In an interview on RN Breakfast yesterday morning on the subject of the government's draft changes to the Racial Discrimination Act, Deputy Opposition leader Tanya Plibersek commented that:
"It is a sad thing that one of the first priorities of this government is to make it easier to racially abuse people."
Among other things, she also said that "neither the Prime Minister nor the Attorney-General can say that the Holocaust-denying hate speech that we had from Fredrick Toben would be captured under the draft law..."
If hierarchy there be in these matters, it would seem that "Holocaust-denying" comes pretty close to being at the head of the queue when it comes to "hate speech."
However that may be, I'd like to focus here on Plibersek's own experience of "hate speech," which appears to have been so traumatic at the time that she's been reduced to a numb silence, though only on one particular subject, ever since.
Back in 2002, this once frank and fearless politician, in the thick of a parliamentary debate on Iraq (RIP), uttered the following words:
"I can think of a rogue state which consistently ignores UN resolutions whose ruler is a war criminal - it is called Israel and the war criminal* is Ariel Sharon."
Now despite what she said at the time being factually correct, a Mr Michael Lipshutz of Victoria's Jewish Community Council branded her a borderline anti-Semite:
"If they [Plibersek and Irwin] want to condemn Israel, well, that's probably [?!] their right but they have to do that in a fair and reasoned way. When their condemnation is unfair, when their condemnation borders on anti-Semitism that's unfair..." (ALP's attitude towards Israel under the spotlight, Lateline, 1/9/03)
A former Labor minister at the time, one Barry Cohen, went even further, calling her an anti-Semite:
"When the likes of Tanya Plibersek... call Ariel Sharon 'a war criminal' and Israel a 'rogue state'... I told a Labor legend: Anti-Semitism is now rampant in the Labor Party..."
This came in the form of an article published in The Age. Its title: The Anti-Semitic Labor Party (25/10/04).
That did it, apparently. The frank and fearless politician of 2002 is now but a shadow of her former self. On the subject of Israel, she is mute. Mumbling the party line (and then only if prodded) is the best she can manage these days.
And so, if I may address myself to Tanya directly, seeing she's weighed in at last on the subject of "hate speech," and at the risk of opening old wounds, here are some questions bearing on the current debate over section 18C of the RDA:
What do you think, Tanya? Is a false allegation of anti-Semitism not also an authentic example of "hate speech"?
Should those of us who still defend Palestinian rights, simply be expected to shrug off such a smear? Or should we (or you), while section 18C is still standing, be hauling the likes of Barry Cohen before the courts?
Should 18C be reserved exclusively for 'Holocaust-deniers'? Or should it also be used to nab Nakba-deniers?
Finally, on a more mundane matter, would you be so kind as to explain this:
"Labor will launch a blitz on Liberal-held marginal seats to warn migrant communities about the Abbott government's plans to water down race hate protections... Literature... explaining the government's plans for the [RDA], will be printed in Indian, Chinese, Hebrew and Arabic." (ALP to rally migrants in grassroots campaign, Heath Aston & Jonathan Swan, Sydney Morning Herald, 26/3/14)
[*Just some of Sharon's triumphs in his long career as a wc: Qibya - 1953; Sinai - 1956; Sabra & Shatila - 1982; Operation Defensive Shield - 2002; massive settlement expansion in the occupied Palestinian territories and occupied East Jerusalem - 2001-06]