements should be determined in the course of the current US-brokered peace talks, she added.

Settlements are widely considered damaging to the peace process, with even Israel’s closest allies condemning Jewish construction in the West Bank. Canada, for example, officially considers them “a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention” and a “serious obstacle” to peace.

But since September, when the center-right Liberal Party of Prime Minister Tony Abbott came to power in Canberra, Australia has been going to great lengths to demonstrate staunch support for Jerusalem’s policy on the international stage. Under Bishop’s stewardship, Australia has changed its voting patterns at the UN in favor of Israel. While under her predecessor, Bob Carr, Canberra often supported anti-Israel resolutions at the UN General Assembly, she has had Australia oppose or abstain from several such measures.

In November, Australia was one of only eight countries to abstain in a vote on a resolution demanding that Israel cease “all Israeli settlement activities in all of the occupied territories.” Nearly 160 nations supported the resolution. In December, Australia was one of 13 countries that did not vote in favor of a resolution calling on Israel to “comply scrupulously” with the Geneva Convention (169 countries voted yes).

“I considered each one [of these votes] on its merit and looked at the totality of the resolutions on similar matters across the UN and I decided and asked the [Foreign Affairs and Trade] Department to take on my instructions accordingly that we would consider each resolution and ensure that what we’re doing was balanced,” Bishop told The Times of Israel in the interview. “The Australian government is confident that the position it has adopted is balanced. It’s not one-sided.”

The current Israeli-Palestinian peace talks “should be given any chance of succeeding,” the minister said, yet she sounded pessimistic when asked how realistic were the prospects of a final-status deal.

Citing regional turmoil, Bishop appeared to echo her Israeli counterpart, Avigdor Liberman, who often argues that it is foolish to seek to lay the foundation for a new building amid an earthquake.

“I wonder whether the timing will work against us, given the instability in the region, with Syria and Lebanon and Jordan and Egypt and Iraq,” she said. “The peace process is a challenge in and of itself. But in these current times, in this current context, I expect it will be even more challenging.”

Bishop also condemned what she said was excessive pressure exerted on Israel by Western states and civil society, including the threat of boycotts.

"Israel has to be ever vigilant against such tendencies on the part of the international community,” the minister said. While private organizations were free to boycott whomever they wanted, any Australian body that received state funding should be barred from calling for boycotts, she continued.

She also strongly condemned the global anti-Israel BDS movement: “It’s anti-Semitic. It identifies Israel out of all other nations as being worthy of a boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign? Hypocritical beyond belief.”

During the interview, conducted Monday at Jerusalem’s King David Hotel, Bishop also denied that the so-called “Prisoner X” affair surrounding Ben Zygier, a Melbourne-born Mossad operative who killed himself in an Israeli high-security prison cell in 2010, led to strained bilateral relations.

“I don’t believe that it caused diplomatic tensions between Australia and Israel — far from it,” she said.

The circumstances of the affair are still somewhat unclear. Zygier is said to have embarked on a one-man rogue mission after he failed to satisfy his  Mossad handlers. He was then reportedly arrested in Israel after  unwittingly leaking sensitive information to a Hezbollah operative that led to the arrests of Israeli assets spying on Hezbollah in Lebanon.

After the story first broke last February, Carr, the then-Australian foreign minister, ordered an internal investigation. “We have asked the Israeli government for a contribution to that report,” Carr said at the time. “We want to give them an opportunity to submit to us an explanation of how this tragic death came about,” he said.

Bishop, who at the time served as Australia’s deputy opposition leader, met with Israel’s Ambassador to Australia Yuval Rotem  to discuss the episode.

“If Mr. Zygier was using his Australian passports while working for Mossad, and that use was approved, I would expect the Australian government to be registering a protest with the government of Israel,” Bishop said in March. She also censured her government for failing to act in the same decisive manner as in 2010, when Canberra expelled the Mossad station chief in Australia, after Israeli agents used Australian passports in an operation to assassinate senior Hamas official Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh in Dubai.

But on Monday, Bishop didn’t initially recall having expressed any disapproval of Israeli actions over the Prisoner X affair. “As far as I recollect, I made no statement critical of Israel,” she said. Only after her quote from last year was read to her did she remember having publicly demanded explanations from Jerusalem.

"I never got an answer,” she said laughingly, adding that the topic did not come up in her meetings with Israeli officials during her first visit as foreign minister this week. During a stay of less than 24 hours, she met with Liberman and Intelligence Affairs and International Relations Minister Yuval Steinitz.

Last year, Bishop said, she asked why Australia had a “vastly different response” to two cases of suspected abuse of Australian passports by Israeli intelligence officers. “I’ll have to get a briefing on whether or not the Israeli government has come back to Australia with details of that. And I expect that even if we ask, there won’t be an answer.”

Australia Foreign Minister: Don’t Call Settlements Illegal Under International Law

great expectations .....

Australian academics concerned about our disregard for human rights abuses should follow the lead of their colleagues in America and elsewhere, and boycott Israel, writes Stuart Rees.

At the end of 2013, the UN General Assembly voted by a margin of 110 to 7, to proclaim 2014 as International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian people. The seven votes in opposition included Israel, the US, Canada, Pacific Island nations and Australia. 

At the beginning of 2014, the Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop again put Australia in the international minority by questioning the illegality of Israeli settlements, saying, “I would like to see which international law has declared them illegal.” Bishop branded the Palestinian initiated Boycott, Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement as anti-Semitic. 

By supporting the BDS movement, which promotes Palestinians’ rights to self-determination, Australians working in tertiary education could challenge this "who cares about human rights" attitude. Academic organisations in the USA and the UK have already shown how to mount such a challenge.    

In early 2013 the US Council of Native American and Indigenous Studies Association (NAISA) endorsed by a unanimous vote the call to all members of NAISA to honour the boycott call in the BDS movement. In April 2013, the Association for Asian American Studies also endorsed the BDS movement and in December the American Studies Association voted by a ratio of more than 2-1 to boycott Israeli academic institutions which contribute to human rights abuses including the occupation of Palestinian land.

American academics’ support for the BDS movement is explained in numerous articles and letters written by prestigious professors, many of them Jewish. In New York’s Jewish Daily Forward of 19 December, Eric Cheyfitz, Professor of American Studies and Humane Letters at Cornell University wrote,

“I have an immediate interest in a just outcome for the Palestinian people, which would also be a just outcome for the state of Israel. Simply put, I want my grandchildren to grow up in a democracy, not in a state that proclaims itself a democracy while denying human rights to a population under its control - a population that has the right to a sovereign state of its own on territory currently under the colonial domination of Israel.”

In the LA Times, Carolyn Karcher, Professor Emerita of English at Temple University wrote that after a recent visit to Israel “I was profoundly shaken by the brutality I saw toward Palestinians [and therefore] I feel more strongly than ever the urgency of taking a stand in solidarity with Palestinians and their besieged Israeli allies.”

Frances Boyle, Professor of Law at Harvard wrote to the President of that university, “Harvard should be doing something about its own long standing bigotry and racism against the Palestinians, not criticising those of us trying to help the Palestinians suffering from Israeli persecution, war crimes, crimes against humanity and outright genocide.”

In Australia, collective support for the BDS movement could be registered through unions and/or by professional associations such as those representing psychologists or engineers, sociologist, lawyers or doctors. 

But if any individual or organisation dares to support BDS, they should expect to be abused for doing so. Such abuse is part of the Israeli government’s public relations campaign to present Israel as a victim of terrorism and BDS supporters as wanting to de-legitimise the Israeli state.  

As soon as the American Studies Association voted in favour of the academic boycott, their Facebook page received an avalanche of abusive postings. Individual academics across the USA received threatening phone calls and letters. Academics were warned by senior management that by supporting votes in favour of BDS, their careers could be jeopardised. In vindictive establishment circles it seems that nothing provokes official abuse as much as Israeli policies being criticised and Palestinians being supported.

In her LA Times article, Karcher acknowledged that students and faculty who challenge the dominant view of Israel, “risk baseless accusations of anti-Semitism, arrest, blacklisting or denial of tenure, promotion or academic positions”.

In addition to the prospects of a backlash, prospective supporters of the BDS movement will need to be prepared to answer the question, “Why single out Israel?” They will also have to respond to the predictable charges that the BDS movement is opposing academic freedom.

In response to the first question, I could highlight campaigns which the organisations I have represented have waged over human rights abuses in Zimbabwe, Iran, Sri Lanka and West Papua. Such defensiveness is unnecessary. The BDS movement is about Israel, a country that maintains a brutal occupation of another people. The BDS movement is civil society’s responsibility because governments have not had the courage to abide by the international laws to which they say they subscribe. Israel is also unique in terms of the massive military aid - over $3 billion last year - which it receives from a country which has always vetoed any UN resolutions which have condemned Israel’s abuses of human rights.

The claim that BDS supporters limit the freedom of Israeli academics might have merit if academic freedom means you support anyone from any institution under any circumstances.

Such an argument might be plausible if all students and academics were free to engage with others, to publish and to enjoy the political and financial resources that give substance to an otherwise abstract notion. This means that the freedom of engagement available to Israeli universities should be enjoyed by all the neighbouring Palestinian students and staff. That has never happened.           

Renowned Jewish scholar Professor Judith Butler argues that academic freedom is valuable if and when it “works in concert with opposition to state violence, ideological surveillance and the systematic devastation of everyday life.”

Karcher says, “Far from curtailing academic freedom, the ASA has extended it in new directions by fostering an honest discussion about the Israel occupation of Palestinian lands and the role of the US in enabling it.”

In his defence of the boycott of Israeli academic institutions, the President of ASA, Associate Professor Curtis Marez, says of the BDS movement, “The Palestinians are merely doing what the international community including President Obama, have repeatedly called on Palestinians to do - embrace non-violent means in their struggle for freedom and self-determination.”

Given the strength of the Zionist Lobby in America and successive US governments’ unwavering support for Israeli policies towards the Palestinians, the stands taken by US academics should encourage Australians. We don’t always have to imitate Americans but following their lead on this issue would at least show a modicum of outrage about massive injustices.      

As citizens of a privileged country, Australian academics can remain preoccupied with their own careers, relatively untouched by the demands facing staff and students in other parts of the world. But in the case of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, they could at least inquire into the cruelties meted out to Palestinians on the West Bank, in Gaza and in those medieval refugee camps in Lebanon.

Australian academics’ support for the BDS movement will require learning about the meaning and merits of this campaign. It will require reflection on the role of the intellectual in public life. It will ask individuals to summon the courage to take a small risk, by standing up and speaking out.

How will they respond?  

Australian Academics Should Stand Up For Palestine