In its defence of Israel Australia’s Labor government has shown it is far from 'progressive'
On 28 October, when Gaza’s death toll had reached at least 7,760, Australia’s Labor government, led by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, abstained in a UN General Assembly vote calling for an immediate humanitarian truce. It has now been more than six weeks of Israel’s continuing genocidal campaign in Gaza. The death toll is over 13,000, including over 5,500 children.
Israel’s violence is merciless, precise, unrelenting— and relishes in being so. Despite the carpet bombing, chemical warfare, targeted slaughter of babies and children, cutting of aid, food, water and electricity, Australia’s Labor government continues to regurgitate Israel’s baseless ‘right to self-defence’, peddle Zionist platitudes to shield it from accountability and can only bring itself to call for humanitarian pauses rather than an immediate ceasefire.
Anthony Albanese won office against Scott Morrison’s conservative Liberal party in 2022 on a mandate of being the compassionate, caring leader. A Prime Minister whose values align with the left of the Labor party, who repeatedly and proudly reminds the public that he was raised on ‘struggle street’, by ‘a single mum who was a disability pensioner, who grew up in public housing.’ Much has been made of the fact that Albanese’s career includes attending pro-Palestine rallies and co-founding the Parliamentary Friends of Palestine. But one cannot expect much from a person who has long been an opponent of BDS and championed the always-impossible ‘two-state solution’.
''What is a humanitarian pause if it does not facilitate accessing medical help, safe passage for an ambulance, time and safe conditions to bury a child? A humanitarian pause only offers Israel time to reload. Pause—bomb a hospital—pause—bomb a school. When a person is being tortured, what they seek is an end to their suffering, not momentary respite as their torturer resharpens their tools.''
Standing beside Alabense is Foreign Minister, Penny Wong, who brings ‘diversity’ to Australia’s overwhelmingly white-majority federal parliament (born overseas, woman, queer) but has, through her ingratiation to the Zionist lobby and Israel, proven yet again that ‘representation’ does not translate into good politics.
We are truly in a moment when the progressive ‘left’ of politics, who revel in distinguishing themselves from the blatantly white supremacist, blood-lust cheer squad of the political right, are exposing the hollowness and performativity of their political commitments. Genocide has a way of doing that.
When Australia’s Liberal Coalition party criticises Labor for any position that is less than unswerving and unconditional support for Israel (i.e. voting to abstain rather than reject the UN ceasefire motion), and the pro-Israel lobby is ready to attack if Labor deviates from Zionist talking points, we Palestinians are not naïve about the political courage that is required to challenge Australia’s long-standing bipartisan blind support for Israel. We understand Australia’s commitment to AUKUS and the difficulty of pursuing even a mildly independent agenda.
Yet there has been no eye-witness testimony, livestream video, image, document, graph, statistic spared over the past weeks that could possibly conclude other than Israel is committing crimes against humanity with complete impunity. If this is not the moment for political courage, then there will never be.
Palestinians are still supposed to be grateful for subtle shifts in language used by Labor. Foreign Minister Penny Wong has been shifting to more painfully neutered language. Moving from an abstention in the UN to calling for ‘steps towards a ceasefire’. Insisting on Israel’s non-existent ‘right to self-defence’ but gradually offering the caveat that it ‘matters how Israel defends itself’. Tweeting that ‘hospitals, patients, medical and humanitarian staff must be protected’ and noting ‘the need to observe international law’.
Advocating for a ‘humanitarian pause’ whilst refusing or refraining from demanding a ceasefire, is the latest strategy used by the Labor government. But this is obfuscation at its finest.
I have never heard of anything so inhumane, so obscene in its self-idealisation as an ethical and moral gesture, as the humanitarian pause. Bomb them, slaughter them, cut off their food, water, electricity, aid, but give them an intermission— even genocide needs an intermission! Kill, pause, kill. And yet, there is no pause. From the accounts of Palestinians on the ground the unhumanitarian pause is not working as governments claim it is, in order to absolve themselves of the responsibility to take the measures available to them to compel Israel to stop its genocidal campaign.
There are still people in places Israel prevents ambulances from reaching even during the limited duration of the so-called pause. There is no humanitarian aid, Palestinians have been unable to collect the corpses of their loved ones from the streets or dig through the rubble entombing the dead and, horrifyingly, many of the barely-living/almost-dead.
One of my dear friends, a Palestinian Australian from Gaza, has been lobbying the government for assistance only to be stonewalled or referred to ‘a humanitarian pause.’ For several days her cousin was trapped in her home in the north, a gaping wound to her head caused by an Israeli tank. The worst of it was that her 10-year-old son was killed by a tank shell. For days she was trapped inside holding the corpse of her son, her other children watching on.
What is a humanitarian pause if it does not facilitate accessing medical help, safe passage for an ambulance, time and safe conditions to bury a child? A humanitarian pause only offers Israel time to reload. Pause—bomb a hospital—pause—bomb a school. When a person is being tortured, what they seek is an end to their suffering, not momentary respite as their torturer resharpens their tools.
As I listen to the excruciating language manipulation and mental gymnastics of people who have the power to pull the levers to make the bombing, the slaughter of children, the making of orphans stop, I am reminded of Donald Trump and one of his most dangerous, and still enduring legacies.
Trump was not just a liar. He normalised a paradigm in which people felt entitled to disregard the regard for truth. Thus, we were all grappling with the moral chaos of a world of fake news, alternative facts, and denial of the obvious. Where expertise was delegitimised, and truth and facts were a matter of opinion, it could be pouring rain and considered reasonable for a person to stand soaking wet and declare it's not raining. Such was Trump's influence.
The brutal attempts to decimate and ethnically cleanse Gaza are undeniable. And yet, despite the proof, the evidence, the sources, the bleeding, exploding bodies in our news feeds, the live-streamed bombings, it is not Trump and Neo-Nazis saying it’s not raining, it is the ‘progressives’ engaging in alternative facts. A humanitarian pause is an olive branch not a prolonged death sentence. It is progressives disregarding the regard for evidence and plain truth. The stakes are so high.
What is the fundamental difference between Trump, Joe Biden or Barack Obama? What is the difference between former Prime Minister Scott Morrison, and Anthony Albanese or Penny Wong? I pose these questions not as mere rhetoric but because they strike at the very heart of what political courage, conviction and vision means today.
Political spectrums mean nothing in the context of genocide. Left/hard left; centrist, right/hard-right. Nuances in language are worthless when the world watched a nuclear armed military superpower bomb a hospital with a neonatal intensive care unit with infants on life support and Western leaders on all sides still bleated Hamas tunnels, self-defence, international law but no ceasefire.
What is the difference between the disregard for truth that so characterises Neo-Nazis and White supremacist far-right movements and so-called ‘progressive’ leaders who watched as all the intensive care patients at Al Shifa Hospital died because Israel cut off electricity and fuel, or watched as bombs dropped on a UN school killing almost two hundred people and could still only bleat Hamas, self-defence, international law but no ceasefire?
When genocide against babies, teenagers, refugee camps, the elderly, women and men is livestreamed, Facetimed, Insta-storied and Tik Tokked, and political leaders still say Hamas, Israel has a ‘right to ‘self-defence’, Israel is our ally, no ceasefire, it is clear that the Australian sham of a ‘progressive’ government has evicted Palestinian from the category of human. There is only one conclusion: Palestinians are simply not considered moral, legal, human subjects worthy of protection, worthy of life. And for that, the Palestinian and Muslim community in Australia is mobilising to show that neither Liberal nor their historically go-to party Labor, are worthy of their votes at the next election.
Randa Abdel-Fattah is a Future Fellow in the Department of Sociology at Macquarie University researching Arab/Muslim Australian radical social movements from the 1970s to date. She is also the award winning author of over 12 novels.
Follow her on Twitter: @RandaAFattah
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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.