Stand With Senator Payman: As Islamophobic Labor Continues to Deny the Genocide

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Senator Payman

The official death toll of the Gaza genocide was reported as 38,100 over the weekend. But there are thousands more missing, presumed dead under rubble, as Israel has turned the 40-odd-kilometre-long stretch of land into a moonscape, where international humanitarian law no longer applies.

The respected peer-reviewed journal The Lancet just published a study based on research regarding past conflicts, which asserts that “it’s not implausible to estimate” that the indirect deaths that will eventually be attributed to the worst atrocity since World War II are at 186,000 deaths currently.

Yet, according to federal Labor, Israel has simply been defending itself. PM Anthony Albanese has been at pains to maintain this pretence, which the Coalition is not only a party to, but it’s also been accusing the top minister as being too weak in his denials of this the worst of all crimes.

This was until then Labor Senator Fatima Payman declared to the press on 14 May that this “is a genocide, and we need to stop pretending otherwise”. And the Muslim politician added that “our leaders” have been “gaslighting” the public on the point that Israel is merely defending itself.

And these words that Payman uttered sent federal Labor into convulsions, as a member had spoken out against the official line, which is that Israel’s mass slaughter and coordinated starvation of the Palestinians of Gaza does not count as genocide, despite the World Court ruling it plausibly is.

And as the Payman saga has transpired, the Albanese government has increasingly exposed itself as operating at core from a prejudicial position derived from last century’s White Australia Policy, and in doing so, it’s further exposed the gaping chasm between the political class and the people.

True leadership on display

Fatima Payman is an Australian, who was born in Afghanistan, and after fleeing Taliban rule, arrived in this country as a refugee early this century. And under official Labor policy, she was supposed to toe the party line on denying that Israel, an occupying force, is committing genocide in Gaza.

By the time the WA senator did overstep that line to publicly declare that genocide was taking place and that her government, and indeed, both major parties weren’t acknowledging what was transpiring, it was eight months into a mass killing of a group of Palestinians.

And in doing so, she asked “how many international rights laws must Israel break” for “our prime minister and our fellow parliamentarians” to call for an end to the mass slaughter.

Payman’s statement was particularly gutsy, as from the onset of the mass atrocities, an unofficial ban on identifying Gaza as a genocide had been placed on the entire polity, and now, she was breaking that prohibition, as a member of the government that was ensuring it stayed intact.

But it didn’t end there. As Payman crossed the floor on 25 June to vote in favour of a Greens motion calling for the need “to recognise the state of Palestine”. A motion that her party voted against. And this marked the first time a Labor member had voted out of step with the party in 30 years.

Payman then appeared on the increasingly conservative ABC Insiders program on 30 June, where she told host David Speers plainly, “If the same motion on recognising the state of Palestine was to be brought forward tomorrow, I would cross the floor.”

Labor prioritises recognising Palestine

Following Payman’s admission that she would defy Labor’s rule of voting in line with the party again, Albanese summoned the Muslim senator to the Lodge that same day and suspended her from the Labor caucus indefinitely.

However, the Labor National Platform 2021 and its National Platform 2023 both call on the party in government to prioritise recognising Palestine as a state.

So, Albanese threw Payman out of the Labor caucus, as she crossed the floor to support a motion that was progressing an ALP priority policy.

Then to the delight of much of the constituency that is opposed to the genocide in Gaza, and who’ve found each defiant step the senator has taken in raising the atrocity as giving hope and voice to their own concerns, Payman stood before the cameras and quit the genocide-denying Labor Party.

“Witnessing our government’s indifference to the greatest injustice of our times, makes me question the direction the party is taking,” said Senator Payman before the press just after 2 pm last Thursday, 4 July.

“With a heavy heart but a clear conscience I announce my resignation from the Australian Labor Party, and I have informed the prime minister effective immediately, I will sit on the crossbench to represent Western Australia.”

White Australia raises its ugly head

“Senator Payman… has made a decision to place herself outside the Labor Party,” said the PM during question time on 3 July. Then he suggested that he was awaiting the next announcement from Payman regarding the strategy she’d been working for “more than a month now”.

The pile on continued at the announcement of her resignation, with questions put to Payman that ranged from suggesting that she’d “been guided by god”, as well as whether her decision had anything to do with conspiring with a new group called the Muslim Vote.

The Australian then reported on Friday that Labor MPs were raising Payman’s dual citizenship, as she could not revoke her status as an Afghan national due to Taliban rule, and this may give rise to her being barred from parliament, as it’s forbidden to hold the citizenship of another country.

But this matter was aired in 2022, prior to Labor’s election, and that party and a constitutional expert were confident she wouldn’t be in breach of the section 44 of the Australian Constitution rule on dual citizenship, as she’d taken all possible steps to cancel her Afghan citizenship.

Albanese then started conspiracy theorising on Friday, as he claimed he’d heard about “where this was all going to go” a month ago. And he pointed to “some of the meticulous timing of events”: the genocide announcement, crossing the floor, the Insider’s appearance and her resignation.

“People can draw their own conclusions, like I think, you know, I have mine,” the PM told the press in quite a conspiratorial tone. “People will draw their own. But people should be upfront about their actions and should be accountable and responsible for them.”

And following another question about Payman during the press conference, it was put to the PM as to whether he was concerned about a group of Muslims from western Sydney considering forming their own political party.

I don’t think, and don’t want, Australia to go down the road of faith-based political parties, because what that will do is undermine social cohesion,” the PM said, just a tad sensationally.

Albanese then pointed to Labor and its multifaith cohesion, not seeing the irony in having just run an outspoken Muslim woman out of town. And then, just for good measure he commenced laying out some Islamophobic dog whistling.

“I note as well that many people who are refugees in Australia have fled theocracies, have fled regimes that have been based upon so-called religion that has resulted in the oppression of people who do not subscribe to what is often extreme forms,” the PM said in an obvious nod to Payman.

Then in the next breath he raised Hamas, “an extremist organisation” that oppresses Palestinians that don’t follow it, as if this was a reasonable point to add after a suggestion made about some Muslim Australians starting a political party as they don’t feel represented by the majors.

And yet again, the political system and the mainstream media operating in proud modern multicultural and multifaith Australia has been exposed as being the direct descendants of the power structures established under the White Australia policy that they seek to maintain.

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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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