Labor must support justice, not genocide, in Gaza

A huge pro-Palestine protest in Naarm/Melbourne on October 22. Photo: Chloe DS

“Words like genocide are often abused or lose their value from overuse,” Ali Abunimah said on the Electonic Intifada podcast on October 17.

“But this is genocide,” he said of Israel’s current onslaught against Gaza. “This is targeted and deliberate destruction of a people as a people.”

This should have been obvious to Labor Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and foreign affairs minister Penny Wong from the beginning. However, immediately after the October 7 Hamas break-out from the Gaza open air prison, Albanese and Wong offered unreserved support for Israel’s genocidal campaign.

Albanese condemned “the indiscriminate and abhorrent attacks by Hamas” in a very short post on post on X on October 8, adding, “We recognise Israel’s right to defend itself”.

Similarly, Wong condemned Hamas “unequivocally”, recognised “Israel’s right to defend itself” and called on Hamas to stop “these attacks”. She added a non-specific call for “restraint and protection of civilian lives”.

Labor is one of Israel’s imperialist allies and therefore its response is hardly surprising. However, it is notable that a Labor government, which purports to support Palestine’s right to exist, did not call for Israel to practice any restraint.

By October 9, Israel was putting in place the means to cut off electricity, food and water to Gaza. It threatened a ground invasion and ordered people to leave Gaza — an impossibility.

These all constitute war crimes; collective punishment is outlawed by the Geneva Conventions (article 33).

The establishment media remained focussed on lurid allegations about what Hamas had allegedly done — many of which have subsequently turned out to be wildly exaggerated or utterly false.

If these allegations turn out to be true Hamas — the elected government of Gaza — would also be guilty of war crimes.

However, Labor needs reminding that war crimes do not justify further war crimes and even less so do they justify genocide!

Instead of backing Israel’s plans for genocide in Gaza, Labor must support an immediate ceasefire and support the effort to get emergency aid into to Gaza.

It should also supports calls for a forensic, independent international investigation of the allegations of war crimes, on both sides, and for the prosecution of those found guilty.

Everyone who cares about justice is bitterly disappointed that this was not the approach Labor took.

Israel’s bombing of hospitals, mosques, churches, apartments and civilians following Israel’s order to flee (where to?) has been ongoing for more than two weeks — a hard-to-describe humanitarian disaster.

In less than 24 hours, Wong and Albanese condemned Hamas on the basis of unconfirmed allegations. After more than 14 days, neither has called on Israel to stop its bombing campaign.

Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles told Insiders on October 15 that “Israel is acting within the rules of war”. He must know that that is false.

Huge pro-Palestine demonstrations across Australia and rising public awareness about the unambiguously genocidal character of Israel’s assault on Gaza are starting to put Labor under pressure.

A number of MPs have either expressed support for Palestine or concern about Israel’s war. Senator Fatima Payman on October 17 condemned “the killing of innocent civilians in Palestine”. She spoke about Israeli missiles targeting civilian infrastructure and reported that Human Rights Watch confirmed that Israel was committing war crimes. She called for “an immediate ceasefire”.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported the same day that a quarter of all NSW Labor MPs and one Liberal MP (Tina Ayyad) had signed on to a cross party pro-Palestine statement initiated by Greens MP Jenny Leong. This represents some push-back to Labor Premier Chris Minns, who had been quick to attempt to shut down pro-Palestine protests but was forced to backtrack.

Adding to the pressure on Labor is the Australian Council of Trade Unions and APHEDA Union Aid Abroad which have joined the call for a ceasefire.

So far, the only official nod to the mounting pressure to support Palestine is Labor’s October 14 announcement it was sending a miniscule amount of humanitarian aid to Gaza ($10 million).

Gaza needs a lot more than 20 trucks of humanitarian assistance and Australia can and should do more.

However, alongside this, Australia needs to call loudly and unambiguously for a ceasefire which is the only way to find a political solution.

Giving aid without calling for a ceasefire simply gives cover to Israel’s slaughter.

Axios reported on October 18 that a senior Israeli official said that “[US President Joe] Biden asked that Israel allow the entry of humanitarian aid to Gaza” explaining that “it would help in maintaining international support for the operation against Hamas”.

This is barbaric.

Supporters of justice need to do all they can to help swell the numbers at every rally, and initiate their own. This is the most effective pressure we can collectively mount on Labor, and other parties, to support an immediate ceasefire and bring an end Israel’s collective punishment of the people of Gaza — a war crime.

[Alex Bainbridge is a member of the Socialist Alliance national executive.]