Academics Call for an End to Albanese’s Israel Complicity: Interview with Professor Stuart Rees

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Complicity with Israel

“Why collusion with this grotesque Israeli government?” Australian academics asked prime minister Anthony Albanese in a 14 June open letter, and they further raise the “sadness and despair” that his government’s unbridled support for Tel Aviv’s genocidal attack on Gaza is having on our community.

The 150-odd scholars underscore that Labor is providing unbridled support to the Netanyahu government, which is perpetrating ethnic cleansing, a forced starvation program that’s slipping into famine and is attempting to wipe out the Palestinian way of life in Gaza.

The academics want Labor to acknowledge there’s a genocide taking place, that the violence is spilling out into the West Bank, and that they want to see our nation throw its support behind the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court matters brought against Israel.

And those who’ve undersigned the letter want Albanese to the drop the ruse around blaming “the unhindered genocide occurring in Gaza and on the West Bank”, on an aberrant attack by Hamas on 7 October, as the crisis in Palestine has its inception at least as far back as the 1948 Nakba.

The ongoing catastrophe

“In comparisons of Israel and Hamas, there is no ‘moral equivalence’,” writes Professor Stuart Rees on behalf of the scholars. “Even a cursory reading of history reveals decades of Israeli terrorism and massacres of Palestinians by Israeli forces which far outstrip the Hamas murders of October 2023.”

The Nakba occurred in May 1948, when the Israelis declared the nation of Israel in Palestine, terming it “a land without a people for a people without a land”. Yet, the obvious flaw in this assertion is that Palestine was far from empty, as it was populated by the Indigenous Palestinians.

However, the Israeli forces brutally ethnically cleansed the Palestinians from their own lands, around 750,000 of them, in 1948, pushing many across the borders into neighbouring nations, like Jordan, while others became internally displaced persons in the region of Gaza.

The violence Israel is now perpetrating against the Palestinians in Gaza is a continuation of the Nakba. But how it differs from other periodic attacks waged upon the Palestinians since 1948, is the massive scale of this operation and that this time round it’s being livestreamed to the entire globe.

Peace in troubled times

Professor Stuart Rees penned the letter to the PM on behalf of the academics. And it suggests that Albanese ought to be influenced by a genuine reading of history in responding to this mass atrocity, rather than his present habit of propagating the hasbara, or Israeli propaganda, of Netanyahu.

Rees is the founder of the Sydney Peace Foundation that seeks to promote public interest in peace, justice and universal human rights. And each year, it awards the Sydney Peace Prize, which in 2003, was awarded to renowned Palestinian academic and human rights advocate Dr Hanan Ashrawi.

Sydney Criminal Lawyers spoke to Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies Professor Stuart Rees about the impact Albanese’s support of the mass killings is having on us all and why federal Labor is throwing its complete support behind the greatest atrocity of the century.

Professor Rees, you’ve penned an open letter to the Australian prime minister Anthony Albanese on behalf of 150-odd Australian academics, which refers to his government’s support of the genocide that Israel is perpetrating in the Gaza Strip.

Your group puts the question to the prime minister: Why collusion with this grotesque Israeli government?

So, firstly, let me put that question to you, why is our government colluding with this grotesque Israeli government during the horror it’s perpetrating in Gaza?

There are a couple of main reasons. They are frightened to offend the Israelis, who they regard as their modern time allies, and they are frightened to offend the US, as they take their foreign policy cues from Washington.

And the third thing is, in Australia, they are frightened of being wedged by the Murdoch media as antisemitic if they dare to question the Israeli slaughter.

You’re an academic in the field of peace and conflict studies, so from your understanding, what are we witnessing in Gaza? 

It is the worst slaughter, genocide, since 1948, when three-quarters of a million Palestinians were driven from their homes, tens of thousands murdered and five hundred towns and villages were erased from the face of the earth.

The slaughters of Palestinians have been ongoing since 1948, and we can document about 30 of them.

But the wretched western media likes to assert that it is all about Hamas and this slaughter and barbarity only started in October last year.

A lot of commentators have called this the worst atrocity crime since World War II. How do you consider that assertion?

Well, certainly, I mean they’ve been preparing for it since 1948, due to the fact that the west has turned a blind eye to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and to the 17-year-old siege on Gaza.

It is the worst atrocity because we’ve been asked to witness it. We’ve been told exactly what it is about, and we are all expected to be passive and sit silently by and watch.

There is some argument for saying the world didn’t entirely know about the details of the Holocaust, but we very much know exactly what the Israelis are doing now.

As you summed up on behalf of Australian academics, you all consider that this nation’s attitude towards Israel and the rights of Palestinians should rely on factual history, by “adherence to the rules of international law and by ideals of a common humanity”.

It’s pretty obvious to everyone that Israel’s lately trashed the two latter aspects of your suggestion, but can you elaborate on the reading of history that Anthony Albanese ought to open his mind to?

They either don’t read history, or it is inconvenient for them to reveal that the massacres by Israelis of Palestinians completely dwarf anything that Hamas did in October last year.

The reading of history is affected by, in Albanese’s case, political calculations. In the forthcoming election, he is frightened to offend Sky News, the Murdoch newspapers and the wretched dogma of the opposition party.

He is frightened of all that, and instead of coming out openly in praise of university students on campuses, or the people who are protesting in major cities each week, he likes to say they don’t know what they are doing, when they do know.

And what do you think about a prime minister taking that stance and deciding to tell the constituency that they don’t know what they’re doing?

Courage in public life is rare. When you go to the capital in Canberra, with a few exceptions, they’re hidden away down there.

The exceptions are the members of the Greens Party and the teal independents. They’ve written to me and said that they completely agree with the tenor of the letter to the prime minister.

But the major parties are merely mouthing this notion that we are in favour of a world human rights order, that’s the cliche that’s been used since 1948.

It is completely untruthful. The people of the south who are not western realise that. And that realisation is why South Africa took Israel to the International Court of Justice.

What is fair in public life is different from the context of political calculation.

The open letter gives a nod to, the last time I looked, over 2,000 public servants who called on the government to end its support of Israel. Some of those people would have been risking their jobs in taking that stand.

Your group of academics is calling on Albanese to acknowledge the genocide in Gaza, the heightened violence in the West Bank, to support the ICJ and ICC initiatives against Israel and to follow other European nations who’ve lately acknowledged Palestine.

So, how significant is it for these academics to be putting this to the government? And how broad of an ask is it compared to where you see them standing at present?

It’s as significant as possible. The alternative would be for us to stay silent. And there’s a chronic mental malaise, a mental disease, across this country at the moment, and it is almost as bad as COVID.

People are feeling powerless to do anything about this slaughter that they are asked to watch every night.

And a permanent feeling of powerlessness leads to depression.

On behalf of the academics, we at least tried to say, “We’re here. We protest. This is not how we think. This is something called human rights. There is something called justice. There is something called a common humanity, and we wish to write to you about it.”

And in many respects, as members of staff, we were trying to support what the gutsy students are doing.

You’ve already touched on this but the letter states, “We write in sadness and despair”.

Indeed, to see the images of Gaza, to know people are severely starving and being bombed and traumatised does cause despair. To increasingly learn of the levels of complicity our government has in this grave atrocity does cause sadness.

So, what toll is Albanese’s position on Gaza having on the constituency?

He’s complying with the genocide really, by refusing to recognise Palestine and by refusing to use the word genocide.

So, he’s complicit in the genocide. It’s almost as though the brutality which people witness on their television screens each night is not seen by him or it doesn’t register.

It’s very sad, but it’s also disgraceful.

And there’s a malaise across the country about it. There is a continuance of feelings from anger to frustration to despair to a sense of depression about it.

People, who have told me they have not previously been involved in politics, are reacting with a great deal of anger and despair to what is going on in Gaza.

It’s a malaise as contagious as COVID.

And lastly, Professor Rees, key commentators have been raising the gravity of Gaza, and the barbarism of the west in having stood on the world stage and nodded along with these crimes, as well as the seismic shift in political opinion that’s been happening in the Global South.

But if you watch some of the politicians down in Canberra, it’s as if they think this will eventually blow over like a sports rorts affair.

Do you consider that Gaza is causing shifts around the globe that will be long impacting? And does the Australian political class seem quite aware that these changes are underway?

The major parties remain inhumane, ignorant and they’re not too bothered, it seems, by Israel’s determination that this war has got to go on until the year’s end.

So, this idea that everybody in Gaza is Hamas, and all of Hamas should be eliminated, doesn’t seem to register.

What is going to happen is there is no way that Labor can win the next election. Although the dreadful alternative is Dutton. There will have to be a hung parliament.

And hopefully, the independents point of view: the Greens and the teals – and I’m saying this as a member of the Labor Party for god’s sake – will benefit because their views are much more in tune with what the public are feeling.

So, what we saw at the last election will occur again, but this time it will be a much greater greenslide?

Gaza, of course, won’t be the only issue by any means.

But, for example, in NSW, there are enough constituencies where the Arab Australian population is large enough to have an impact – because people are not going to forget this.

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Paul Gregoire

Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He's the winner of the 2021 NSW Council for Civil Liberties Award For Excellence In Civil Liberties Journalism. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, Paul wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.

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