Melissa Parke Breaks Labor Ranks To Back BDS Campaign Against Israel


Labor MP Melissa Parke has defended the controversial Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign in a speech to parliament, rejecting accusations the movement to force Israel into ending its occupation of Palestine is anti-Semitic and describing it as “a perfectly acceptable form of protest”.

Sandwiched between discussions on health care spending and Melbourne’s East West Link, Parke delivered a rapidly spoken address late on Monday night.

“What I am to say today will likely not be popular in this place or indeed in the wider community,” Parke said.

“However, there comes a time when the injustices have so mounted up that plain speaking becomes a duty.”

Parke took aim at the ongoing expansion of Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian territory and the death toll resulting from the most recent bombing of Gaza.

“Recent events have left more than 2,000 Palestinians in Gaza dead and thousands more injured, while more than a million Palestinians—who are a proud, educated and enterprising people—are dependent on food aid and there is a massive damage bill to be picked up again by the international community,” she said.

“Meanwhile settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem continues apace, each build putting a further nail in the coffin of the two-state solution.”

The Fremantle MP also presented a petition to parliament accusing Israel of “persisting in apartheid and oppressive actions” and asking members to exclude relations with Israel through the boycott, divestment, and sanctioning of states and companies involved in “the perpetuation of discriminatory Israeli policies” including the occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza.

The campaign, generally known as BDS, has caused tensions in Labor before and embroiled Marrickville Council in 2011.

Parke’s petition was presented on behalf of Marcelo Svirsky, a former Israeli soldier and academic at the University of Wollongong, who walked from Sydney to Canberra to hand up the document.

“I’m an Israeli Jew who rejects Israel’s continuing subjugation of the Palestinians,” Svirsky told New Matilda earlier this month.

“I am fully committed to the principles of the BDS movement and I encourage others to join this non-violent action.”

In late 2013 an Israeli legal centre tried to sue University of Sydney Professor Jake Lynch after he refused to assist Israeli academic Dan Avnon in securing a Fellowship at Sydney.

Shurat HaDin accused Lynch of breaching the Racial Discrimination Act, but local Jewish groups declined to join the action and in July this year it collapsed.

On Monday night Parke sought to distinguish between the BDS campaign and anti-Semitism, though declined to explicitly state her own support for the policy.

“I am not seeking to validate all of the actions that have occurred in the name of BDS, because it can mean different things to different people,” she said.

“However, I do wish to dispel some of the misunderstandings around the official BDS campaign, including that its supporters are anti-Semitic and intent on the destruction of Israel.

“That is not the case; it is not anti-Semitic to protest injustice.”

It’s a view unlikely to please fellow Labor MP Michael Danby, who has savaged Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon for her support of BDS in the past.

“One has to query the motivations of hardline activists in the BDS movement, including Senator Lee Rhiannon. Do they want peace or simply the elimination of Israel,” he wrote in late 2013.

The Coalition has re-aligned Australian foreign policy towards a more pro-Israeli stance since coming to power.

In January, Julie Bishop was criticised heavily for suggestions Israeli settlements were legal.

Five months later, Attorney-General George Brandis endured similar attacks when he refused to label East Jerusalem as “occupied”.

Parke has emerged as a consistent voice of Labor dissent in recent months, speaking out against collusion with the Coalition on issues such as national security legislation.

In the past she has also criticised Labor for mimicking the Coalition’s hard line on asylum seekers.

You can watch the full BDS speech from Parke here.

Max Chalmers is a former New Matilda journalist and editorial staff member. His main areas of interest are asylum seekers, higher education and politics.