BDS Campaign Set To Escalate In Australia After Pro-Palestinian Network Offers Support

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A senior member of the Australian Palestine Advocacy Network says the shift in position will be accompanied by a new campaign. Max Chalmers reports.

Calls for Israel to be economically targeted over human rights abuses have been given a boost in Australia after a coalition of pro-Palestinian groups voted to endorse key elements of the campaign.

The Australia Palestine Advocacy Network (APAN) – an umbrella organisation representing a range of pro-Palestinian organisations based in Australia which boasts a retired Deputy Chief of the Australian Army as a patron – yesterday voted unanimously in favour of a motion backing the global Boycott, Divestments, and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

“APAN endorses and advocates a policy of boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) of Israeli and international institutions complicit in violations of human rights and international law in Israel and Palestine,” the motion said.

“APAN recognises BDS as a non-violent means of ending violence and promoting peace, human rights and international law and is opposed to racism in all forms, including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.”

The BDS movement has become a flashpoint in Australia in recent years, infuriating pro-Israeli groups, dividing local councils, and leading one Israeli organisation to pursue legal action aimed at effectively outlawing advocacy for the campaign in Australia.

The campaign styles itself on tactics used by the anti-Apartheid movement, and is attracting increasing attention within Israel.

Before this week APAN had avoided taking a clear stance on the issue and the motion passed yesterday avoids providing explicit support for the BDS campaign in its entirety, instead focusing on one of its three planks, ending the occupation of Palestine. It notes the need to be careful in choosing targets of boycotts “in order to support the work of Palestinian and Israeli peace organisations”.

Dr Peter Slezak, who sits on the APAN executive, said the motion would result in action, and that APAN would be working on campaigns targeting specific organisations.

“That’s the next step and we’re sort of on the verge of that,” he said.

APAN’s executive includes unionists, Christian activists, and other pro-Palestinian figures, and the network claims retired Major General Ian Gordon, once Deputy Chief of the Australian Army, as a patron.

Slezak said he didn’t think APAN would support actions against Max Brenner, a chocolate shop previously targeted.

In 2013 University of Sydney academic Jake Lynch was pursued by Israeli law centre Shurat HaDin after he refused to assist a professor from Israel secure a fellowship in Australia. The case eventually fell apart, and Shurat HaDin paid Lynch’s costs.

Nasser Mashni, the son of a Palestinian refugee and another member of the APAN executive, said Palestinians in Australia had watched the breakdown of the peace process with despair, but that many felt afraid to speak up on the issue because of their previous experiences of mistreatment and repression.

He said APAN passing the motion came from a desire to encourage “non-violent resistance to the occupation”.

International attention has focused back on Israel and Palestine in recent months – you can read Michael Brull’s explanation of why here.

Max Chalmers

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

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