Thursday, 26 September 2013

When the wizard gets to me, I'm asking for a smaller heart

As a huge fan, I'm really disappointed to hear that, despite looking at the situation closely, Amanda Palmer has decided to cross the picket line of the Palestinian call for a cultural boycott of Israel and organise a gig in Tel Aviv.

I first came across Amanda Palmer around 2007; I was playing in a band with a couple of schoolfriends, and one of them suggested we play Coin Operated Boy. We weren't particularly good, but it was fun, and I borrowed the Dresden Dolls' whole discography at the time to listen to. 

Track forward a few years, and, after buying tickets to the gig when it was supposed to be in February, I had the honour for the first time of rocking out with AMANDA FUCKING PALMER live for myself earlier this month. It was at my partner's insistence that we got the tickets; she also backed the AFP kickstarter.

The stories of friends who had attended concerts left me with high expectations for the show; even so I was blown away. It was truly one of the most amazing gigs of my life. Although there was no crowd surfing pashes for me or my friends, at one point during 'Do It With A Rockstar' she did thrust the microphone into my mouth. I nearly fainted!

But I'd never be able to appreciate her music in the same way if she goes ahead with this gig. Simply taking a tour with Breaking the Silence, which she's cited as the reason she tipped to booking a gig, doesn't neutralise performing a public show in an apartheid state.

I hope Amanda (or anyone reading this) have read the PACBI website - if you haven't, you should really consider some of the arguments rebutting common reasons to break the boycott put here. Particularly worth reading in this context:

2. Why Not Boycott Other Human Rights Offenders Too?

...Israel is today the only state practicing a three-tiered system of oppression – occupation, colonization and apartheid – while being treated by Western states as part of their “democratic club” and, consequently, receiving unlimited political, economic, diplomatic, academic and cultural support from them. This entrenched and persistent Western complicity is precisely what perpetuates Israel’s colonial oppression and makes it a moral obligation for citizens of the West to endeavor to end their states’ respective complicity in Israel’s crimes. Striving to end collusion in human rights violations should be the absolute minimum that we expect from any conscientious artist or cultural worker.

I think AFP should go to Tel Aviv, and play for the kickstarter obligations. And I think she should take the tour with Breaking the Silence too. Visit the old city of Hebron, where a few hundred settlers terrorise the 10,000 Palestinian inhabitants in an attempt to ethnically cleanse the areas around the Ibrahim Mosque/Tomb of the Patriarchs. Visit Nablus, go through checkpoints where Palestinians are routinely denied entry while settlers are allowed to drive right though. Visit Bethlehem's 300 checkpoint at 4am, when Palestinian workers from the territories have to line up to try and get into Israel to start their jobs at 8am. If she is like me, then seeing these things for herself will break her heart and fill her with rage. If not, then I can respect that. Nonetheless, as someone who is totally on the right side of politics and who put on a 'Fuck Tony Abbott' T-shirt proferred by a fan during the signing after the gig, simply having that experience, documenting it, and sharing it with her fans will be a powerful thing.

But to play a public gig in Israel is to cross the picket line and say - this isn't cultural and religious apartheid, just another country with a few problems. And I would lose a lot of respect for Amanda Palmer and her amazing, challenging, uncompromising body of work if she does that.

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Saturday, 22 June 2013

Review: Sheilas, wogs & poofters

Submitted for publication to Green Left Weekly

A late header from lanky striker Josh Kennedy ensured Australia beat Iraq 1-0 in their final qualifier match for the 2014 World Cup, guaranteeing the Socceroos a ticket to Brazil.
Some 80,532 supporters filled a sold-out ANZ Stadium, the largest crowd for the national men's team in soccer (football to most of the world) since the 2005 qualifying match against Uruguay in the same venue.
Despite being their team being at bottom of the table, out of contention for 2014, and wracked by disagreements between players and their federation, about 5000 Iraqi fans overflowed the away bays, at times outshining the Australian fans.
A protest group calling for Socceroo fans to chant “peace for Iraq”, in recognition of Australia's role in the devastating war on the Middle East nation gained national media attention, but received no official mention on the night.

The Socceroos third straight qualification for the World Cup is a world of change from a decade earlier, when Johnny Warren's account of the game and his experiences in it ― Sheilas, Wogs and Poofters ― was first released.

Warren was vice-captain of the first Australian team to qualify for the World Cup, in West Germany in 1974. However, it is as much for his media work and advocacy for the game in Australia, during the 30 years of struggles and setbacks that followed, that he is remembered as “Captain Socceroo”.

Sheilas, Wogs and Poofters gives a harrowing account of the mistakes and misfortune that plagued the Socceroos and football in Australia through these long years.

Warren didn't live to see Australia return to Germany and the world stage in 2006. After being diagnosed with lung cancer, Warren passed away on November 6, 2004. In tribute, the SBS broadcast of the 2006 World Cup featured Warren's defiant phrase, “I Told You So”, in the backdrop.
The book features Warren's insider view of Australian football culture from the 1950s to today. Warren's own career features heavily, starting in his home suburb of Botany in Sydney's east, before moving to Canterbury-Marrickville in 1959.

The highlight of Warren's career was his 12 years at St George Budapest, a club formed by Hungarian migrants after World War II. The club was the core of the Socceroos in 1974, with Warren one of 10 St George players named in the squad.

His success at St George provides a fascinating look at the formative years of modern football in Australia. As a player, captain, coach and media figure, Warren constantly struggled to broaden the appeal of the game beyond the migrant clubs and dislodge common prejudices against the game.

These prejudices are referenced in the title ― “Sheilas, Wogs and Poofters”. Warren explained the references to sexism, racism and homophobia: “If it does offend in 21st century Australia then you can imagine what it was like fifty years ago. 'Sheilas', 'wogs' and 'poofters' were considered the second class citizens of the day, and if you played soccer you were considered one of them.”

Warren said such prejudices were responsible for sporting discrimination into the 21st century, with mainstream media and institutions far more willing to promote other football codes.
It is an attitude epitomised by the racist comments of Kevin Sheedy, coach of the AFL's Greater Western Sydney Giants. Sheedy tried to explain the poor following for the AFL expansion club on May 12 by complaining that, unlike the A-League's successful first-year team, the Western Sydney Wanderers, the Giants didn't have “the immigration department” acting as “a recruiting officer”.

But the widespread outrage at Sheedy's comments reflects that these prejudices have weakened. So too does the fact that 80,000 people braved pouring rain at Olympic Park for the June qualifier match.
The last season of the A-League, Australia's top level of football, drew record levels of attendance and television ratings.

There are issues with the prose of Sheilas, Wogs and Poofters, but the book remains a great read for the honest insider stories of the game's difficult history in Australia.
As fans of the world game look forward to Brazil 2014, Warren's book deserves to be re-read. Chapter 16, for instance, deals with Warren's experiences in Latin America and the footballing relationship between Australia and Brazil.
In light of the huge protests that erupted in Brazil, sparked by the government's attacks on the poor ahead of the next year's Cup, the analysis of Brazil's football culture helps towards understanding the contradictions of corporatised sport.

Sheilas, Wogs & Poofters: An Incomplete Biography of Johnny Warren & Soccer in Australia
Johnny Warren with Andy Harper & Josh Whittington
Random House Australia, 2002

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Tonight I'm singing for the Socceroos

Tonight I'm singing for the Socceroos. Although I won't be leaving my club colours at the door, I'll be cheering, singing and waving my flag for the socceroos - even players like Milligan and Thompson.

Why? Not for jingoistic fervour or in defence of Australian nationalism. Cheering to get one up over our opponents from Iraq, and demonising them to do so, is incompatible with my values and those of the world game. Indeed, those using the opportunity to apologise for Australia's participation in the 2003 Iraq War should be commended.

Those who seek to steer the beautiful game towards close-minded nationalism, and who revel in the opportunities presented by our dominance in other sports to mock the global south or the "whinging poms", are often the very same voices who alternate between belittling and demonising the game and its supporters in its domestic incarnation.

It's because the game brings out the best in our society that I'll be singing for the Socceroos. The history of 'soccer' in this country is as much a history of the struggle against racism and towards multiculturalist values as it is of sporting contests. This spirit is encapsulated by SBS's The World Game - never demonising our opponents, but always respecting them as worthy adversaries.

To sing for the Socceroos is to sing for legends like Johnny Warren, both a legendary player and figure who pushed us to accept new migrants of the 20th century. It's to prove him right, that he told us so.

It's to sing for Charlie Perkins, footballer and legendary Aboriginal activist who Warren worked with as coach of Canberra. Perkins was first accepted as fully human and deserving of rights by migrant football clubs; my local National Premier League club, Sydney Olympic, paid his way through his studies at the University of Sydney, where he participated in the Freedom Rides.

It's to sing for Kyah Simon, captain of Sydney FC's victorious W-league team, and the first indigenous Australian to score in a world cup (let's hope Jade North joins her this time round!) - and to sing for the Matildas and their victory over the Ferns last week, and the developing level of women's football in Australia.

And it's to sing for the latest generation of stars like Lucas Neill, who refused to take even a minute answering questions for Fox Sports last Thursday in order to have more time to speak to the thousands of fans who turned up to an open training session at Kogarah. This may be his last time round at the World Cup, but I'm sure his role in the game, and our national discourse, is far from over.

Every bit of success for the Socceroos helps boost the beautiful game's place in Australia, helps dispel the bigoted thinking of the past about it, and helps to cement our place in the football world.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Tunisia: Government in crisis as uproar over killing spreads

Putting up some of my writing from Tunisia's February crisis. Originally published by Green Left Weekly.

The assassination of left-wing leader Chokri Belaid has thrown the interim government of Tunisia, led by Islamist party Ennahda (the Renaissance), into a deep crisis. Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali has threatened to resign if his proposed "technocratic" solution can't be implemented.

The death of Belaid, a well-respected leader of the united left group Popular Front, led to widespread protests, including tens of thousands on the streets of Tunis for his memorial on February 8.

Jebali, a member of Ennahda, responded to the crisis by proposing a government of “technocrats”, like the one that ruled after the resignation of PM Mohamed Ghannouchi in February 2011. Such a government would hurry the writing of the new constitution, now in the hands of the Constituent Assembly (CA), and organise new elections.

This move has put him at odds with Ennahda party leaders. Fethi Ayadi, president of Ennahdha party's Shura Council, told Express FM radio on February 11 that the party opposes Jebali's proposition.

Protesters were quick to blame Ennahda for Belaid's assassination. Party headquarters were attacked with stones and Molotov cocktails across the country. As yet, the killers have not been identified by police.

On February 11, journalist Zied El Heni reported "very serious information" concerning the assassination, including the names of government members, to the tribunal into Belaid's death in Tunis, reported Mosaique FM radio.

A February 8 editorial in the British Guardian, however, argued that Ennahda would not benefit from the killing of Belaid. Instead, it identified ex-members of the RCD, dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali's party, as being in a position to profit.

On the day Belaid was assassinated, the assembly was due to debate a measure designed to bar former RCD members from office for five years.

However, The Guardian’s defence of Ennahda papers over the party’s inability to reform the security apparatus or effectively deal with political violence. Belaid had told the interior ministry of threats against his life weeks before his death, yet no action was taken, Al Monitor said on February 10.

A new report on Tunisia issued by the International Crisis Group on February 13 identified Ennahda’s inability to rein in political violence as a major issue.

In the absence of an appropriate answer by the authorities and the dominant Islamist party, violence in all its shades "whether tied to social, demographic, urban, political, or religious causes", could well cross a perilous threshold, the report said.

The ICG identified three key areas where action needs to be taken to address violence and discontent: the marginalisation of young, poor Tunisians; the debate between secular and religious forces in the CA; and the movement of jihadi fighers throughout the region.

However, this fails to get to the root of the discontent with the interim government's inability to fulfil the demands of the January 14 revolution.

In a Le Temps piece he authored several weeks before his death, Belaid said: “Two years after the outbreak of the Revolution its... causes are still there. They have deepened, whether at the level of social demands, employment, regional development, social justice or political reality.

"Tunisia is opening a second page in the revolutionary process, against the despotic Ennahda project protecting corruption and consecrating dependency."

A key part of this “second page” has been regional uprisings in interior regions of Sidi Bouzid and Siliana.

Hamma Hammami, spokesperson of the Popular Front, told Express FM Radio on February 13 the Front rejected Jebali's proposal for a technocratic government. It instead proposed a government of “national unity”.

Hammami said the tasks of such a government should include the review of Belaid's case, developing a timeline for the next elections, the establishment of social peace through measures to reduce the high cost of living, job creation, taxing large fortunes, and suspension of foreign debt repayment for two to three years.

Tunisia: Rage as leftist leader killed

Putting up some of my writing from Tunisia's February crisis. Originally published by Green Left Weekly

Furious protests have exploded onto Tunisia's streets and a general strike has been called after the assassination of left-wing politician and lawyer Chokri Belaid on February 6.

Belaid was head of the far-left Party of Democratic Patriots (PPD). His killing is Tunisia's first reported political assassination since independence.

Belaid was gunned down outside his home. Only 12 hours before, he publicly denounced "attempts to dismantle the state and the creation of militias to terrorise citizens and drag the country into a spiral of violence", Al Ahram said on February 6.

Belaid's brother Abdelmajid told AFP: “I accuse Rached Ghannouchi [leader of the Islamist Ennahda party] of assassinating my brother.”

Although no suspects have been identified by police, most demonstrators agreed with him, with chants such as "Get out!" and others targeting the party and its leaders.

Zied El Heni, a member of the Union of Journalists, accused Mehrez Zouari, an interior ministry official, of setting up a death squad responsible for the death of Belaid, Tunisia Live said on February 8.

A recent report by Human Rights Watch cited a "failure to investigate and prosecute physical assaults by people apparently affiliated with violent groups" from the government.

These groups include the League for the Protection of the Revolution, which assaulted the headquarters of the main union federation, the UGTT, in December.

Although party leaders have denied links, the Tunisian opposition widely regards the League militias as enforcers for Ennahda.

Afer Belaid's assassination, thousands of people rallied outside the headquarters of the interior ministry and other places on February 7 and 8, confronting tear gas and police assault.

Protests spread across all major regional cities and towns, with a general strike in Siliana on February 8. Headquarters of the Ennahda party were attacked in several places.

Siliana was the scene of a regional uprising late last year demanding regional investment, job creation and political agency. Belaid took part in the protests, promoting interior minister Ali Larayedh to accuse him of "stirring up trouble".

The PPD was one of 12 parties that united in October to form the Popular Front. The PF has been active in trade unions and social struggle; the UGTT leadership is largely comprised of PF leaders.
Belaid's funeral took place on February 8. At the insistence of his widow, Besma Khalfaoui, women were encouraged to take part in the funeral procession.

Nessma TV estimated 1 million were on the streets.

As Belaid's body reached the Jellaz cemetery in central Tunis, Nessma TV displayed footage of looters breaking into cars. The police responded with teargas, which entered the cemetery.

"Rest in peace, Chokri, we will continue on your path," fellow PF leader and long-term labour activist Hamma Hammami said in a speech at the funeral.

The general strike was widely respected. Most flights out of Tunis's airport were cancelled, all schools were shut down, and almost all shops were closed.

Ennahda and the other forces of "stability" have jostled ensure the outrage at Belaid's death isn't chanelled into expanding the struggle for justice, dignity and work.

Ennahda Prime Minister Hamdi Jebali has announced he will dissolve the government and form a non-partisan government of "technocrats" ― despite the wishes of his own party leadership.

Whether such a government will be able to hold the Leagues to account, or deliver on the demands of the January 14 revolution, remains to be seen.

Football and racism

An interesting anecdote on how the world game has been involved in breaking down racism from the introduction to Johnny Warren's book "Sheilas, wogs & poofters":

The wog clubs didn't inflict the discrimination which was their struggle. For them football was always the currency. It didn't matter to them what someone looked like. It only mattered that they could play football. The late Charlie Perkins told the story that the Greek and Croatian clubs in Adelaide, and later the Pan Hellenic club in Sydney, were the first Australians to recognise him as a person to be treated equally. Charlie's football career commenced before the 1967 referendum moved to include Aborigines as part of the 'official' population of Australia. The axiom of 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend' rand true and as such, both Charlie Perkins and non-English speaking migrants shared a bond through the common enemy of racism. Charlie became hugely popular in the migrant football communities primarily because he was a good footballer. To be finally accepted as an equal was a power social panacea for Dr Perkins.

It's a phenomenal book (the title speaks to mainstream Australian attitudes towards "soccer" at the time of Warren's coming of age in the 1950s) and well worth a read for anyone interested in the evolution of the round ball game in Australia, as well as an examination of migration & racism.

Saturday, 1 June 2013

HAIM: Please don't perform in Israel!

I'm probably what is called an active promoter in marketing speak. Anyone who has spent much time with me had probably heard about my love for Nando's chicken, ASICS footwear, Sydney FC, or various video games. Perhaps this is contradictory for a radical like me, but life is contradiction...

This is also the case when it comes to bands and musicians. I spend almost as much time on social media sharing videos or snatches of lyrics as I do my politics.

When I first heard HAIM songs playing on the radio, I was hooked straight away on their soaring, rhythmitic vocals and funk-folk-pop fused guitars which got more entrancing with each listen. I started sharing away with Falling.

Then, trawling through Wikipedia I discovered the band - three sisters, Danielle, Este and Alana Haim - have an Israeli father. A thought occured. And a quick google came up with the headline "We want to perform in Israel."

It would be completely inconsistent for me to not boycott a band's music once they've gone to perform in Israel, given my campaigning for BDS.

This was hard for me to do with Cut Copy, when I liked a couple of their singles after they got airtime on triple J; they refused to follow the lead of artists who respected the call like Carlos Santana, Massive Attack and Gil-Scott Heron and performed their concert in Israel on June 23, 2011.

Until I found this out I was going to go on a massive fan-boy bender of love for Haim, in a way that I haven't since first discovering the Jezabels when their first EP was just out in 2009.

Now, if I let myself do that I will only be setting myself up to have to boycott a favourite band whenever their wish to perform in Israel comes true.

The call for international artists to boycott Israel is part of a specific global campaign, called by Palestinians and following the example of South Africa. It's not just a question of the personal politics of the artists, but the concrete actions and their political ramifications.

The politics of BDS are certainly up for debate and there's no one Palestinian or international perspective on going about it, but for me, I don't want to pick and choose which parts I think are effective. Palestinian civil society has, for the first time since the 1980s, come together in a united way to try and rebuild their national movement behind the demands of BDS: tearing down the apartheid Wall in the West Bank; allowing the right of return for the refugees of 1948, 1967 and after; full legal equality for Palestinian (and all other) citizens of Israel.

And until the state of Israel implements those demands, all of which have been repeatedly called for by international legal bodies and the UN, then it deserves to be boycotted.

Alice Walker this week released an open letter calling on Alicia Keys to cancel her performance:

It would grieve me to know you are putting yourself in danger (soul danger) by performing in an apartheid country that is being boycotted by many global conscious artists. You were not born when we, your elders who love you, boycotted institutions in the US South to end an American apartheid less lethal than Israel’s against the Palestinian people. Google Montgomery Bus Boycott, if you don’t know about this civil rights history already. We changed our country fundamentally and the various boycotts of Israeli institutions and products will do the same there....

Under a campaign named ‘Brand Israel’, Israeli officials have stated specifically their intent to downplay the Palestinian conflict by using culture and arts to showcase Israel as a modern, welcoming place...

Walker puts the case far more convincingly than I could. International artists performing in Israel is one part of a strategy of "re-legitimisation" for Israel, after the damage done by widespread media coverage of recent atrocities like the attacks on Lebanon and Gaza in 2006 and 2009/10, the assault on the Mavi Marmara, the arbitrary detention of Palestinian footballers...

A counter argument was put to me through a friend on Facebook when I discovered HAIM's position:

But maybe consistency is impossible when not everything or everyone is so black and white, good and bad, right and wrong. Maybe you are allowed to like someone's art, even if you don't agree with 100% of their politics. Especially if their art isn't about their politics

Is it right to boycott a band for their opinions alone? They haven't yet booked a date, merely answered questions put to them by the Israeli press. This hardly falls under the guidelines of PACBI's call for boycott of artists, which is mostly focused on either cultural projects with connections with Israeli institutions, or calling on international artists who have booked dates in Israel to respect the boycott and cancel those events.

To me, the fact that the Israeli press is interested in talking to the sisters reflects the political dimension of their comments; at a time when public figures like Dustin Hoffman, Arundhati Roy and Steven Hawking are boycotting Israel, their comments are held up as a counter to BDS.

So when young international artists, Jewish or otherwise, state in the media they dream of performing in Israel and don't mention the context of the BDS campaign calling on artists not to, they are engaging in politics and sending a signal that the situation in Israel in Palestine is "normal" - and they should expect a political response.

But HAIM has the right to their opinions. Many people, probably including artists, writers and actors I like, have politics I disagree with. That doesn't stop me listening to their music, so it won't stop me with HAIM.

"Baby Haim" Alana did an interview with online magazine of young Jewish Americans "Jewcy", in which she spoke about visiting Israel:
We have to go to Israel for the occasional family wedding. There are some crazy Israeli weddings! I love Israel; I think it’s such a beautiful place. A lot of people think ‘Oh you go to Israel because you’re Jewish.’ I encourage my friends who aren’t Jewish to go to Israel because it’s such a beautiful place, and it’s such an important place. There’s so much history there, and it doesn’t matter what religion you are. I’ve always felt like a deep connection to the country. Especially living in LA, we don’t really have any history. Our history starts with Hollywood.

As individuals, the sisters have their own stories and histories, which I don't think it's my place to comment on. I too felt the weight of history when I visited Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nablus, Jaffa; the history of these places echoes throughout western cultures. I would also encourage everyone to visit Israel & the Occupied Territories and see life there for themselves, as I did, and form their own opinions.

But for HAIM to perform in Israel sends an altogether different message; it's to take a side in that history, to give support to the settlers burning Palestinian crops, to sick children being refused access to a pool because they are Bedouin, to the policies of the current Israeli government.

So I'm not boycotting HAIM or calling on others to do so, since they haven't actually done anything for them to be boycotted yet. But my respect for BDS means I will have to boycott their music if they ever do fulfil that dream 

As someone who would love to be an active promoter, I'm calling on HAIM to take another look at what's really happening in Israel and Palestine and make a statement that they will respect the boycott call. Hopefully it won't be long before Apartheid is ended in Israel and all citizens of the region, regardless of race or religion, will be given their rights.

You are performing today, alongside some of my other favourite artists, at the "Sound of Change" concert to promote women's empowerment. That sends a fantastic signal to the world, that public profile can be used to promote change. To refuse to perform in Israel - or better still, to perform in Gaza, as Alice Walker called on Alicia Keys to do - will send a signal that people of all races, religions and backgrounds want justice in Palestine.

Saturday, 25 May 2013


While getting media calls about protests for Palestine or ASIO harassment is a great opportunity for exposure of radical politics, this has been an exhausting year and I've been simply unable to function effectively at anything I find important. At the moment I'm taking a break from activism and getting my life in order. I'm updating this blog with various things I've written about and haven't posted (mostly to do with USYD, Tunisia and Palestine) but right now my head is somewhere else.

This might not be the most opportune time, but still - 9000 PAGEVIEWS, w00t!

Friday, 24 May 2013

Why Boycott Max Brenner

Alternative title: Why Michael Danby thinks I'm a bit of a dill.

The Australian ran an article on May 2 that claimed “the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement has been caught on camera admitting ‘there isn't really any connection’ between Australian Max Brenner chocolate shops and Israel”.

The representative of the movement quoted was yours truly: the quote was from a video made by pro-Israel schoolfriends of an organiser at the November 20 rally in Parramatta, whose questions I tried to answer in such a way that their attacks on our motives would gain no traction. Clearly I failed...

This is my response to the beat up, which had continued in the pages of AJN and the Australian almost daily since then. It was originally published in Green Left Weekly; it was first submitted to the Australian but not published.


When I visited Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories in 2011 to take part in environmental volunteer projects, apartheid was plain to see.

West Bank Palestinians were restricted in what roads they could travel on to tend to their fields. Activists were arrested when they tried to highlight this injustice by boarding buses in Israeli settlements, echoing the Freedom Rides fighting segregation in the US.

Every Palestinian house had rainwater tanks because the mains would run dry in summer; the Israeli settlements had irrigated lawns that could rival Sydney's north shore.

So when I came home for Christmas and showed my family the photos I took in the West Bank, they could easily see the comparison. For my family, it's one close to home — my parents met and married in South Africa under apartheid.

However, calling Israel an "apartheid state" means something much more than just a comparison with South Africa before 1994.

The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which came into force in 2002, defines apartheid as "an institutionalised regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups". This is the crime of which Israel is guilty, with laws of citizenship that discriminate against non Jews, dozens of other examples of institutional racism, and legal distinctions between "Israeli Arabs", West Bank residents and East Jerusalemites — of which 80% live in poverty, according to a recent report.
This is why I campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel.

The parent company of Max Brenner — a chocolate shop company that has become the focus for the BDS campaign in Australia — is the Strauss Group. It is not merely a financial partner in this apartheid the way many multinationals are. Its support of the Israeli military is as odious as to donate care packages to commandos of the Golani and Givati brigades to "sweeten their special moments".

These brigades are Israel's shock troops. The Givati brigade reached the farthest into Gaza's borders of all units involved in the 2009-10 invasion. The Golani brigade took up station on checkpoints in the Palestinian city of Hebron shortly after I visited the West Bank. Christian Peacemaker Team activists documented a rise in the number of serious human rights violations against the Palestinian people of Hebron at the time.

Max Brenner Australia's relationship to the Strauss group is plain to see, although the company tries to hide it.
In an interview in the Australian over Christmas, the general manager of Max Brenner in Australia, Yael Kaminsky, said Max Brenner Australia "never got involved with the Strauss Group ... we only have the franchise rights in Australia and we report to the office of Max Brenner that is based in New York".

Yet the Strauss Group's annual report last year said Max Brenner International in the US is wholly owned by Strauss USA, itself a wholly owned subsidiary of Strauss Group Ltd. The report said "the [Strauss] Group operates chocolate bars" in Australia.

Boycotting Max Brenner has nothing to do with the identity of the company's owners, just as the campaign to boycott the firm Veolia for its operations in the occupied territories has nothing to do with the religion or race of its bosses.

It is about raising awareness of the Israeli government's crimes in Palestine, and targeting companies involved in those crimes like Strauss (or their local franchises and operations, which also includes two brands of dips, Copperpot and Red Rock Deli).

If the owners of Max Brenner are as truly independent of ties with Israeli apartheid as they claim, they can easily put an end to protests outside their stores by rebranding their store, handing back the franchise rights, and sending a signal that people of all backgrounds condemn Israel's crimes.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

How Long?

Today it was announced that the Ford plant in Geelong is set to close.

I visited the city in January for the Socialist Alliance national conference and found it beautiful and familiar, like a somewhat less hilly version of my home town (with a very successful football team in the wrong code...). The similarity doesn't end there: similar tales of the slow death of heavy industry, job losses without adequate transition plans for the workers, youth unemployment, social alienation...

All I can think about today is: how long for Wollongong? How many more times will I be able to drive home and look for the orange glow of the steelworks on the southern horizon?

ASIO Harassment

Originally published by Green Left Weekly

On Tuesday the 16th of April, I received a knock on the door from two members of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, better known as ASIO.

The two told me they would like to have a conversation. When I asked what they wanted to speak about, they told me they were doing their job - protecting national security – and had a few questions about my involvement in activism in Sydney.

Apparently the latest threat to national security is “political violence” in the activist community. As a Palestine solidarity activist involved in organising the Sydney rally to commemorate Nakba (the catastrophe, when the state of Israel was created and Palestinians dispossessed) the agents wanted to speak to me about any concerns I might have, or for me to identify any individuals who I was worried might be responsible for acts of political violence.

I replied that the only fears of violence that I had from my involvement in Palestine solidarity activism were from the far right groups and individuals who often organise counter mobilisations – or simply send threatening and intimidatory emails, messages and phone calls in an attempt to stop or derail our protests and other events.

I was also questioned by the employees about the recent rally against police violence at Mardi Gras – which I didn’t attend – and the picket lines at the University of Sydney, where I study, organised by the National Tertiary Education Union. Once again, my answer was that the only violence I have seen in my time as an activist has been initiated by those seeking to silence our right to protest. 
In the case of Sydney University, this comes from members of the “Public Order and Riot” Squad of the NSW Police force, who have been sentin to break up the picket and other protests to defend education and student rights. At the latest picket, they were responsible for breaking one student's leg and another's ribs.

Other people in Sydney and Melbourne involved in campaign groups have also been approached by ASIO and asked not to speak about these visits.

In a context of the “war on terror” overseas — which has involved Australian troops involved in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for the past decade — there is a war on civil liberties at home.

ASIO’s mandate is broad and without scrutiny. The organisation is responsible for providing security assessment for refugees seeking asylum in Australia, with no public oversight. Tamil asylum seeker Ranjini and her two sons are locked up in Sydney’s Villawood Detention Centre because ASIO decided she is a “security risk”.
Security organisations have had their powers expanded and budgets increased by Labor and Coalition governments, and consequently have increased their monitoring of Australians.

As $900 million is being slashed from our universities through an “efficiency dividend”, the new ASIO headquarter building in Canberra is facing yet another costly delay in opening. After being estimated to cost $460 million when construction began under the Howard government, the full price tag is now being estimated at over$631 million dollars – over 2/3 of the university cuts.

Construction has had no parliamentary oversight, and there was no public consultation.

The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Act 1979 (the ASIO Act) even makes it illegal to publish the identity of any officer, agent or employee of the organisation. 

Last year, Green Left Weekly reported on activists involved in pro-Palestine and pro-Tamil solidarity campaigns in Adelaide who had also been visited by South Australian Police working in “security and intelligence”.

These visits are an attempt to intimidate people into ending their involvement in legitimate political organisations. Organising and attending demonstrations is not illegal and people involved in these activities should not be monitored by ASIO.

There is no law that prevents people from speaking publicly about a visit from ASIO. Shining a light on these practices is important to show that we will not be intimidated into exercising our democratic right to protest.

If the powers that be were serious about national security, they might abolish this spy agency - and withdraw our troops from the costly and unjustifiable occupation of Afghanistan - instead of harassing activists who are only exercising their democratic right to protest.

Sunday, 31 March 2013

At Marxism 2013 - Contributions

I attended workshops on women's and queer liberation at Marxism 2013. Both workshops were given in-depth presentations on Marxist understandings of gender and liberation, followed by a thorough, ranging and generally comradely discussion afterwards. These are notes from two contributions I drafted on my phone before I spoke (the latter I got to give in the session), which I have slightly polished.

From Gender Construction and Capitalism

A comrade raised concerns about the attitudes towards trans* people and one particular contribution which got quite crudely biological about it. I agree, and I think that this was an issue I felt wasn't addressed enough; several comrades also repeatedly used the phrase of "same sex marriage". This is the kind of demand the Tories, Clover Moore & Alex Greenwhich can support; what we should remember we are fighting for is equal marriage, inclusive of all gender identities.

Recently we've seen footballer Robbie Rogers publicly come out shortly after retiring from Leeds - something that the progressive sporting world certainly should take note of, given the role sport plays as a bastion of reinforcing gender identities. The last footballer to do so committed suicide shortly after, alienated from the football community. Robbie has stated that he needed to step away from the sport to do so, but the fact that he felt he could now do so and seems to be recieving much more positive support for it, to me, reflects that something has changed since the turn of the millenium - and the most obvious answer is the equal marriage movement, which has totally shifted public opinion in Australia and overseas.

This is why independent movements of both lgbti people & women is so crucial to ensure we begin to challenge oppression now; the effect that victories, or even just higher levels of struggle, has on popular consciousness is significant, even if it feels as activists we're shouting into the wind.

Most people in the room seem to have different ways of putting it when it comes to feminism, current tasks or demands to emphasise, and I have an opinion on those things, but I think there is common enough opinions amongst socialist that could forms a basis for united work - against the oppression of women today, seeking to win demands like equal pay, reproductive rights or others, in the same way that we have worked together in the equal marriage movement.

From Festivals of the Oppressed - Women in Revolutions from Russia to Egypt.

I think it's a very pertinent topic to consider and thank Julia for the talk. I think we can all agree that so long as we live in a society based on class oppression then we cannot talk about full liberation for anyone.

To build on what Julia raised about how struggle inspires women to find a greater courage and dedication even than many leading male revolutionaries - Michael Lebowitz said in Socialism for the 21st century:
Rather, we change only through real practice, by changing circumstances ourselves. Marx’s concept of “revolutionary practice”, that concept of “the coincidence of the changing of circumstances and of human activity or self-change’, is the red thread that runs throughout his work.
This is very true for the process of struggle, particularly at revolutionary peaks, undermining sexist ideas, and other ideologies underpinning oppression. Julia identified women's oppression is a barrier to women getting involved in the class struggle already. I think this means if we want all people to be involved in our movement we should struggle against women's oppression and to challenge sexist ideas and behaviours today - the muck of the ages.

This us a big challenge for the revolutionary movements in the Arab world. Julia mentioned that women have played a key role in protests in Tahrir, leading the chants in the square - this was certainly my experience, even in November still the case!

Tahrir Square, 27/11/11

But women and men have also had to challenge sexual assault in Tahrir; there have been many documented cases of assault against women since January 25, by both by forces of the state and others in the street, and that's an ongoing struggle which has come to the fore again today. But the overall success of revolutionary struggle has meant that independent feminist struggle has grown massively since the downfall of Ben Ali and Mubarak.

A key example is the struggle over the constitution in Tunisia - feminist activists led struggle against a constitutional reform being proposed by Nahda which would define women as "complimentary" to men.. That particular struggle has been a key component, along with union struggle in both cities and interior regions, of rebuilding class struggle to the point where it is now - arguably at a higher level than when Ben Ali was overgrown. The lesson is that independent womens struggle is key, not only for the class struggle as a whole but also building a movement to challenge oppression today and lead to a society where we can be rid of it.

Friday, 29 March 2013

At Marxism 2013

Watch "Peter Boyle: Long live left unity" on YouTube

So i'm here at Marxism 2013. Sofar the conference is pumping; it's perhaps the largest left conference I've been to (although I did miss the last World at a Crossroads conference, which took place while I was in the middle east. #excitement is the word.

This session i'm in now, the Australian political situation today, has been sofar the best for me. It's packed out the room. Why? It's one of the only sessions raising the question of, not only why we need to fight, but how it is to be done in the concrete here and now.

What are our differences on this question, how do we organise to beat this system? We're not yet having out this question formally, so this session is being framed in the most immediate ways - so the process of hashing out such differences needs to expand from here. But from my experience here and the positive exchanges, it sofar seems there is the good will to do so.

Thursday, 31 January 2013

Socialist Alliance 9th Conference

Further end-of-month catch up. Views are my own, etc.

The Socialist Alliance recently held its 9th national conference in Geelong Trades Hall. Geelong is one of the smaller towns and cities where the Alliance has been able to build a branch and other major left forces active today have not, like my home town of Wollongong; this was my first time in Geelong, and I was impressed by the ability of the comrades there to pull of organising such a major and successful decision-making conference. I stayed in Melbourne for most of the month, including the conference, helping with local promo, participating in politics, and organising the Resistance Camp.

Over the [second] two days, delegates discussed international and domestic politics and campaigns, Socialist Alliance's plans for this year's federal election, reflected on the achievements and challenges in building the Socialist Alliance today and the prospects for greater unity of the left in Australia.

Taking place in the context of discussions about prospects for greater unity of the left, the conference adopted proposals to strengthen the Alliance's work in building local and national campaigns and movements, including the labour, environmental and women's movements, and the importance of convincing youth and students of the need to organise for fundamental social change.

Delegates reaffirmed the need to strengthen the Alliance and to seek greater unity in action, while defending the democratic rights of affiliates and tendencies of thought within the party. The conference reaffirmed the decision to participate in the upcoming Marxism conference, and to taking further steps in exploring prospects for unity.

I participated in the pre-conference discussion with a piece about democracy, transitional demands and a mass action perspective for today, based on this earlier post. Many of the issues debated in PCD were discussed at the conference, particularly around the proposed constitutional amendments of Liam Flenady, Ben Peterson and Emma Bacon, which were partially amended on the conference floor and combined with those of Pip Hinman.

Delegates voting in a session at the Socialist Alliance national conference. (Photo: Alex Bainbridge).

I found one of the most interesting aspects of the conference discussing left unity and organising today. Hashim bin Rashid gave a very interesting talk on the process of three Pakistani left parties merging into the Awami workers party, driven by the youth of the three parties who joined after the wave of struggle around lawyers stuff. Hashim got right into the thick of things in Melbourne too - he even wrote an article for Green Left on a local protest commemoration!

Advancing on our own left unity front, the Communist Party of Australia (a former split from the old CP) and Socialist Alternative both participated in the conference with official delegations. I found the input of the Alternative comrades, while held up within the present framework and the tensions that go with it, a good step for building trust. Although a formal uniting of those organisations sends a long way off, i'm confident we can work together in a more constructive way to build a stronger alternative to the pro-capitalist parties this year.
A delegation from the national leadership of the Socialist Alternative and a representative of the Communist Party of Australia also attended the conference, and Mick Armstrong (Socialist Alternative) and Andrew Irving (CPA) both gave presentations on Australian politics today.

In particular, I was enthused by informal discussions about the party, movements and mass action between our activists, in which some comrades raised Camejo and a perspective on mass action which I found, at least on the surface level, to be basically the same as mine. In my PCD piece I raised that this is a point we need to brush up on, since it seems to me the most significant real difference in perspective on how we should organise today amongst the Australian left. Hopefully I am wrong.

Interview: Australian Hazara Youth speak out

Originally published in Green Left Weekly, Sunday, January 27, 2013
I spoke to Sahema Saweri, president, and Shoaib Doostizadah, public officer, of the Australian Hazara Students Group, at the January 15 vigil in Melbourne for the victims of the Quetta bomb blasts. ***

Can you tell me what these vigils have been about?
Sahema: The Hazara community has lost about 110 lives in the twin bomb blasts in Quetta, Pakistan, which took place on January 10; these vigils were arranged to stand in solidarity with the people in Quetta. Violence [against Hazaras in Pakistan] started off in 1999 or 2000, with targeted attacks on our leaders, and then it continued to leaders, doctors, teachers, students, and now any Hazara is being targeted. It has worsened in the last two years and this most recent attack on January 10 is the worst that has ever taken place.

What is your feeling in terms of response of the community?
Sahema: We need more people on the street. We've had protests in Sydney, Adelaide and Perth, there will be one in Brisbane, as well as the vigil in Melbourne. But we've had quite a big number of our non-Hazara friends stand in solidarity with the victims of the attack in Quetta with us. They have been writing about it, spreading the word amongst their friends.
Shoaib: We've been very pleased to have a lot of people see us, look at our posters, ask us what the vigil is about, [ask] what is the incident, why are we protesting. Overall the reaction of the public has been not only sympathetic, but supportive.
For the Hazara community in Australia, a lot of us have close family or friends who still live in that part of the world. So directly and indirectly, we have been affected by this incident. We have felt the very pain that all the families and relatives of the victims have felt, and indirectly as well. That sense of community and solidarity among us is what has driven us to come here today, to show our sympathy for the Hazaras [in Pakistan], that we are with them, we haven't forgotten them.

How does this issue impact on Australian politics, particularly the issue of asylum seekers?
Sahema: I think it should have a great impact because it basically is a demonstration [of] why people take asylum and come to Australia. Especially the Hazara people. Many of the asylum seekers coming by boat are Hazara people from Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Attacks like this are the reason people come to Australia. The government wants to stop people from coming to Australia; the best way to do that is provide them safety back home, so they don't need to take asylum, so people don't put themselves on "leaky boats" and risk their lives to come here.
I think we can do this by putting pressure on the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan to provide protection to their citizens, and give them the most basic right, the right to live. They don't want anything else, they just want to live peacefully. The Australian and European governments have a big role to play in this. They must put pressure on those governments so the Hazara people and all other communities can live in peace.
Shoaib: The Australian government has been quite harsh with the asylum seekers and refugees recently. The government likes to say people are coming "illegally", [but] incidents like the one on January 10 shows why people chose to come by whatever means necessary.
The Hazara community requests the Australian government to reconsider the approach they have taken to asylum seekers. I truly believe the government does know, does understand the misery the Hazara people suffer in Pakistan but the political debate stops them from doing what they should actually be doing, which is considering the rights of all human beings.

Do you think the Australian government is doing enough for the Hazara people?
Sahema: To be honest, no. I think Australia is actually making it worse for the Hazara people. When they come here we put them in detention centres, sometimes for indefinite periods of years. Why do we do this? They have not done anything wrong. According to Australian laws it is legal to take asylum and come to Australia.
The Australian government has done a lot for us, but right now, they need to be putting pressure on the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan to defend our rights, that is the message we want to get across. We don't want all the Hazara people to come to Australia and take asylum, that's not possible and obviously not what we want, to start our lives over from scratch. The best solution is to provide us safety back home.
Shoaib: There are a couple of initiatives the Australian government could take, given these incidents frequently occur in Pakistan. Firstly, our ministers, particularly our foreign minister [Bob Carr] should have a conversation with his Pakistani counterpart and raise this issue.
We also request the government to take this issue to the UN; now we have secured a seat on the Security Council, we need to take the voice of the besieged Hazara community in Pakistan to the UN in order for a lasting solution to this crisis.

Does the Australian government have a particular responsibility on this issue because they have committed troops to the occupation of Afghanistan?
Sahema: Definitely, as an Australian citizen, I don't want any Australian soldiers to die in Afghanistan, or Iraq, or Pakistan. Why should they die for a cause, the "war on terror" that's not even ours?
We want our Australian brothers to be safe. We have to do something but the Australian government, instead of sending soldiers to Afghanistan, could be applying pressure to Pakistan and Afghanistan to defend our basic rights. How long can the US and Australia be in Afghanistan and fight for them? We should put that responsibility on those countries to take action for themselves, to take care of their citizens and provide them with the protection they deserve.

These vigils have been well attended but how have the Australian media responded to these killings?
Sahema: We've never received serious attention from the media. They tend to focus on violence, or big interesting events that they think will be interesting to the Australian people. If the Australian people want the asylum seekers to stop coming here, they need to look deeper than this and stand with us.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

What is Ecosocialism?

In Australia's current context of yet another wave of natural disasters, both fire and flood, i'm inspired to refresh myself on the ecosocialist alternative to our climate crisis.

The reigning capitalist system is bringing the planet’s inhabitants a long list of irreparable calamities. Witness: exponential growth of air pollution in big cities and across rural landscapes; fouled drinking water; global warming, with the incipient melting of the polar ice caps and the increase of “natural” extreme weather-related catastrophes; the deterioration of the ozone layer; the increasing destruction of tropical rain forests; the rapid decrease of biodiversity through the extinction of thousands of species; the exhausting of the soil; desertification; the unmanageable accumulation of waste, especially nuclear; the multiplication of nuclear accidents along with the threat of a new—and perhaps more destructive—Chernobyl; food contamination, genetic engineering, “mad cow,” and hormone-injected beef. All the warning signs are red: it is clear that the insatiable quest for profits, the producti- vist and mercantile logic of capitalist/industrial civilization is leading us into an ecological disaster of incalculable proportions. This is not to give in to “catastroph- ism” but to verify that the dynamic of infinite “growth” brought about by capitalist expansion is threatening the natural foundations of human life on the planet.

How should we react to this danger? Socialism and ecology—or at least some of its currents—share objective goals that imply a questioning of this economic automatism, of the reign of quantification, of production as a goal in itself, of the dictatorship of money, of the reduction of the social universe to the calculations of profitability and the needs of capital accumulation. Both socialism and ecology appeal to qualitative values—for the socialists, use-value, the satisfaction of needs, social equality; for the ecologists, protecting nature and ecological balance. Both conceive of the economy as “embedded” in the environment—a social environment or a natural environment.
What then is ecosocialism? It is a current of ecological thought and action that appropriates the fundamental gains of Marxism while shaking off its productivist dross. For ecosocialists, the market’s profit logic, and the logic of bureaucratic authoritarianism within the late departed “actually existing socialism,” are incompatible with the need to safeguard the natural environment. While criticizing the ideology of the dominant sectors of the labor movement, ecosocialists know that the workers and their organizations are an indispensable force for any radical transformation of the system as well as the establishment of a new socialist and ecological society.

There is an example of exactly the kind of alternative we need developing already in Australia, an initiative to bring together the demands of labour and ecology:

As employers and governments begin to close the coal industry down, then it is a real issue to where the new jobs will come from. What Earthworker has always argued is that new jobs need to be in manufacturing. Employers and governments are saying that they can’t manufacture any longer in Australia and make a profit, so we are saying that by using a cooperative model we can in fact manufacture in this country.
We actually have a social weight as workers, well beyond the weight that we use to fight the boss for wages, conditions and safety. We actually have a social weight to direct the economy.
\When we looked at the issue of climate, we knew that climate is an environmental crisis but its cause lies in the economy. An economy that is not based on the vested interest of the vast majority but based on the interests of a minority. We’re seeing the narrow interests of investors in the corporations put ahead of the rights of citizens.
We have a massive vested interest in eliminating climate change but how do we do that when the economic levers are in the hands of a minority who are actually causing that climate emergency?
Earthworker is looking to establish the means to allow people to establish the alternative now, not off in the future.

Monday, 28 January 2013

Solidarity with the Tunisian teachers

I stand in solidarity with the Tunisian teachers struggle for conditions, jobs and dignity. Tunisian secondary teachers stopped work on January 22 and 23. The Ministry of Education of the interim post-dictatorship government has maintained the curriculum of the Ben Ali regime and refuses to negotiate with the General Union of Secondary School Teachers.

Teachers have been leaders in the struggles again Ben Ali and in struggles for democratic reforms since his departure. Despite Western powers congratulating Tunisia for building a "strong, democratic country", in every area of society - campuses, the media, the unions, the impoverished interior regions - those who took to the streets to overthrow Ben Ali continue to struggle for the demands of January 14: work, dignity, freedom.

What you can do:

  • Send messages of solidarity to the Tunisian teachers’ strike via or
  • Take a photograph of yourself and colleagues in your union branch using the poster designs below. Send to us or post on our Facebook page and we will forward
  • Read more about recent strikes in the Kasserine region here, and a report on Mohamed Sghaier’s visit to the UK in November.
  • Poster 1 and Poster 2