An Israeli flag flies on a hill near the West Bank Jewish settlement of Elazar.An Israeli flag flies on a hill near the West Bank Jewish settlement of Elazar. Photo: Reuters

It is telling that  Peter Wertheim and Alex Ryvchin  (“Labor MP’s support for BDS beggars belief”, Times2, November 10, p5) made no attempt to address the substance of my parliamentary speech in support of a petition lodged on behalf of Australians who are concerned with Israel’s repeated violations of international law through settlement-building in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, the Gaza blockade, and the disproportionate killing of civilians in Gaza during the recent conflict. Instead, they attacked and attempted to discredit those who support peaceful protest against Israel’s actions, with the exception, I note, of Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Presumably to attack such a respected figure in the anti-apartheid movement might focus too much attention on Israel’s discriminatory approach to Palestinians within and outside its borders.

Prominent Jewish author, journalist, and academic Peter Beinart said this in the New York Times on March 18, 2012:

“I am a committed Jew. I belong to an Orthodox synagogue, send my children to Jewish school and yearn to instil in them the same devotion to the Jewish people that my parents instilled in me. Boycotting other Jews is a painful, unnatural act. But the alternative is worse.”

In his recent Sydney appearances, Beinart explicitly made the points that (i) BDS is not anti-Semitic. It is a movement advocating human rights and international law and is explicitly against racism, including anti-Semitism. Key targets of BDS have actually been non-Jewish companies such as G4S, Veolia and Caterpillar that have profited from the illegal settlements and occupation; and (ii) BDS must be understood as a form of non-violent protest.

Beinart also cautioned against the conflation of support for BDS and the notion of a one-state solution. Of course, my speech to Parliament did not express support for a one-state solution. I am firmly a believer in the right of Israel to exist alongside a new state of Palestine. Unfortunately, Israel’s own actions render a two-state solution less and less achievable with every day it spends building settlements and prolonging the misery inflicted daily on Palestinians through its military occupation and its discriminatory policies. In truth it is the extreme right-wing government of Israel and its uncritical Western backers who stand in the way of progress towards peace.

No one should be under the illusion that Israeli politics and government currently represents a beacon of moderate liberal democracy. A number of Israeli leaders now openly express hostile and dangerously prejudicial views. Knesset member Ayelet Shaked has said Palestinian mothers should be killed because they give birth to little snakes. Michael Ben-Ari has said, “There are no innocents in Gaza. Mow them down … kill the Gazans without thought or mercy.” Avi Dichter, Minister of Home Front Defence, said Gaza “should be wiped clean with bombs”.

Within Israel, Palestinian Israelis do not enjoy equal rights with Jewish Israelis. Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, notes that “There are more than 50 Israeli laws that discriminate against Palestinian citizens of Israel in all areas of life, including their rights to political participation, access to land, education, state budget resources, and criminal procedures”.

Last month, Sweden joined the 135 states that already recognise the state of Palestine, and the UK House of Commons passed a resolution in favour of a Palestinian state. These are clear signs that the international community is no longer prepared to accept empty platitudes of support for a two-state solution accompanied by unconvincing attempts at peace negotiations.  Meanwhile, as the Israeli government continues to create more “facts on the ground” in the form of settlements and fails to address the impacts of occupation and discrimination, there is growing recognition within Israel of the need for change.

Last month, Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin said in a speech that Israel has become a “sick society” that is unable to engage in dialogue with Palestinians due to racism, intolerance, jingoism and prejudice.

This month, one of Israel’s main newspapers Haaretz, reported that a group of 106 retired Israeli army generals, Mossad directors and national police commissioners had signed a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urging him to “initiate a diplomatic process” based on a regional framework for peace with the Palestinians. One of the letter’s authors was quoted as saying, “We’re on a steep slope toward an increasingly polarised society and moral decline, due to the need to keep millions of people under occupation on claims that are presented as security-related.”

In Haaretz last year, Gideon Levy, a respected Israeli journalist, called for international sanctions against Israel to end the occupation.

These statements are indeed a tribute to Israel’s tradition of internal debate and dissent. It is therefore disappointing that the contribution from the Israel lobby in Australia does not seem to rise above “if you’re not with us, you’re against us”, and that the key methods employed are misrepresentation and character assassination.

As a parliamentarian who speaks often on human rights issues occurring around the world, the accusation that I ignore “voiceless victims of egregious crimes elsewhere” is yet another miserable untruth. Furthermore, the fact that crimes are committed elsewhere does not lessen Israel’s responsibility for its own crimes.

Like most of the world, I want to see Israel and Palestine exist side-by-side in peace and security, and I want to see an end to the infringement of basic human rights. If boycotts, divestments and sanctions, as non-violent forms of protest against Israeli government policy (and, for the record, I don’t condone pig’s heads in supermarkets), can apply pressure to advance a process that has been stranded since Oslo, I would sincerely like to see the cogent argument against it.

Melissa Parke is the federal Labor MP for Fremantle.