For left-wing people in Australia, support for Aboriginal rights is almost axiomatic—rightfully so in a country where Indigenous people are plagued by over-policing, racist politicians and endemic poverty. But horror at the racism Indigenous people in Australia face shouldn’t stop at the national border, and nor should solidarity.
Recognition of this fact is increasingly evident in the response to Israel’s war on Gaza. It is reflected in the thousands of anti-racists who have attended protests against the war, as well as the many expressions of solidarity on social media that link the struggle of Indigenous people and the Palestinians.
But among the self-proclaimed Indigenous rights supporters in the establishment, like Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and most of the Labor cabinet, the opposite is the case. Albanese championed the Voice to Parliament as a way to acknowledge the past injustices suffered by Indigenous people. But he seems to care little about the current injustices happening right now in Palestine. While thousands die from Israel’s bombs in Gaza, Albanese has lined up with the rest of the Western leaders to expound Israel’s “right to defend itself” and give a green light to a possible genocide.
It is utmost hypocrisy to criticise the long history of genocide, frontier wars and racist discrimination in Australia, while not condemning Israel’s brutal war against the people of Gaza as it unfolds live on our screens. After all, Israel is right now trying to complete the very thing that many rightfully condemn the forerunners of the Australian government for starting in 1788: an ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people from their own land.
All the horrors that were visited upon the Indigenous people of Australia, including violent attacks by armed soldiers, land dispossession, social segregation and racist demonisation, have been a feature of life for the Palestinians for decades. The Israeli state was created in 1948 out of a genocidal assault that led to hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fleeing their homes and the Israeli military seizing most of the historic nation of Palestine. Since then, Israel has constructed an apartheid regime to punish and terrorise the Palestinians who remain.
Unlike in Australia, the Israeli government was not able to dispossess the Palestinian people entirely in 1948, and nor has it managed to since. In the West Bank and Gaza, Palestinians still retain control over sections of their historic homeland and are fighting politically and militarily to regain their land and establish an independent state.
Many Israeli politicians want to finish what was started in 1948 and drive the rest of the Palestinians from Gaza and possibly even the West Bank. They see the current war as an opportunity to make gains in that regard. As the Israeli MP Ariel Kallner wrote, “Right now, one goal: Nakba! A Nakba that will overshadow the Nakba of 48”.
This objective is acceptable to the Western powers that back Israel, and for whom Israel represents an important ally and base of operations in a largely hostile geopolitical region. Australia is one of the most craven.
The establishment in Australia recognises and accepts this fact, at the same time as many in its ranks profess their support for Indigenous people and acknowledge the history of violence, racism and exploitation they have been subjected to. Of course, they don’t do anything to actually help Indigenous people in the here and now, but they are mostly fine with accepting that there was a genocide a long time ago.
It is far easier to condemn the crimes of the past than it is to confront the horrors of the present, especially when your state is one of the beneficiaries of that horror. To stand on the side of the oppressed when the intense propaganda campaign of the oppressors is in full swing is rarely a mainstream or popular exercise.
Many of those who fought to abolish slavery, criticised South African apartheid or marched for civil rights and democratic reforms were vilified at the time as deluded criminals or mocked as silly utopians by the establishment, even if today they are venerated.
We can’t wait for history to make its judgement. We have to throw ourselves into the fight for justice today, no matter how controversial that is with the powers that be.
Thousands who know what it means to support Indigenous rights, and who understand what was done to Indigenous people in Australia and why, are joining the rallies against those same crimes being committed against Palestinians. Those who want to bleat on about Indigenous rights only because they think it might be electorally expedient, are cheering on capitalism’s latest genocide.
PHOTO CREDIT: Matt Hrkac