ABC Television's Q&A, where a panel of 5 high profiles is quizzed by a studio audience, is one of those rare mainstream shows that occasionally open the Israeli colonisation of Palestine to real debate. Last night's Q&A was a case in point:
The Question - a typical Zionist finger-pointing exercise - came from one, Ronny Schnapp* and was addressed to British comedian (and Israel critic) Alexei Sayle: "Alexei Sayle has called for a cultural boycott of Israel but would he support a cultural boycott of such human rights luminaries as Sudan, Zimbabwe, North Korea and Britain? The list goes on."
[*Ronny who? Well, here's an insight into his 'thinking': "Why are so many letter writers paranoid about having their doors knocked down by federal agents in the middle of the night? Do they have something to hide? Those with nothing to hide have nothing to fear." (Ronny Schnapp, letter to SMH, 11/3/02) You can imagine 'good' Germans saying something similar about the Gestapo in the 30s.]
Alexei's half-way* decent answer went thus: "Well... your criticism is kind of saying that because I criticised Israel... I won't criticise Zimbabwe or Sudan. I am perfectly happy to do that. Zimbabwe is a foul country... But... Israel is an adjunct of the West in a sense. Israel is a western colony, the last [such] colony in a sense. It was founded in 1948. People came from central [and] eastern Europe, took over Arab land and formed their state there. And I think, because it is an extension of us, we have to try and ensure that it sticks to the levels of decency we expect of a western democracy and which it significantly fails to do right now... By raising the idea of a boycott, what I'm trying to do is - I mean, I'm in a group called Jews for Justice for Palestinians. A lot of the members are these ferocious little Jewish guys in their 60s and 70s. A lot of them actually fought in the Israeli army in the earlier wars and whatever the argument is about the founding of Israel, all of them feel Israel became a colonial power once it occupied the West Bank and refused to give it back and stood on the necks of the 3 million people who lived there, denied them all civil rights, any kind of life. Israel became, as President Jimmy Carter said, as Bishop Desmond Tutu said, an apartheid state and that's why I called for a boycott." [* Israeli occupation and apartheid began in 1948, not 1967]
Labor's Minister for Infrastructure Anthony Albanese predictably toed the party line: "No [I don't support the boycott of Israel], I support engagement. I am very critical of a lot of Israel's policies*. I, with Joe Hockey, helped set up the Parliamentary Friends of Palestine** as a cross-party group to restore some balance to the debate. But I think if you were about promoting peace, you've got to be about promoting dialogue and discussion, and certainly this arose out of the Leonard Cohen concert there." [*Albo was a little more forthcoming in defence of the Palestinians in a speech in the House of Representatives on 15 September 2002. Since then, however, if his website is any indication, he's said nothing; **Try getting a result from Google on that elusive creature!]
Liberal Likudnik (& Opposition education spokesman) Christopher Pyne just as predictably wore his Zionist heart (liver and kidneys) on his sleeve: "I don't agree with a cultural boycott of Israel at all. I understand Alexei's very strong [extremist!] views. He has held them for a very long time and they're very well known. But I don't believe that all the blame in the Middle East can be laid at the feet of the state of Israel. Israel is a country in many respects like Australia, like the United States, like Great Britain. It's a democracy. It believes in liberty and freedom, and it has been fighting a war for its very survival since 1948. We agree - the Coalition obviously supports a two-state solution - both countries living in peace together, but we also believe that the Palestinian side should recognise the right of the state of Israel to exist and, of course, Hamas still doesn't do so and it's questionable whether, in fact, Fatah and the Palestinian Legislative Council has accepted wholeheartedly the right of Israel to exist. So I think there are arguments on both sides but I fall down on the side that Israel needs to be able to live free of terrorism and, in the situation where it found itself, where it could, I think Israel would treat its Palestinian minority population and the West Bank and Gaza quite differently."
The token youngster on Q&A, Indian Youth Climate Network Executive Director Deepa Gupta, had - like - no idea: "I think with any - like, when you get in a war - like - there's so much hurt done on both sides that you can keep arguing for one side or you can keep arguing for the other side, and I don't think you actually get anywhere, and that's what's been happening. Like, people don't understand the hurt that has been done on the other side. And, furthermore, like on the issue of cultural boycotts, like I understand the effectiveness of cultural boycotts but, at the same time, like I think music plays a really big role in bringing peace. Like earlier this year in India we did a climate solutions road tour and we had a solar-powered rock band travelling with us and a dance troupe and - and these people were from America and they sang songs in Hindi and the most amazing thing was - you know, often, especially with rural communities, it takes weeks to build up trust with them and to help them understand what these issues are. With music and dance we were able to break down these cultural barriers within 30 minutes. Like people were happy and dancing and open and really open to listen and I think that we need to acknowledge that music plays a really big role in connecting with people's hearts and helping them understand each other." Deepa, it's OK to say you simply don't know anything about the issue, really.
Alexei Sayle had the last word - and didn't waste a syllable: "Well, I don't think that dialogue with Israel has worked. I think that the people of Israel have been - I made the analogy that Israel is kind of like a teenage bully who has been indulged by his parents, you know, and has never been set any boundaries. Obama says stop. You know as soon as they signed the Oslo Accord, they kept building settlements. President Obama says, 'Please don't build any more settlements'. They say, 'Up yours', carry on building settlements. Dialogue doesn't work with Israel. It has to be like a kind of recalcitrant child. You have to express your disgust at its behaviour. I think a boycott is - we did it with South Africa. I think we need to do it with Israel."