Palestine and Labor’s hideous contradiction

There are 30,000 people confirmed dead and at least 8000 buried under the rubble in Gaza. Without an immediate ceasefire the death toll is going to get much worse.

According to epidemiological evidence a ceasefire today would save the lives of more than 74,000 people, who will die from otherwise preventable deaths in the next six months.

The Anthony Albanese government is caught in a hideous contradiction of its own making.

It has to respond to the growing public horror at the civilian carnage. A YouGov poll shows a big majority in favour of a ceasefire in Gaza (81%) and a majority (53%) support it taking more action to achieve that goal.

But Labor’s real policy has been to aid and abet the genocide through continued military, diplomatic and political support for Israel.

Labor has not cancelled arms export permits to Israel. Nor has it restored its promised extra funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), even as mass famine spreads and despite Israel still not producing any evidence that UNRWA staff stormed the Gaza fence on October 7.

While the suspension of funding to URWA by 12 countries’ did not immediately halt its work, it is perhaps the most serious contribution to the genocide for two reasons.

First, it came immediately after the preliminary ruling of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that Israel show it is not committing genocide. There is no doubt it was a coordinated political attack to distract from the ICJ findings.

Its consequence is to prolong the de facto 75-year exemption from international law the West extends to Israel and gave Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the green light to continue the assault on Gaza.

Secondly, it contributes to Israel’s long-term aim of getting rid of UNRWA altogether. Its existence, since 1949, acts as a credible witness to Israeli abuses and is an institutional recognition of the systematic dispossession and displacement of the Palestinians.

The Albanese government’s unwavering support for Israel was underscored in late February when it decided to pump $917 million into its industrial military complex, by awarding a supply contract to Elbit Systems.

Australia has issued 350 defence export permits to Israel since 2017, including 52 last year.

Over the past five years, defence exports amounted to the value of $13 million, including $2.3 million in 2022.

Despite this evidence, Labor MPs respond with disingenuous claims that Australia does not export arms to Israel because these are components, not complete weapons. Likewise, they refer to the decision to raise UNRWA funding, even though it remains suspended.

It is those Labor MPs, whose constituencies most want to see action to stop Israel’s genocidal rampage, who are really left twisting in the wind.

Federal Fremantle MP Josh Wilson told parliament on February 8 that Israel’s carpet bombing of Gaza is “unconscionable”. Given the establishment media’s dramatic under-reporting of this horror, anything that helps expose it is a good thing.

However, The Guardian headline, “Labor MP breaks ranks with party over Israel’s ‘unconscionable’ bombardment of Gaza”, was overblown.

Wilson said nothing about the two significant ways that the government he is part of is actively contributing to the genocide: arms exports and the suspension of UNRWA funding.

The day before Wilson voted with the government to prevent the Greens tabling a motion condemning the invasion and calling for a permanent ceasefire.

In a similar vein, WA Labor Senator Fatima Payman published a smiling selfie on social media promoting a fundraiser for the children of Gaza by the good folk at Charco’s Flaming Chicken in suburban Huntingdale.

Friends of Palestine WA asked: “Can you please explain why you absented yourself from voting on a Senate motion to end arms exports from Israel? Do you want to end Israel’s genocidal war or not?” They received no response.

We may be used to Albanese’s method: maintain a progressive veneer with mostly symbolic, low-cost and performative gestures, while continuing with the Liberals’ policies on big ticket items like fossil fuel expansion, AUKUS and tax cuts for the rich.

But, playing this game over Gaza is a new low. To claim to support a ceasefire while arming and giving political cover to the perpetrators of genocide is sick cynicism.

Nevertheless, the fact that Labor felt compelled to call for a (conditional) ceasefire is testament to the hard work the Palestine solidarity movement has done to help mobilise public opinion.

We can draw strength from that, while also burn with outrage at Labor’s hypocrisy.

Any Labor MP with genuine sympathy for the people of Gaza needs to call out and oppose Israel’s genocide, not just in word, but with their vote on the floor of parliament.

Anything less and they are the sugar coating on a poison pill.

We know that Labor’s parliamentary caucus enforces strict discipline. An MP who does not tow the line faces the threat of disendorsement, which normally means losing their seat.

But if the price of being a Labor MP is not being able to condemn genocide, not just in words but in practice, what is the point of being there?

We all have a choice to be on the right side of history, or not. Is there a single Labor MP in parliament with the principles and guts to call Albanese’s bluff? 

The movement for a peace based on justice in historic Palestine and Israel cannot wait for parliamentary stragglers and fakers.

[Sam Wainwright is a national co-convenor of Socialist Alliance.]