Pro BDS rally prior to last nights Marrickville Council Meeting

This was the Council Meeting. The following was how I understood the meeting & all mistakes are mine. The speakers took 1.15 hours & the debate on the BDS took a further 1.75 hours.  It would be too lengthy to include what each speaker said, so for brevity, I have written the main message from both speakers & Councillors.  I have tried to be fair to both sides of the debate.

At 5.30pm there was a protest outside Marrickville Council by supporters of the BDS. The Gallery was standing room only with people packed into the foyer & more downstairs & out the front of Marrickville Council.  Mayor Byrne entered the Council Chamber to a rousing ovation lasting some minutes. Some people booed.

Global Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions Campain re Israel Occupation of Palestine – 18 people had registered to speak. The Councillors voted to allow everyone 3-minutes each.  14 people chose to speak.

Protesters at the pro BDS rally before the Marrickville Council Meeting

The 6 people who spoke for the BDS raised the following issues: Myths, lies & political intrigue have been happening over the BDS. It’s a strategy of non-violence to support a militarily occupied people. The Mayor has been subjected to scandalous accusations, legal assaults & character assassinations. The children of Bethlehem will continue to suffer while people do nothing. There have been extremist views & a beat-up by the media. The effects of the BDS are genuine & not cosmetic.  Colonialism is not a pretty thing. Every single human rights organization around the world is clear about what is happening in Gaza & the West Bank.  Israel can only do what it does because we allow it to.  BDS is about saying there is an occupier & an occupied.  The vilification from the media shows that Council is doing something right.  BDS doesn’t have to cost taxpayers. Is it a global issue because Israel is global – all the contracts belong to Israeli companies.  Many Councils & other organizations around the world support the BDS. There was no intent to penalize ratepayers.  Carmel Tebbutt supported the boycott of Burma when she was a Marrickville Councillor.

8 people spoke against the BDS. One person came from Bowral. Issues raised were: It was a misrepresentation that it was a global campaign. BDS is supported by Gadafi & David Duke the Grand Duke of the Klu Klux Klan. The BDS creates extremes in people even though it has vague outlines.  The BDS shuts down negotiation & pushes the Palestinians further away from Statehood. Residents were not consulted. Council should support peaceful projects like Leichhardt Council does.  Council should not play a role in foreign affairs. The BDS is nothing more than a ploy to delegitimize Israel’s existence. Israel is the only state in the Middle East that supports gay rights.  There are causes about injustices in Australia that are not being supported.

Mayor Byrne: Acknowledged all the correspondence & thanked the Jewish community for coming even though it was second day of Passover. The Councillors had never intended to place an added burden on staff or a financial burden on the community. Moved to remove point 2, but support the BDS in principle.  Clr Peters: We have had intense bullying & misinformation with the aim to silence the BDS, denigrate the Greens & lessen our democracy. Marrickville Council has the right to talk about this issue & this is why 10 Councillors voted to support the BDS.  She showed a list of Councils who support the BDS & asked are they acting outside their responsibilities?

The Gallery was packed - standing room only. I have not seen so many people at a Council Meeting before

Clr Wright:  Moved to rescind points 1 & 2 of the original motion & delete point 2 of the Mayoral Minute. My concern is the concept of in-principle support. Not the place for Councils to get involved in international issues.

Clr Phillips: I believe BDS is well-intentioned, but I have concerns about the academic, cultural & sporting aspects. I don’t believe there is sufficient support or understanding of the boycott in Marrickville. Voting against BDS, but if support is built, Council can revisit the issue.

Clr Macri: Majority of residents are not in support of the BDS. I was not elected to deal with the Palestinian issue. Public confidence in Council is eroding. Clr Kontellis: I strongly believe that it is the moral responsibility of every citizen to raise awareness when there is an injustice. It’s our job as a human being.  The BDS does not need to cost ratepayers any more money than they already pay. Will support the Mayoral Motion.

Clr Olive: A number of the other Councillors & the General Manager  went to Bethlehem. That was an extreme symbolic gesture. The greatest symbol of division is a 720 km wall topped with razor wire. 10 Councillors voted for the BDS, but not all Councillors voiced their support.  Mayor Byrne was left to hold a vat of boiling petrol. Some of the Councillors that let this happen were those who went to Palestine. Clr O’Sullivan said she had an embargo on talking to the media. I am going to be guided by my Labor colleagues. If they put their hands up, then I will.

Clr O’Sullivan: Symbolic approaches in politics are impractical. The continuation will distress other people & it will mean that the attack will continue as well. I visited Bethlehem as part of a Union Aid study tour to inspect Oz Aid projects in Gaza. The purpose of my visit was immanently practical. It’s not in the public interest to continue to focus Council resources on confusion & distress.  We have got to go back & focus on our practical issues.

Media van outside Marrickville Council

Clr Iskandar: Listening to the debate I came to the conclusion that people forgot that the BDS was introduced to say to the Israelis, stop killing & destroying people’s assets. It’s a peaceful initiative. If we have a chance to implement the boycott I will, however, we have a letter from the new Premier giving us 28 days & letters from Cesnock & Randwick Council. We have to avoid expenses to our community. Our original motion was for a report asking can we implement a BDS?

Clr Thanos: We start every meeting acknowledging the Cadigal people & Kevin Rudd symbolically apologized to the Aboriginal people. Symbolism is powerful & there is a very long list of people who are free because of symbolism. Council made 2 decisions before I came to Council – boycott Myanmar, effective for the past 12 years & the Sister Cities relationships.  Myanmar boycott shows a precedent exists. Council’s report gives little consideration to gradual or partial BDS. If Council rejects the BDS we will have to revisit the Myanmar boycott. Voting to support motion.

Clr Hanna: Voting against BDS. I have never had so many people come & say you made a joke of us around the world. I listen to my residents. This is for the PM, not us. I want people to get their rights. We need people to get peace together, not boycott them.  Clr Tsardoulias: This Council needs to unite & get back to basics – garbage, roads etc. We are not here for foreign affairs. Supporting Clr Wright’s amendment.

Mayor Byrne: Councillors were approached about this issue. Many motions are done at this Council that don’t go through community consultation. We asked for a report to get further information whether the BDS could be implemented. Whatever happens tonight the BDS will not go away. I personally don’t understand why a sledgehammer has been used to crack the little egg of Marrickville. I don’t feel I could walk away not supporting an in-principle support for the campaign. The vast majority of Councilors supported the BDS just 4 months ago.

Vote for amendment to rescind points 1 & 2 of original motion & delete point 2 of the Mayoral Minute – For: Clrs Macri, Hanna, O’Sullivan, Wright, Tsardoulias, Iskandar. Against – Clrs Phillps, Kontellis, Olive, Peters, Thanos &  Byrne. Mayor Byrne used her casting vote to declare the amendment lost.

Vote for orginal motion, to rescind point 2 & maintain in-principle support for the BDS – For: Clrs Kontellis, Thanos, Peters & Byrne. Against: Clrs Iskandar, Tsardoulias, Wright, O’Sullivan, Olive, Phillips, Hanna & Macri. Motion lost.

The BDS is finished.

There was a Question on Notice from Clr Macri about street trees. I will write about this later.

The very vocal Gallery was up & down all evening responding to the BDS debate