Greens boycott is anti-Semitic
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Greens boycott is anti-Semitic

An essential part of the compact of a free society is that all its citizens are afforded protection from persecution and freedom from fear.

The great 20th-century political theorist Sir Isaiah Berlin noted that ''political liberty is simply the area within which a man can act unobstructed by others ... You lack political liberty or freedom only if you are prevented from obtaining a goal by other human beings''.

When a segment of society is targeted by reason of its identity - be it a religious, ethnic or national identity - the right of that segment to live free from fear is compromised.

Recently the Greens have refused to back a motion in the Senate condemning efforts by protesters from the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign to bar would-be customers from entering Max Brenner chocolate shops in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. Even though Greens leader Bob Brown has distanced himself from the BDS campaign, prominent NSW Greens such as Senator Lee Rhiannon and Marrickville Council Mayor Fiona Byrne continue to support it. Support for the BDS campaign remains a part of official NSW Greens policy.

Far from being some sort of shadowy conspirator with the Israeli state, Max Brenner is owned by the Israeli-based Strauss Group and trades legally in Australia. Yet BDS campaigners believe that picking on a legitimate Jewish business in this country is a fair way to influence Israeli government policies in the occupied territories. It is not.

But more importantly, the boycott is reminiscent of the treatment of the Jews throughout Europe in the 1930s.

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BDS states on its website that boycott targets are chosen ''based on their direct contribution to grave human rights abuses and international law violations of the Israeli state and military''.

BDS declares two objectives. First: compel Israel to respect international law and freedom; second: achieve justice and equality for Palestinians by ending what it describes as ''Israel's systematic oppression of the Palestinian people''.

Defenders of the BDS campaign deny that it is anti-Semitic. They are quick to assert that criticism of Israel is not the same as anti-Semitism. They say they are simply exercising their rights to free speech and protest in a liberal democracy about Israeli government policy.

Of course, criticism of Israel is not automatically anti-Semitic. But hatred of the Jews has a long history. Long before the time of Jesus, rejection of the Jewish religion had already turned into irrational loathing for the Jewish people.

In the 20th century, this loathing evolved into a hatred of the Jewish state. Since it was founded in 1948, Israel has been under continual attack. To this day, Hamas is committed to replacing Israel with an Islamic state.

A recent poll conducted by the Palestinian Centre for Public Opinion showed that 61per cent of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza reject a two-state solution. More worryingly, 66per cent of respondents believe the two-state solution should be agreed to only as a step towards the eventual elimination of Israel.

Behind the BDS rhetoric about justice, freedom and peace lurks a much darker objective. Committed to the belief that Israel, a tiny sliver of a democratic state, is the leading threat to world peace, the boycott campaign is part of a renewed offensive to challenge the legitimacy of the state of Israel. And with that, the nature of the BDS campaign is revealed.

Far from being simply an attempt to urge the Israeli government to change its policy on the occupied territories, the campaign really amounts to a denunciation of the Jewish state itself. After all, if BDS is so concerned about ''basic human rights'' and ''violations of international law'', why was it so oddly silent when Syrian forces loyal to President Assad shelled the besieged city of Latakia, forcing more than 5000 Palestinian refugees to flee a refugee camp?

And why doesn't it threaten boycotts against any of the human rights-violating, non-democratic regimes around the world?

Fortunately, many of our leading political figures are already on to this. ''They've got rocks in their heads,'' union leader Paul Howes has said of BDS attempts to equate the chocolate protest with the campaign against apartheid in South Africa.

The BDS has crossed the line between a protest which is anti-Israeli policy and one which is anti-Semitic. And by failing to denounce such anti-Semitic protest, the Australian Greens are a party to hateful intolerance.

The health of a civil society depends upon a complex web of reciprocal and mutual obligation. Once we become complacent about protests directed at Jewish people and businesses in Australia, the political and civil freedoms we all enjoy are threatened.

A new age of intolerance is dawning upon our society. Sadly, the Greens look set to be heralds of that dawn.

  • The Reverend Peter Kurti is a visiting fellow with the religion and the free society program at the Centre for Independent Studies