“And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?“
– W.B. Yeats The Second Coming, 1919
Australia has more sheep than any other country on earth. Nearly 20 million of us are bipedal.
Several hundred two-legged Australian sheep, with better superannuation packages than most, meet regularly in Parliament House in Canberra. Today they are all off for well-earned holidays. Another session of the Australian Parliament is coming to an end. It’s time for the Christmas break!
Another session is closing, in which the tragic and deepening plight of the Palestinians has not been seriously discussed. Indeed, it has barely been mentioned at all. As usual.
When Members conclude their business later today, exchanging pleasantries about Christmas goodwill in the improbable setting of a sweltering Canberra summer, the odds are nobody will mention the walled-in residents of Bethlehem or the shivering masses of Gaza.
Many of our elected politicians pray from the Christian Bible, but no-one will utter a word about the beleaguered Christians in the Holy Land. No-one will demand an end to the very un-Christian siege of those parts of Palestine not already under the thumb of the Israeli military or their collaborators. No one will say: enough!
Why is this?
Are the people in Australia’s Parliament completely ignorant about these matters? Are they cruel? Do they share the view of many Israelis that Palestinians are less than human? Is Evil now Canberra’s official religion?
Not really. Most Australian politicians, while they may well have a streak of ruthlessness, would never personally condone utterly bestial treatment of their fellow human beings. There is no support for setting up walled enclaves within Australia to restrict the free movement of our ‘second class humans’. No-one in the Australian Parliament speaks in favour of establishing an apartheid system that carries out blatant war crimes. No-one openly advocates the deliberate mass torture of an occupied, imprisoned people.
They don’t need to. They only need to avoid the topic entirely. Or, if they do mention the Middle East, all they need do is repeat platitudes that they’ve heard repeated before by other conformists. It’s OK to ‘call for peace’. It’s OK to demand an ‘end to terror’ as a precursor to a ‘just and lasting peace’. It’s OK (just about OK) to call for Israeli restraint – as long as such a call is ‘balanced’ by an equal and opposite appeal to the Palestinians to cease all armed resistance (which must be called ‘terrorism’, incidentally). It’s OK to say ‘Happy Christmas!’ and head home for a turkey dinner.
Palestinian Woman at Gunpoint while children shelter behind herAustralia’s mainstream media effectively sets the terms of the national discourse. That’s why our national ‘debate’ about the Middle East so closely parallels the equivalent in other ‘western’ countries. A similar system of control operates there too, whether one looks at Canada or Britain, France, Germany or the USA. There are minor differences of course – just as there are moves to ‘harmonize standards’. But the same basic principles apply.
Politicians recite the lines expected of them on this highly ‘sensitive’ issue. If they ever buck the trend and speak outside the script, they can expect punishment. Just as juicy carrots are available for willing conformists, there are plenty of sticks for recalcitrant types. But like any effective system of social control, it’s rare that sticks need be used. For the most part, conformism alone does the trick. The egregious bias of Australia’ body politic in favour of Israel’s 60+ year record of cruelty, bullying, militarism, war mongering and deception is achieved by self-censorship within Australian political circles. Not a word in anger need be said to keep these people in line. They do it all by themselves.
Over time, there have been a few honorable exceptions to the rule.
Former National Party Leader Tim Fisher deserves a notable mention. After leaving office, he even had the guts to write about the Israeli attack on the USS Liberty in a major Australian Newspaper. His article was published (it would have been hard for the mass media to completely reject such a clear, well-argued and interesting contribution by a former Deputy Prime Minister). So it was published, then comprehensively ignored. A few days later, most Australians would never have known that the article ever appeared. That’s a shame, because Fisher’s eye-opening story put a whole different slant on the ‘plucky little Israel’ legend.
One paragraph from his article is worth repeating – and committing to memory.
“The two key issues arising from this are still relevant today. If Israel did deliberately attack the most powerful nation on Earth, it knows it can do so and get away with murder. Worse still, US military personnel now know that if the truth is politically inconvenient, they and their legacy are expendable.”
Labor MP Julia Irwin is another courageous politician with the courage to speak up for the Palestines from time to time. One might take issue with the extent to which she pushes the Palestinian case. Everything she says is laced with qualifications. Unlike the pro-Israel Lobby, which is strident and unapologetic in its advocacy, Julia feels required to justify each counter-comment and incessantly clarifies that she is not biased and only seeks justice. But the fact she bucks the trend at all is praiseworthy. It is so very rare. In a paddock of black sheep, the occasional off-white specimen stands out. Interestingly, while Irvin has copped attacks over this, her political sky has not fallen in – not yet, anyway.
So what is wrong with all the rest of our politicians? What’s wrong, for that matter, with the Australian public that we tolerate such a disgusting and inhuman Middle Eastern policy? Why can’t we speak out? Why can’t our voices heard? Why can’t we get the ugly Zionist bias in Australia’s foreign policy changed?
The answer lies partly in established trend. If 99% of one’s colleagues have jet black coats, who wants to admit to feeling even slightly grey?
Another partial explanation is the existence of rather vicious Zionist ‘sheep dogs’. Any politician who plucks up courage and decides to join the tiny band – anyone who dare on occasion speak truth about Palestine – will be ‘noticed’. They can anticipate a little harassment. If they persist, they can expect a lot of harassment. The same thing happens to fringe media that stray from The Faith. They get intimidated. See for instance ‘Has Webdiary been Threatened by Zionists or Not‘
The brilliant Israeli political commentator Israel Shamir devoted an essay to this phenomenon, which he calls ‘The Swarm’. Shamir describes how maddending clouds of gnat-like critics beset even luminaries such as former US President Carter, a man who dare (as a longstanding advocate of Middle Eastern peace) to criticize Israel rather too sharply for neocon tastes.
This Zionist attack pattern is common. It operates here too. It’s no big secret how it works. An impassioned and very well-organized Israel Lobby, operating within Australia, howls like jackals if a politician speaks out of line on issue of core concern. This pressure from below dovetails perfectly with conformism and control from the top. It completes the loop and effectively kills debate.
Opposing pressure from the grass roots can and does emerge. One might think it could be effective too? Certainly, it should have the potential to serve as a counter-balance to rampant Zionist bias.
After all, there are a lot of ordinary Australians who, despite persistent mass media bias, are both concerned and angry about Palestine. There’s a small but significant Muslim population. Some Australians are émigrés from Arab countries. How come all these voices seem to count for naught? Collectively, they are numerous. And after all, while many Jewish Australians support AIJAC‘s one-eyed Zionist bigotry, many do not. In any case, Australia’s Jewish population is tiny – less than 2% of the total.
So why can’t Australians – and Australian politicians – speak up clearly for Palestine? Why can’t we stand up for the oppressed and dispossessed? Why can’t we change our national Middle Eastern policy so it is, at the very minimum, fair and balanced?
It’s a good question. Any number of excuses can be used to explain why. A number were suggested above.
But beneath all the excuses and analysis lurks a stark truth. It’s a truth that has been rediscovered throughout history, in different locations and circumstances, involving very different players. It’s an answer that entrenched power fears, because of its simplicity and potency. It’s an answer that’s likely to be misrepresented by any means available. That means it may well be misrepresented as hatred, bias, terrorism, support for terrorism, support for the supporters of terrorism – any old line will do, really.
It’s an answer that cleaves the impenetrable tangle of uncertainty, fear and moral paralysis, like Alexander cut the Gordian knot with a clean sweep of his sword.
It’s the answer you may not wish to hear – because it involves you too. Just three words:
“Yes We Can!”
Discussion of how Australians may be able to liberate ourselves from an alien ideology that warps our foreign policy – making it seem that Australians truly side with wall-builders, aerial bombers and all-round serial oppressors – is a topic for another article.
The first step is to correct our vision.
We need to look beyond the merried-up legend and see Bethlehem as it really is, c. Christmas time 2008. A walled ghetto for impoverished second class citizens. The utterly ugly visage of a brutal supremacist fantasy. The ultimate insult to the spirit of peace and liberation, in a severed land we still call holy.