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Anti-Palestinianism is as damnable as anti-Semitism: a statement is long overdue

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 15/09/2021 - 4:57am in

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Human rights

Before endorsing the International Holocaust Remembrance Association’s definition of anti-Semitism, politicians in Australia and other western countries should consider the implications for the rights of Palestinians.

In public discourse, examples of anti-Semitism are numerous, but a search for illustrations of prejudice towards Palestine and Palestinians yields almost nothing. To fill this vacuum, and to hinder the rush to endorse the poorly conceived International Holocaust Remembrance Association (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism, a statement of anti-Palestinianism is desperately needed.

Controversy over anti-Semitism

In many countries, political parties and individual politicians are urged to endorse the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism. There is even a motion before a forthcoming NSW Labor party conference that this IHRA definition be supported, otherwise the party could be considered anti-Semitic.

This definition says that anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews, but questions as to what is meant by “certain perception” or by “hatred”, are ignored. Instead, pressures to comply with that definition ensure the continuation of uncritical assumptions about anti-Semitism.

Barrister Geoffrey Robertson concluded that the IHRA definition was “imprecise, confusing, open to misinterpretation and manipulation”. The prominent US scholar Norman Finkelstein judged the document ‘”n impoverished, ignorant, slovenly substitute for rational dialectic”.

Israeli academic Professor Neve Gordon argued that the Israeli government needed this definition to justify its actions and to protect it from condemnation. My colleague Dr Peter Slezak recalls that the US non-government organisation Americans for Peace Now perceives the IHRA definition as quashing legitimate criticism and activism directed at Israeli government policies and would therefore not adopt it.

In spite of this criticism, politicians in Australia and other western countries find it easier to take the line of least resistance by approving the IHRA definition.

There are constructive alternatives to this compliance. The first is the Jerusalem Declaration of Antisemitism (JDA). The second is the prospective birth of a statement about anti-Palestinianism.

Released on March 2021 and signed by 200 scholars of Jewish studies and related fields, the JDA defines anti-Semitism as discrimination, prejudice, hostility or violence towards Jews as Jews, and it challenges the use of the IHRA definition to prevent criticism of Israel.

The JDA rejects the belief that prejudice towards Israel is unique. It connects the fight against anti-Semitism with wider opposition to racism and bigotry, and perceives the IHRA claims as a tool for suppression of free speech, and for reinforcing perceptions of Jewish exceptionalism.

The carefully crafted JDA implies that those who would quickly support the IHRA definition should think again, not only concerning anti-Semitism but also about the blatant, previously ignored prejudice towards Palestinians.

Explaining anti-Palestinianism

The case for a statement about anti-Palestinianism should come as no surprise. Decades of military occupation of Palestinian lands, a siege of Gaza into a fifteenth year, millions contained in refugee camps and daily attacks on people’s lives and homes, may be reported as news yet accepted as routine, taken for granted.

Added to these brutalities are Palestinians’ experience of discriminatory, hateful and racist language, including being labelled as terrorists, not deserving of human rights, or even branded with the ultimate stigma, as not existing.

If even for one minute, such hatred was thrown against Jewish Israelis and their supporters, howls of rage would be heard around the globe. If similar outrage is to be expressed about anti-Palestinianism, the world needs to know that this concept, a yardstick of prejudice, should become as influential as concerns about anti-Semitism.

Before the birth of any official statement of anti-Palestinianism, it is not difficult to anticipate principles which would illustrate a significant document and the evidence on which it is based.

The Palestinian story should begin with accounts of a people’s enjoyment of respect, of entitlement to self determination, plus the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and instruments of international law. Yet an opposing narrative says there’s no such place as Palestine and in the words of former Israeli prime minister Golda Meir, “There is no such thing as Palestinians… they do not exist.”

Even in an authoritarian world, there survives a principle that people who campaign non violently for their rights should be respected, yet prejudice towards Palestinians includes justification for killing them. In 2013, current Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett boasted, “I’ve already killed a lot of Arabs in my life, and there’s no problem with that.”

In 2018, Bennett advocated a shoot-to-kill policy for Palestinians crossing the Gaza border. Questioned whether children would be part of this policy, he replied, “they are not children, they are terrorists, we are fooling ourselves. I see the photos.”

Anti-Palestinianism can also sound genocidal, as when two rabbis wrote in a 2009 publication “Torah Ha Melech” that “non-Jews such as Palestinian Arabs are uncompassionate by nature and may have to be killed to curb their evil inclinations.”

If the IHRA definition declares it is anti-Semitic to deny the Jewish people their right to self determination, the same principle should affect the life chances of Palestinians.

On that basis, and consistent with international law, the architects of any statement of anti-Palestinianism would surely include reference to the Palestinian people being entitled to their own state. It would be negligent if such a principle did not also refer to illegal acts of Israeli occupation, annexation and the building of settlements.

In spite of principles which identify people’s entitlement to live in states of their own, Palestinians have been regarded as unworthy of such a right. From the deceit of the Balfour Declaration of 1917, to the displacement of 700,000 people in the Naqba tragedy of 1948, to June 2021 when Jewish supremacists in East Jerusalem chanted, “death to Arabs”, the treatment of Palestinians has been marked by cruelty.

With the connivance of US administrations, cues for cruelty have been expressed by successive Israeli prime ministers.

Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu repeatedly asserted there would never be a Palestinian state. In an interview with The New Yorker in 2013, Naftali Bennett said, “I will do everything in my power, forever to fight against a Palestinian State”.

An historic moment

In Australia and elsewhere, politicians’ preoccupation with anti-Semitism and with supporting Israeli policies, has been sullied by indifference to Palestine and to the rights of Palestinians. These age-old abuses have provided the context for crafting a statement of anti-Palestinianism.

The publication of such a document will mark an historic moment. The weaponising of anti-Semitism to stifle the rights of Palestinians will at last be confronted by principles to advocate an end to anti-Palestinianism and to insist on respect for the common humanity of a whole people. Achieving that objective is imperative and long overdue.

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Australian government’s secrecy obsession and the role of ASIS in the overthrow of Chile’s Allende

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 12/09/2021 - 4:31am in

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Human rights

Freshly declassified National Archives documents show just how closely the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) worked with the CIA in the lead-up to the coup-d’état in Chile in September 1973.

On the eve of the coup’s 48th anniversary, the documents are another mark of the Australian government’s obsession with secrecy.

As The New York Times wrote two years ago, “no other developed democracy holds as tight to its secrets”. Just how deep this culture of secrecy goes is being tested by Professor Clinton Fernandes, who has been petitioning for the release of intelligence records on clandestine activity in Chile at the behest of the CIA to overthrow Salvador Allende.

In short, 50 years ago, the documents show that the Australian Government set up an intelligence station in Santiago at the behest of the CIA, spied on Allende and conducted covert operations, and then played a role as a liaison between the CIA and Pinochet.

Fernandes has pressed the government to declassify historical national security files on secret ASIS operations in Indonesia, Cambodia, and Chile:

“Many Australians would be entitled to express legitimate concern if ASIS … were exposed as having cooperated with the CIA in toppling the democratically elected government of Chile led by President Salvador Allende.”

In his challenge to the government’s contention that, a half century later, any release of documents would still “harm” Australia’s ability to conduct international relations, Fernandes cited the declassification of thousands of top secret CIA documents in the United States during the Clinton administration, and even submitted copies of the National Security Archive’s own book, The Pinochet File: A Declassified Dossier on Atrocity and Accountability, as evidence that transparency would strengthen, rather than damage, Australian democracy.

The government of Salvador Allende was democratically elected in 1970. Allende was a declared Marxist who had co-founded Chile’s Socialist Party and won the election in a left-wing coalition known as the “Popular Unity” (Pacto de la Unidad Popula). It was the first popularly elected socialist government in Latin America and had widespread popular support. Allende set out to reform the government through democratic means, but met strong opposition from established power structures, including the military.

Fearing the nationalisation of valuable mining assets, President Richard Nixon’s administration prevented the renegotiation of national debt and placed an embargo on goods from nationalised companies. This forced Allende having to increase money supply, leading to inflation, economic decline and food shortages.

Nixon also ordered the CIA to conduct clandestine operations in the country with the clear aim of over-throwing the government. It enabled General Augusto Pinochet to declare himself president and abolish democracy for the next 17 years. What we now know is that the CIA had help from Australia.

At the behest of the CIA, ASIS established a “station” in Santiago in 1971 and conducted spy operations to directly support US. intervention in Chile, according to declassified Australian records made public for the first time by the National Security Archive.

Following a CIA request for support in the fall of 1970, the declassified memos and reports indicate, ASIS officials obtained approval from Liberal Party foreign minister William McMahon in December 1970 to secretly open a station in the Chilean capital. In the spring and summer of 1971, ASIS officials sent agents and equipment to Chile to organise the station.

Redacted memo courtesy of the National Security Archives – MO9 was the codename used by ASIA

According to the released documents, the operations appear to have involved handling several CIA-recruited Chilean assets in Santiago and filing intelligence reports directly to CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia,

But in the spring of 1973 the new Labor Party prime minister Gough Whitlam ordered the director of ASIS to close down the Chile operations.

Whitlam was “uneasy” about Australia’s involvement, because if it were to:

“receive any publicity as a result of these matters, then he would find it extremely difficult to justify our presence there” – Declassified memorandum of conversation written by then ASIS director-general William Robertson

Whitlam was, however, very aware of the importance of this [operation] to the Americans and he was most concerned that they should not interpret his decision as being anti-American He also made it clear he didn’t support Allende.

ScreenshotCourtesy of the National Security Archives

The Australian ASIS station appears to have been closed down as of July 1973, although one ASIS agent reportedly stayed in Santiago until after the September 11 military coup. “All remaining station records etc. have been destroyed,” a Santiago cable advised headquarters on shutting down its spy operations. “… Station has been closed as planned.”

In 1977, Whitlam (then opposition leader) briefly acknowledged the Chile operations in Parliament:

“… Australian intelligence personnel were still working as proxies and nominees of the CIA in destabilising the government of Chile.” Gough Whitlam to Parliament

An investigative history published in 1990, Oyster: The Story of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service, by Brian Toohey and William Pinwell, was subjected to the Australian government’s pre-publication censorship and most of the details on ASIS’s CIA-Chile operations remained secret.

According to Fernandes, “The Australian government insists on secrecy to avoid having to admit to the Australian public that it helped destroy Chilean democracy.” He is now awaiting a decision by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal for further declassification of the historical record on Australia’s covert role in Chile.

“The primary beneficiary of this secrecy is the Australian government, which enjoys security from democratic accountability, and security from robust, evidence-based debate as to how the intelligence services should be used. This is not national security in any meaningful sense.” – Clinton Fernandes

For the full story, including many of the (redacted) documents and more supporting documentation, click here.

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John Menadue-At last,Australia backs Covid vaccine patent waiver. Better late than never

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 10/09/2021 - 4:58am in

People’s vaccines may yet become a reality. Let’s hope so despite opposition by Big Pharma and rich countries.

After a delay of over six months, the Australian government has now decided to support  a temporary waiver of property rights in the World Health Organisation (WHO) on COVID-19 vaccines. The waiver would allow world-wide production. The WHO meets again on September 14. If agreement can be reached this will enable the production around the world of life-saving vaccines that are needed particularly for poor people.

Many rich countries have vaccinated 70-80 per cent of their population. But in Africa for example, tens of millions of people have not had one vaccine injection. By the end of this year, rich countries will have stockpiled 1.2 million vaccines while Big Pharma companies have been making record profits.

India and South Africa sought this WHO waiver almost 12 months ago, but the selfish rich companies refused support. Progressively, many countries have now come on board, including the US and now Australia.  Germany with a large pharmaceutical industry and the UK, are the two major companies still opposing the waiver. China and Russia supported the waiver many months ago.

Since March this year, Pearls & Irritations has carried 20 articles advocating the waiver. We have yet to see any interest by our White Man’s Media on this critical issue. Our media frames news coverage about vaccines in terms of the interest of the rich and white world. — John Menadue

See below a report yesterday from Common Dreams in the US.

Vaccine equity advocates on Wednesday cheered as the Australian government bowed to a months-long pressure campaign demanding a suspension of intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines, after the country’s top trade official said he officially supports the push for a “people’s vaccine.”

Trade Minister Dan Tehan told a group of advocates in a private meeting on Tuesday that the Australian government would support a trade-related aspects of intellectual property (TRIPS) waiver proposal, and later confirmed the news to the press.

“Well, we have always said we will support a TRIPS waiver when it came to COVID-19,” Tehan said, according to ABC News in Australia. “We continue to work constructively in Geneva to do everything we can to expand the production of vaccines globally because we need everyone across the globe to get access to a vaccine ultimately if we are to be safe.”

Officials in Australia have spent months avoiding expressing clear support for a TRIPS waiver, which would allow countries in the global south to develop generic versions of the vaccines produced by companies including Pfizer and Moderna.

In June, Tehan told reporters that Australia was “not opposed” to a waiver and was “prepared to look at a vaccine waiver,” which was first proposed in October 2020 by officials in South Africa and India.

Blessed are the rich in securing vaccines

The clear support expressed this week, days before a meeting of the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) TRIPS Council, is evidence that “the tide is turning in the battle against global vaccine inequality,” said British advocacy group Global Justice Now.

“Australia’s support for a waiver puts the WTO in a strong position to make progress at next week’s TRIPS council meeting,” said Nick Dearden, director of the organisation.

Advocates in Australia urged Tehan to follow his remarks with decisive action at next week’s meeting.

“We urge the government to act by expressing unequivocal public support in meeting with the Indian government and at the WTO TRIPS council meeting on September 14,” Patricia Ranald, convener of the Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network, told ABC News.

US President Joe Biden announced in May that he would support waiving intellectual property rights for the vaccines to ensure people in developing countries can be inoculated – protecting those populations and the entire world, as low levels of vaccination in the global south have allowed numerous variants of COVID-19 to spread.

More than 100 other nations including France have also backed a TRIPS waiver, leaving Germany and the United Kingdom as the most powerful nations standing in the way of global vaccine equity and a speedier end to the pandemic.

“The British and German governments have no allies or excuses left,” said Dearden. “They must stop obstructing efforts to waive patents so that we can finally vaccinate the world.”

Australia has fully vaccinated over 40 per cent of its population, according to an analysis by Reuters. More than 80 per cent of vaccine doses have been administered in wealthy countries, while 0.4 per cent have been given in low-income countries.

Sophie McNeill, Australia researcher for Human Rights Watch, credited advocates with pressuring the country into supporting the TRIPS waiver.

“Now we need firm action from Australia at the WTO,” said McNeill.

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Australians must ask why we haven’t spoken out on Israeli squatter settlements

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 09/09/2021 - 4:22am in

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Human rights

Australia ratified the Fourth Geneva Convention in 1958. So why do we question the ICC’s jurisdiction over war crimes committed in Palestinian territories?

Last month the UN Human Rights Special Rapporteur on Palestine, Canadian academic Michael Lynk, drew attention to Israel’s non-compliance with the Fourth Geneva Convention (1949) by its practice of sponsoring Israeli squatters on Palestinian-owned land in the Occupied Palestinian West Bank including East Jerusalem.

Lynk asserted that the illegality of the Israeli squatter settlements is the most settled issue in international law. He relied particularly upon UN Security Council Resolution 2334 (December 2016) which resolution per se has the force of international law.

I reproduce portions only of that instrument.

In its pre-amble the Resolution re-affirms, “the obligation of Israel, the occupying power, to abide scrupulously by its legal obligations and responsibilities under the Fourth Geneva Convention…”  and condemns “all measures aimed at altering the demographic composition, character and status of the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, including, the construction and expansion of settlements, transfer of Israeli settlers, confiscation of land, demolition of homes and displacement of Palestinian civilians, in violation of international humanitarian law and relevant resolutions”.

The Fourth Geneva Convention, inter alia, forbade occupiers from transferring their own populations into occupied territories.

The Resolution proceeds to record the following paragraphs (along with others, substantially intended to implement those paragraphs):

  1. Reaffirms that the establishment by Israel of settlements in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-State solution and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace;
  2. Reiterates its demand that Israel immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, and that it fully respect all of its legal obligations in this regard;  and
  3. Stresses that the cessation of all Israeli settlement activities is essential for salvaging the two-State solution, and calls for affirmative steps to be taken immediately to reverse the negative trends on the ground that are imperilling the two-State solution

Lynk proceeded to call upon the international community to adopt a plan of action which included:

  • calling upon Israel to fully dismantle its settlements
  • developing measures to bring Israel into compliance with international law; and
  • ensuring full accountability of Israel’s leaders responsible for breaches of international law.

Lynk also called upon the international community to fully support the work of the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) as it investigates whether the Israeli settlements constitute war crimes and violate the Rome Statute. The Rome Statute to which he refers adopted the charter of the International Criminal Court established in 2002 at the Hague.

The Special Rapporteur’s report raises pertinent questions for Australia, its government, its opposition parties, and its people.

Australia ratified the Fourth Geneva Convention in 1958. Australia is, of course, a member of the United Nations, and bound to adopt and implement the Resolutions of the Security Council (Article 25 of the UN Charter). As well, Australia is a signatory of the Rome Statute and ratified it in 2002. And yet despite the fact that Palestine is accepted by the vast majority of nations as a signatory, to which jurisdiction would necessarily extend, Australia still questions the ICC’s jurisdiction over war crimes committed in the Occupied Territories including East Jerusalem.

Australians might ask themselves: How is it that having undertaken obligations as a nation we ignore those obligations, and, indeed, have ignored them for years? Have we compromised our sovereignty by allowing Israel, or Israeli interests, to dictate to us, and if so, why?

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In the Aftermath of War

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 28/08/2021 - 2:03am in

Photo credit: john smith 2021 / Shutterstock.com _____ As the military situation in Afghanistan began to unspool at the end...

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Afghan Refugees and the Tampa: will we be cruel again?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 26/08/2021 - 4:56am in

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Human rights

Have Australian hearts softened towards Afghan refugees in the twenty years since the Tampa incident? Hopefully, yes..

Late August 2001: a freezing Armidale day, with sleet shafting down. Safe and snug as a joey in a pouch, I’m listening to the Tampa radio reports. Solid house, heater, mug of hot tea. What a good life! Millions of us came here seeking just this.

Arne Rinnan, the Norwegian captain of the Tampa, saves 433 terrified, defenceless, horribly seasick Afghans and Iraqis from drowning that day. A Federal election is due—and it’ll be very close. With fox-like speed and cunning, government and opposition alike prick up their ears and sniff the wind. Quivering nostrils detect a delicious, rancid old stench: fear, sour tribal racism, ignorance. Dials of voting figures begin to whirr and spin in their eyes.

 The country erupts in xenophobia. Alas, Prime Minister Howard does not stand, statesmanlike, in the ruins of a firebombed mosque and rage against the bombers. Nor does he console terrified Muslim schoolchildren whose bus has been pelted with stones, or agonise over the smearing of faeces on a mosque door. He even threatens to charge the Norwegian captain with people-smuggling. But he’s a hero overnight anyhow.

The Labor Party leadership, weak-kneed, caves in—but anyway, too late. Australians are already scrambling to change their votes.

Whipping up an external enemy has saved many a slippery political skin over the years. A shiver of fear, a shudder of racism, and suddenly we’re voting, not with our brains and hearts, but with our spleens.

The Tampa affair seems to prove that hostility to outsiders is so natural it will always triumph. Yet deep below the surface, impelling us onwards, is the slow, ages-old surge of evolution. Know it or not, all of us swim in that irresistible tide. ‘An eye for an eye’ may seem barbaric now: but in its day it was a revolutionary new moral leap forward. Its amazing leniency must have baffled everyone, because till then the rule had been ‘A life for an eye’. Poke out my eye, steal my cow, insult my family––and I’ll kill you! Wild, all-consuming lust for vengeance must have seemed rooted in the very core of human nature. But its time, too, came and went.

The next step, Christ’s injunction to actually love and do good to those who hate us, is still beyond most of us. But who knows? The inexorable evolutionary force of nature may one day impel us past the primitive, warlike stage we’re in now, and on to that unimaginably more humane and mysterious one.

Of course the flow of evolution isn’t uniform: it ebbs and flows by trial and error. One branch shoots out fresh growth while another, stunted, dies. If we don’t learn to live together in peace we may end by snipping off our twig altogether.

But it’s heartening to look back at arguments that once caused fur to fly, and see which side has stood the test of time. Despite the racist horrors of the past century—wild, thorny shoots from the ancient root-stock—our human views about each other are changing radically. In my grandfather’s lifetime you could shoot Aborigines with impunity; slavery was still considered a normal, godly fact of creation. When my father was young, American families were still being photographed out in their festive Sunday best to picnic merrily and gawp at lynchings.

In my own lifetime the Australian mainstream was sniffily amused when colonies demanded independence. Millions applauded the White Australia Policy, chuckled or sneered at the idea of women’s rights, mocked ‘peaceniks’, ‘tree-huggers’, Aboriginal rights activists and anyone who objected to apartheid, the jailing of homosexuals or the death penalty.

But change happened anyway. The country flourished, even in small ways. People who once tossed rubbish out car windows now proudly recycle; once-staunch upholders of the White Australia Policy are saved by Indian or Chinese doctors. And for most Australians a Treaty with our First Nations people is a given.

In 1971 a former Chief Government Whip and ambassador to Greece, HB Gullet, raged at the decision to phase out the White Australia Policy.

It was the most important and dangerous and perhaps terrible step ever taken…to destroy everything that we have ever stood for, everything that makes Australia worth living in…

Coloured people…are people we cannot call brothers.

Such words seem bafflingly silly today. Though at the time people who angrily defended old entrenched positions sensed nothing, all the while the relentless evolutionary tide of history was quietly sweeping them out to sea, to strand them at last on remote and deserted reefs. Now only the most stubborn still cling, like crabs on a rock, to the old ways.

Now it seems this week’s desperate Afghan refugees are touching hearts as they failed to twenty years ago. May we Australians gladly go with the evolutionary flow…

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Why we shouldn’t race to mandate vaccination

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 12/08/2021 - 4:58am in

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Human rights

When governments and health experts call for mandatory vaccination we should be wary. While it is potentially the optimal way to get society moving again and particularly to end the frequency and severity of harmful lockdowns, the requirement for every citizen to have their individual rights trumped by the community interest is a drastic measure in a society supposedly committed to liberal values.

This is not to say that liberalism would oppose the idea of mandatory vaccination. It depends on the detail and whether there is scope for individual cases where mandatory vaccination is opposed to being protected through the legal system.

That the law could provide for a regulatory framework which mandates vaccination and provides incentives for compliance through a combination of penalties and fines is not unprecedented.  We do it in the context of road safety. We legislate to ensure all who drive or ride motor vehicles on our roads are properly licenced. Further, we regulate safety standards by making it compulsory to wear seat belts, and through a system of road rules such as giving way to the right or indicating when turning left or right. Noncompliance with these rules means fines, loss of the right to drive through suspension or cancellation of a licence, or even jail if the offence is serious enough or for serial offenders.

In the context of workplaces, there is also a mandatory legal framework in place. All jurisdictions in Australia have an extensive suite of work health and safety laws which mandate practices and types of equipment. Again the incentive to comply is through the mechanism of penalties and inspections by the regulator.

So in this sense mandating vaccination from Covid is unremarkable and it could be said to be consistent with well established liberal principles, particularly John Stuart Mill’s harm principle.  Mill’s famous principle forms the basis of the approach that liberals take to whether or not legal intervention is justified to impact an individual’s autonomy.

Mill’s harm principle, set out in ‘On Liberty’, is sometimes truncated and apt to be used to justify a more extreme individualist position. It is in essence, as legal academics Marett Leiboff and Mark Thomas summarise it, “that the only basis on which individual liberty could be curtailed – the only legitimate justification for the state to intrude on an individual’s freedom of action – was to prevent harm to others”.

Importantly, Mill himself also observed; “As soon as any part of a person’s conduct affects prejudicially the interests of others, society has jurisdiction over it, and the question whether the general welfare will or will not be promoted by interfering with it, becomes open to discussion.”

The Millian formula could be said to be somewhat conjectural given the lack of definition of “harm” and the issue of competing “harms” but as a general principle, it is a useful justification for mandatory vaccination laws. It does however need to be tempered so that the rights of individuals who wish to opt-out of vaccination can do so if there is a reasonable basis for doing so. Again, the term “reasonable” is somewhat slippery but it is not uncommon in legislation to see “reasonable excuse” type provisions where a court or administrator can take into account a number of factors in determining whether the individual meets the threshold.

It is important in the context of the right of each person to bodily integrity and individual autonomy that such opt-out clauses are available in any mandatory vaccination law. Such exemptions might be argued, and the onus would be on the person seeking the exemption, on the basis of medical, religious or philosophical objection. The extent to which one individual’s opt-out would impact on the overall community wellbeing is a factor to be taken into account in deciding such exemption applications.

There is also the issue of discrimination which arises if a law mandates vaccination. If proof of vaccination is a mandatory requirement to enter public settings such as public transport, workplaces, entertainment and cultural institutions, then discrimination is inevitable and real. The UK Equality and Human Rights Commission has rightly observed that mandatory vaccinations laws will “two-tier society whereby only certain groups are able to fully enjoy their rights”. There must be some allowance for discrimination claims to be made by individuals who have not been vaccinated because they have not been able to access vaccines, or have a medical or religious reason for refusing to do so.

Perhaps the strongest argument about a mandatory vaccination is that in Australia privacy rights are not adequately protected and police and security agencies routinely abuse their powers by using data collected from apps to surveil and gather intelligence. An app which provides evidence of mandatory vaccination would enable law enforcement to track the movements of all of us on a daily basis. There would need to be in any law, clear provisions which make the use of any intelligence gathered from such apps by law enforcement inadmissible in any court under any circumstances. There must also be a right to sue for breach of privacy in cases where an individual’s data is obtained for any purpose outside of health data collection.

There is an argument for mandatory vaccination laws but nuance and protections for individual rights should form a key part of any legal framework.

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People-to-people peace initiatives in Palestine must begin with freedom and equality

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 12/08/2021 - 4:57am in

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Human rights

In 2005, Mohammad Abu Jalhoum left his family in Gaza and underwent multiple life-changing operations in Australia to treat his facial disfigurement. Mohammed’s diet had been restricted his whole life after an Israeli soldier kicked him in the face when he was an infant to silence his crying. 

The Palestinian volunteers who brought Mohammad here wanted to help the thousands of children who weren’t lucky enough to make the trip Down Under. Annual medical missions to Palestine by Australian surgeons were soon organised to conduct complex operations, train local doctors and contribute to building the capacities of Palestinian health practitioners.

In late 2007, an Australian charity dedicated to improving the lives of Palestinian children was born. Olive Kids offered health, education and financial support for the children supported by the community and Australian donors.

The scale of this work is always overwhelming but never demoralising. What is demoralising is the brutality the children endure in every aspect of their lives. Mohammad was still a teenager when another Israeli soldier shot him dead in Gaza a few years later.

Israa was only eight years old when I escorted her back home after her treatment in Australia ended abruptly. She needed a kidney, and transplants are not available for non-Australians. In the hope of finding treatment here, her family hadn’t fully disclosed the extent of her illness.

Israa spoke and behaved like an adult, something we commonly see in children suffering from the ongoing trauma of war. As I am denied access to Gaza, I had to leave her with a family of strangers who took her across the border to where another volunteer waited. I felt so powerless as she ran away in tears to avoid saying her final goodbyes. This routine episode contained all the cruelty of Israel’s occupation which doesn’t give an iota of respect to the rights of Palestinians, let alone their children.

One afternoon in July 2014, nine-year-old Ali Shanbari  – a child sponsored by Olive Kids – was killed by an airstrike that hit the UNRWA school where he was taking shelter. His family had taken him from the orphanage where he lived to offer him a safer place from Israeli raids. Here was a reminder that no such place exists in Gaza. Ali was a talented soccer player and aspired to be a lawyer. His death shattered us.

That same month, four boys were playing football on the beach. A blast hit nearby and one of them was killed instantly. The others ran, but a second blast hit, killing them all. The Bakr boys were cousins; Ismail, 9, Zakariya, 10, Ahed, 8, and Mohammad, 11, an only son with seven sisters.

And then there is the story of Rozana. In 2012, aged just four, she fell from her balcony in a village near Ramallah and suffered life-threatening injuries. Her mother Maysa wanted to give Rozana the best treatment possible and opted for Israel’s Hadassah Hospital over the local Palestinian hospital. Transfers were arranged between Palestinian and Israeli ambulances to allow her to pass through military checkpoints.

Rozana recovered and Project Rozana came into existence to facilitate similar transportation of patients from the West Bank and Gaza through Israeli checkpoints to hospitals in Israel.

It should be no surprise that Palestinian parents are no different to other parents and will grasp at any means to ensure their children’s survival. But does that mean that an international charity can choose to ignore the oppressive occupation under which these parents and their children live? And can it choose to ignore exploiting Palestinians, when Israeli hospitals charge only Palestinians exuberant costs but not Israelis? And can such a charity operate within structures that perpetuate and normalise the occupation and discrimination and claim to be somehow beyond politics?

Project Rozana operates on the premise that people-to-people initiatives bring collaboration and peace. It ticks the boxes for Australia’s aid program, Israel and Israel’s faithful subcontractor, the Palestinian Authority. For Palestinians however, initiatives bringing Palestinians and Israelis together without clearly and unequivocally stating their resistance to the Israeli occupation and all forms of discrimination and oppression aimed at Palestinian people only serve to whitewash the crimes of the occupation – crimes that prevent children from living full lives, even if those lives can be saved by doctors.

The crimes of occupation and the regime of apartheid are not anomalies. The bombing of al-Wahda Street in Gaza last May saw whole families and leading doctors like Ayman Abu Al-Ouf wiped out. Al-Wahda Street is where Olive Kids’ partner – al-Amal Orphanage – is located. It too was damaged by the airstrike.

The May conflict in Gaza killed more than 60 children. The loss of Ali and the Bakr boys came seven years before that. Both were preceded by over seven decades of systematic oppression, displacement and denial of Palestinian human rights. The occupation is just as cruel when no one is paying attention, maintaining a chokehold on Palestinians and eliminating their prospects.

To offer Palestinian children a better future, Palestinian doctors better knowledge and Palestinian hospitals better capacities, the first step ought to be setting Palestinians free, not killing their children and doctors and destroying their hospitals and infrastructure.

That is why many Palestinians can’t and won’t support Project Rozana. They can’t and won’t pretend that occupation and apartheid are side issues when it comes to the health of Palestinian children. They are the issue when it comes to guaranteeing their good health, education and mental wellbeing.

Ghassan Kanafani – the great Palestinian author and leader assassinated by Israel’s Mossad – once said: “They steal your bread, then give you a crumb of it, then they demand you to thank them for their generosity. Oh, their audacity!”

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The Marines in Darwin, the governments dereliction, and sexual assault: predictability all round

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 12/08/2021 - 4:55am in

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Human rights

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The Australian Government needs to reassess its agreement that allows the US Marines to “rotate” through Darwin, especially in the light of the expansionist nature of this agreement. The cause is straightforward: sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape against female members of the Australian Defence Force. And these occur at a time when such offences have reached epidemic proportions in the US and Congress has mandated radical reforms.

Recent reports by SBS News, and subsequently analysed on this site by Bevan Ramsden, have uncovered and highlighted the Australian Government’s desultory response, including a refusal to exercise its duty of care to those who are prepared to ‘defend and serve their country.’

In summary form, these sources narrate complaints relating to three recent sexual harassment and assaults on female ADF members serving in Darwin alongside the US marine rotational contingency. Under any circumstances, civil or military, these behaviours are unacceptable; when they concern the actions by personnel of a foreign military presence on Australian territory, they are a travesty of what the alliance relationship with the US is held to be. Accordingly, given that the complaints are of a serious criminal nature, it is imperative that they are investigated to the fullest extent and the offenders prosecuted if the evidence so warrants.

Given also that the ADF is one of the largest employers in Australia and few in the population have little insight into the additional pressures, obligations, and responsibilities of women in the armed services, the government has been found as wanting in these cases as it has been in matters relating to similar behaviours in the Parliament of Australia.

The damage, furthermore, is not just to the immediate victims; it extends to their families and friends who witness, at relatively close quarters, a combination of official apathy and willed injustice. Both call for expressions of outrage but so far there is only silence. So long as this reigns the social trust that needs to exist between a nation and its professional defenders will be attenuated and the human capital essential to maintain it will likewise suffer.

In this context it should be recalled that on Maggie O’Neill wrote an article on sexual assault which, to say the least, is profoundly disturbing: Military Sexual Trauma Affects 1 in 3 Military Women.

Notably, the article focused on the US military. O’Neill reports figures collected by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) that 1 in 3 female personnel experience multiple sexual trauma (MST) whilst serving; it is 1 in 50 for male personnel. And these figures are likely to be understated because the data was collected from only those veterans who both access the VA health care and choose to report such incidents.

Another representation is from James R. Webb where he recounts a five-month Rand Corporation study on sexual harassment and gender discrimination. The findings: women were more likely to face ‘serious’ or ‘persistent’ harassment than their male counterparts – from the active-duty participants more than half of women soldiers reported being sexually harassed.

The most prevalent forms include – sexual advances, sexual talk, questions about their own sex lives, being ignored, mistreated, insulted because of their gender.

Honesty compels the admission that the ADF is not without fault. A report on 13 May 2021 stated that there was a 1% rise from the 6,236 reported sexual assault cases in 2019. But the main point, other than that such reported behaviour needs to be eradicated from the ‘workplace,’ is that it is shamefully consistent with the misogynist mindset and behaviour in Parliament referred to by Julia Gillard when Prime Minister.

Unfortunately, the current narratives which point sharply to the Australian Government’s dereliction of duty, also point to institutional amnesia and/or willed ignorance. What is missing is any familiarity with the historical record before Prime Minister Gillard facilitated the ‘rotations’ of the  US Marines to Darwin. Almost certainly this was a consequence of Australia’s dependency on the US in matters of defence and national security, and the exuberance of wanting to celebrate the 60th anniversary of ANZUS by demonstrating Australia’s ever closer commitment to the US.

While it is undeniable that Gillard experienced sexual harassment and possibly abuse in the workplace throughout her career, it was she who paradoxically set in place the conditions for the most recent accounts of sexual trauma to occur. She did this by first seeming not to understand the first principle of foreign militaries: they are not good house guests and the US military is no exception.

A simple Google search by the foreign policy and defence bureaucracies, or her advisers, would have alerted them (as if they didn’t already know) to the ‘black hole’ of sexual trauma (along with extremism and racism) which is endemic in the US military. Furthermore, and without difficulty, they would have discovered the work of US Army Reserve Colonel (retired), Ann Wright, a former diplomat and 29-year veteran of the US Army and Army Reserves. Her work, highly regarded and meticulous in empirical detail, documents an appalling landscape of predatory and violent sexual behaviour.

And it’s a form of behaviour unbounded by geography. Indeed, there is quite a voluminous historical literature authored by researchers, scholars and journalists recording sexual abuse, harassment, which US military personnel have committed when in-country. Among the many victims are females from the general population, sex workers, and their own female personnel.

Okinawa, the Philippines, Germany, Japan, Thailand are but a few examples which can be cited and the accounts are harrowing. By way of one illustrative example, In 1995 three US servicemen – two marines and a sailor – abducted and raped a 12-year-old local girl.

There was public fury which was only exacerbated by the commander of US forces in the Pacific, Admiral Richard C. Macke, who suggested it would have been cheaper for the men to have hired a prostitute. The offenders were, eventually, tried in Japan but only after much protest and an emergency meeting between the US President, Bill Clinton, and Japanese Premier Ryutaro Hashimoto. All men were jailed – two receiving sentences of seven years and the third for 6 and a half years. Their families also had to make retribution according to Japanese law/culture.

More recently, a former marine raped and murdered a 20-year-old Okinawan woman: he serves a life sentence. Overall, there appears to be a slow and slight increase in court-martials and imprisonment of such US military offenders but this is countered in so many cases because of the disincentives to report sexual assaults and the like and a general unwillingness in the military to exercise the scrutiny they deserve. This is particularly the case when the alleged perpetrator is senior to the complainant in the command structure.

The reports which prompted this post outline a situation that is untenable under any heading. If Australia’s alliance with the United States is understood as requiring silence on matters, criminal and dehumanising in every respect, then it also makes the Australian Government complicit in them, an accessory before, and after the fact. And when it comes to the claim that Australia and the US are natural allies through the sharing of “core values”. Is this an admission of pathology and guilt?

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Pandemic paranoia – the penal colony strikes back at those pesky Australians who left

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 09/08/2021 - 4:58am in

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Human rights

Ever since the pandemic started, Australia has restricted the ability of its citizens to travel overseas in ways few other countries outside of North Korea have done. It is now using the biosecurity laws to also deter those who live overseas from coming back.

On August 1, with the stroke of a pen and minimum fanfare, Health and Aged Care Minister Greg Hunt made a seemingly innocuous change to the (Pandemic) Biosecurity Act to:

“…remove the automatic exemption for a person who ordinarily resides in another country and replace it with a discretionary exemption.”

What the discretionary criteria might be, has yet to be revealed. But the intent is clear, if you live overseas, you come back to Australia at the risk of not being allowed to go back to your home. In other words, don’t come back.

If you have seriously ill family members or ailing parents you want to see, don’t come back. If you are sick and want to come back to Australia to get better treatment than what your host country can offer, don’t come back. If you have important business to attend to that can’t be handled remotely, don’t come back. If after 18 months you just want to spend a bit of time with your newborn grandchild, don’t come back. If your spouse or kids have been living in Australia while you are on an overseas posting, don’t come back.

In April this year, the Government stopped anyone – including Australian citizens – to come back from India during the horrendous surge of infections that over-filled India’s hospitals and morgues.

The Australian passport that can take you anywhere including an Aussie jail!

And although that was repealed, coming back to Australia from overseas is still hard for those approx. 38,000 Australians who have registered with DFAT to return, but have yet to be able to do so. DFAT estimates that around 600,000 Australians have returned since the Pandemic began, mostly on their own initiative, but some have come back on repatriation flights organised by the Government. There are 18 such flights scheduled for August.

The current quota of travellers into Australia is 3,035 per week (excluding those on repatriation flights). Those that do manage to get on that quota is paying many times the usual fare as the airlines can’t fill their planes and still have to cover their costs. It also means very few Airlines can be bothered.

As an example, Garuda Indonesia is the only airline operating flights from Jakarta to Australia and all their seats are booked out until Christmas, each seat is reportedly $8,000 one way.

Some organise private charter flights, others sneak into Darwin by boat. And if you are rich enough or famous enough or have your own Gulfstream, you can make up your own quota and hire your own quarantine villa.

But this has less to do with airline capacity, fame or wealth. It has everything to do with the Government’s abject failure to provide proper and secure quarantine facilities. Eighteen months ago they had a valid excuse as the pandemic hit so suddenly; hotel quarantine seemed the only option and looked like a good idea at the time.

As we now know, it wasn’t. But except for the quarantine facility at Howard Springs outside of Darwin, the Federal Government has done very little to expand the capacity. Not for lack of proposals from both the States and from enterprising individuals.

After months of obfuscation, backtracking and politicking, Morrison finally gave the go-ahead to a 1,000 bed facility in Mickleham north of Melbourne in June. It is planned to be finished by the end of the year.

Other countries build complete hospitals from the ground up in a few weeks. In Australia we take months to even think about putting up a thousand simple dwellings on land already owned by the Government with basic infrastructure already in place.

Other countries – like France – get their embassies to organise vaccinations for French citizens living overseas. Australia can’t even get those who live in Australia vaccinated in a timely manner.

And almost no other country have such draconian rules for its citizens to be allowed to leave, let alone to return. It smacks of Soviet era paranoia.

 

 

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