Saturday, April 7, 2012

Where Luke Foley's Coming From

One of the more vocal NSW Labor MLCs, Luke Foley, reflects on matters biblical this Easter:

"The message I take from the Bible is quite a radical one about solidarity with the marginalised, the powerless, the downtrodden." (MPs moved by heaven and earth, Anna Patty, Sydney Morning Herald, 6/4/12)

Well put, Luke. After all, for what it's worth, Luke is in Labor's left faction. One of Albo's mob.

Now when it comes to the wretched of the earth, it's hard to think of a more marginalised, powerless and downtrodden people than the Palestinians.

So, you ask, Luke's on their side, right?

Wrong. Here's his contribution to that extraordinary BDS-bashing 'debate'* which took place in the upper house of the NSW Parliament on September 15 last year. (You might like to bookmark it as a checklist of every current Israeli talking point in the book):

"Boycott, divestment and sanctions activists regularly demonise Israel as an apartheid state, even though the analogy between Israel, where Arabs exercise full citizenship rights, and apartheid South Africa is utterly specious. Israel is a pluralist democracy with an elected Parliament, independent courts, a free press and vigorous intellectual debate. Israel is a lot more accomodating of human rights, individual freedoms and democratic movements than any other nation in its region. It is, of course, possible to support Israel's right to exist and right to self-defence while at the same time oppose its excesses and counterproductive policies, such as ongoing construction of illegal settlements. I am no fan of Israel's current Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Lieberman, but the Israeli polity alone in the Middle East permits opposition.

"I recognise that the Palestinian people have suffered greatly in pursuit of their legitimate aspiration - a national homeland of their own. I also recognise that Israel cannot make peace with those that seek to deny its existence. International campaigns to impose trade and cultural boycotts serve the purpose of de-legitimising the state of Israel and, in doing so, they feed the eliminationist narrative of Hezbollah, Hamas, Iran and all those who want Israel wiped off the map, and they align themselves with the putrid racism of those groups, their holocaust denial, promotion of anti-Semitic stereotypes and raw sewage Nazi ideology.

"Israel is currently held to a far higher standard than any other country. Israel has not always got the balance right..."

To interrupt there, Israeli historian Benny Morris would quite agree with Luke on that. Speaking with his Zionist hat on, Benny once reckoned that "Ben-Gurion got cold feet during the [1948] war... he should have done a complete job... If Ben-Gurion had cleansed the whole country - the whole land of Israel, as far as the Jordan River... he would have stabilised the state of Israel for generations." (See my 11/5/08 post Benny Unhinged.)

"... between human rights and legitimate security requirements, but where are the campaigns to boycott the serial abusers of human rights, such as Iran, North Korea, Sudan and Zimbabwe, or the regimes in Cuba and Venezuela that are lauded by some who promote the BDS campaign against Israel? The call to boycott Jewish commerce is Europe's oldest political appeal. That call today goes under the name of the BDS campaign. I condemn it."

Now where did a nice young man like Luke, afire (or so he professes) with concern for the marginalised, the powerless and the downtrodden, pick up this affinity for a regime and an ideology that has marginalised the indigenous people of Palestine to such an extent that most Palestinians now survive/live beyond its borders; rendered them powerless both within the Arab world (Lebanon, 1982) and within the rump Palestinian territories (Oslo); and ground those within reach under its boot on a daily basis since 1948?

For an educated/thinking man of 52 years not to have cottoned on here is most strange. But, and here's the rub, is Luke a thinking man?

After all, thinking men and women have been dropping out of the ALP for years now, while Luke's been in for 24 years, much of it as an apparatchik (2003-10).

There's something else going on here, something stronger than thought.

A clue may be found in his maiden speech of 1/9/10:

"Mum instilled in me as a child faith in 3 institutions - the Labor Party, the Catholic Church and the Eastern Suburbs Rugby League Football Club - and on all 3 counts I have kept the faith..."

I'm sure the order there is deliberate. The significance of this disclosure is that it suggests an absence of the capacity for independent, critical thought or the questioning of received (so-called) wisdom. Sadly, some of us never move beyond uncritical acceptance of what mum and dad drum into us, and some do. Get my drift?

OK, but why is Luke so antsy over those who really do give a damn about marginalised, powerless and downtrodden Palestinians? Where does that special venom come from?

Well I don't know for sure, but there's a clue.

In 2005, in his capacity as Assistant General Secretary of the NSW branch of the ALP, Luke went on a study tour of the UK, and while there met with some interesting chaps calling themselves Labor Friends of Iraq. Mind you, they'd all supported the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and so owned their share of responsibility for turning that country upside down and rendering its people even more marginalised, powerless and downtrodden than Saddam could ever have managed, but here they now were, parading as 'friends' of what, at that time, passed as Iraq. With friends like these...

Anyhow, here's the relevant bit of Luke's report on his meeting with these caring souls:

"We discussed at length the democratic left's response to dictatorship, tyranny, and widespread human rights abuses. How does the world deal with mass-murdering dictators who take over a nation state and brutalise their own people?... Since my discussions with the LFIQ representatives, I have researched the writings and commentaries of numerous voices on the British left who maintain the tradition of international solidarity, support for human rights and anti-fascist struggles; including David Aaronovitch, Nick Cohen, Ann Clwyd, Norman Geras, Christopher Hitchens and Peter Tatchell."

To cut to the chase, Luke fell in with the sort of crowd who thought that the US invasion and occupation of Iraq was all about Bush, Blair, Howard and the rest suddenly conceiving such an access of concern for Iraqi suffering that their finely-tuned consciences left them no choice but to wade in and sort Saddam out. And Luke being Luke thought 'Geez, why didn't I think of that? I could've set Latham on the right track last year. Just imagine, flying the freedom banner and promising to draft every Australian 20-year old for the effort, he'd have blitzed Howard for sure!'

Now among the writings and commentaries of the above-listed luminaries, Luke would no doubt have gone on to read and heartily embrace a product of their labours known as the Euston Manifesto (2006), touted as an attempt at renewing progressive politics.

He'd have lapped up the manifesto's simplistic, manichean distinction between the 'bad' guys - "We decline to make excuses for, to indulgently 'understand', reactionary regimes and movements for which democracy is a hated enemy - regimes that oppress their own peoples and movements that aspire to do so" - and the 'good' - "The United States of America is a great country and nation. It is the home of a strong democracy with a noble tradition behind it and lasting constitutional and and social achievements to its name. Its people have produced a vibrant culture, the source-book and the envy of millions."

Fine words indeed! Just the kind to justify the Coalition of the Willies screwing over Iraq and who knows where or what else afterwards:

"Humanitarian intervention, when necessary, is not a matter of disregarding sovereignty... If in some minimal sense a state protects the common life of its people (if it does not torture, murder and slaughter its own civilians, and meets the most basic needs of life), then its sovereignty is to be respected. But if the state itself violates this common life in appalling ways, its claim to sovereignty is forfeited and there is a duty on the international community of intervention and rescue."

Blimey, this could've been penned by US neocon godfather John Podhoretz or our very own Greg (Jerusalem Prize) Sheridan (though neither, I'm sure, could come close to the honesty of dear Jonah Goldberg expounding the neocon version of the Euston Manifesto, which he dubbed the Ledeen Doctrine: "Every 10 years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business." (Baghdad delenda est, part 2,, 23/4/02)

"We are united in our view about the reactionary, semi-fascist and murderous character of the Baathist regime in Iraq, and we recognise its overthrow as a liberation of the Iraqi people."

Try telling that to an Iraqi refugee today.

On Palestine/Israel, Luke would have thrilled to this:

"We recognise the right of both the Israeli and the Palestinian peoples to self-determination within the framework of a two-state solution. There can be no reasonable resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that subordinates or eliminates the legitimate rights and interests of one of the sides to the dispute."

Translated, that means, in theory, that Israel gets 78% of Palestine plus settlement blocs plus Jordan Valley plus settler-only roads plus army bases in the West Bank while Palestine gets the itty bits in between. In practice, of course, it means that the Eustonites, who'd be the last people at the barricades for even a Swiss cheese Palestinian Bantustan, can sit back while, in the words of John Lyons, The Australian's Middle East correspondent, Israel prosecutes "the world's slowest war [which] is being fought, and won, by Israel - house by house, settlement by settlement." (Israel winning its war of stealth house by house, 7/4/12))

No, the proliferation of racist, tribal settler scum in the West Bank, busy pulling the land out from under the feet of the Palestinians, is barely, if ever, on the Eustonites' radar. (Just a trifling matter of excesses and counter-productive policies, as Luke put it above.) Nor is the fundamentally racist notion of a Jewish state carved out of Palestine at the expense of the other, forgotten Palestinians still living in exile in camps in neighbouring Arab states since their expulsion over 60 years ago. But that doesn't stop the Eustonites from declaring rhetorically that they oppose "every form of racist prejudice and behaviour." What, in fact, really gets this crowd going is anti-Zionism, which they insist is really the new anti-Semitism:

"The recent resurgence of another, very old form of racism, anti-Semitism, is not yet properly acknowledged in left... circles. Some exploit the legitimate grievances of the Palestinian people under occupation by Israel, and conceal prejudice against the Jewish people behind the formula of 'anti-Zionism'."

Notice the stock standard Zionist characterisation of Jews as the Jewish people? A dead giveaway.

"'Anti-Zionism' has now developed to a point where supposed organizations of the Left are willing to entertain openly anti-Semitic speakers and to form alliances with anti-Semitic groups. Amongst educated and affluent people are to be found individuals unembarrassed to claim that the Iraq war was fought on behalf of Jewish interests, or to make other 'polite' and subtle allusions to the harmful effect of Jewish inflence in international or national politics..."

Notice the dodgy substitution of Jewish influence for Zionist influence and the Israel lobby? For this lot there is no distinction between Jews and Zionists, and the less said about Israel lobbies and their malign influence over parties and politics on both sides of the pond the better.

So, for Luke (and his Eustonite mentors), Israel's a dinki-di democracy with, if you must, maybe just a few warts. But, hey hasn't everyone got a few of those? The focus for Luke and the rest is never the root cause of turmoil in the Middle East - Western imperialism and its strutting, overweening settler-colonial implant, Israel - but always and only the blowback. As Luke himself made very clear in his maiden speech:

"Anti-totalitarianism is at the heart of my politics. Today a totalitarian movement of the far Right is threatening pluralist democracies and the lives and freedoms of people in many societies, including our own. This global Islamist movement is misogynist, racist and homophobic. This movement's extremist ideology is, of course, based on an utter perversion of the Islamic faith. Too many progessives are silent about this or deny this. Governments everywhere have a profound duty to protect their citizens from the threat of extremist Islamist terrorism. I intend to maintain an active interest in this over my time in this place."

The marginalised, the powerless and the downtrodden? You've got to be joking!

[*See my September-December, 2011 series, Witches Brew.]

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