Example Sydney Morning Herald Editorial

Peace, justice and politics
November 3, 2003

The decision to award the $50,000 Sydney Peace Prize this week to Palestinian academic, human rights campaigner and politician Hanan Ashrawi is a challenge for Sydney.

While gaining an Arabic flavour, the city is traditionally pro-Israeli, at least in political and business circles. The Middle East is boiling again, and migrants from that region have been told by the Premier to "obey the law in Australia or ship out of Australia". Sydney's approach to Dr Ashrawi's award will be a test of its maturity.

Dr Ashrawi is said by opponents to be unworthy of a peace prize. Certainly, she is no Gandhi. In 1996 she voted to maintain a clause in the Palestine Liberation Organisation's charter calling for the destruction of Israel. Her language is often aggressive and confrontational. She says she understands the need for violence. But she has also consistently promoted the rights of Palestinian men, women and children to have land, homes, education and security. She has maintained negotiations with Israelis and others through hard times, and has sought reform of the Palestinian Authority.

The Sydney Peace Prize is not, according to the judging criteria of the Sydney Peace Foundation, for the person who has signed the biggest treaty. It is for one who has consistently worked towards peace with justice. The foundation's director, Stuart Rees, says its jury "interprets peace with justice as a process concerned not only with a nation's identity and security, but also with citizens' employment, housing and health, and their experience of the rule of law, of poverty and [of] homelessness. The difference between peace - an end to hostilities - and peace with justice - the process of building a civil society - is central to our deliberations." Past winners Archbishop Desmond Tutu and UN high commissioner Mary Robinson support the choice of Dr Ashrawi. And under such a broad definition Dr Ashrawi, whose drive is towards a civil society in Palestine, qualifies for the award.

Leaving all that aside, Lord Mayor Lucy Turnbull's decision to boycott the awards ceremony for the prize the Sydney City Council sponsors is wrong. Only a month earlier the council, a major sponsor of the prize, had supported the foundation's right to choose its own winner. Having given a commitment to sponsor the award, the council should stand by its commitment, as have other sponsors - Gilbert & Tobin Lawyers, Publishing and Broadcasting Limited, CitiGroup and Rio Tinto Limited. No reality has changed, only its perception.

There is also the question of the Lord Mayor's husband. Malcolm Turnbull is running for preselection in the federal seat of Wentworth, which has a substantial proportion of Jewish voters. Lucy Turnbull talking to a Palestinian activist before that preselection could, conceivably, taint Malcolm Turnbull by association. Lucy Turnbull has denied this is a factor. Her denial would gain greater credibility if she reversed her decision and, as Lord Mayor, represented the city in all its complexity and diversity.

The SMH admits that she has actively maintained belligerence, often uses aggressive and confrontational language. She has consistently promoted the rights of Palestinians - while at the same time denied those same rights to Israelis. The facts are not the issue, in this case - but the interpretation.

According to the SMH she works tirelessly towards a "civil" society - a "just" society. A society where the deliberate murder of "enemy" civilians is justified, be they children or old men. Those who engage in such activity receive a condemnation in front of foreign film cameras, but will never see the inside of a jail. Where lost enemy reservist soldiers can be disembowled by crowds, who pull them from custody in police stations with the cooperation of those in command (Ashrawi justified the action as understandable, because they were "members of notorious Death Squads"). Ashrawi has no commitment to human rights beyond what it can do for the Palestinian cause. Yet despite this she deserves a peace prize. Seeing things this way is patronisingly presented as a measure of Sydney's "maturity".

A peace prize should not be given to belligerent, aggressive, one sided activists promoting violence under the facade of human rights. After all, that is not what peace is. If peace is peace, and war is peace, then everything is peace - and nothing is peace. The concept becomes meaningless. It represents the logical conclusion of a line of thought that ever more abominable actions are just "complexity and diversity" - a cultural phenomena - something worth celebrating for their own sake. Having a sensible definition of what a peace prize is awarded for should be something that people from both sides of politics can agree on.

If one disagrees with their assessment, then the onus is on them to somehow prove that they are not being narrow and partisan. Worse still, is the implication that people who do so are pandering to power of the "Zionist lobby". The SMH, while questioning their opponent's credibility, hasn't addressed concerns about their own, or the founder of the Sydney Peace Federation. The question at hand is not broadmindedness, but whether they been naively duped - willingly or otherwise - by a well known activist Rees, into promoting Ashrawi's human rightism as actually legitimate concern for human rights - rather than a propaganda prop for advancing Palestinian interests.

And there certainly is enough recent data to make the call between her activities being manifestations of human rights or human rightism. In 1996, Ashrawi had the choice of voting to remove the clauses in the PLO charter calling for the destruction of Israel through armed struggle. She was in the 10% minority who voted against it (to do so "will appear to be a succumbing to Israeli dictate") - the venue being the Palestinian legislature. In 2001 she delivered a incendiary speech at the now notorious Durban conference on human rights that heavily featured the words "colonialism, racism, apartheid" - her audience in this case was the UN. In 2000 the above mentioned lynching of the Israeli reservists - so much for her commitment to the Geneva convention on the treatment of prisoners. And in Sydney, on accepting the prize - "I will condemn violence against civilians - I will condemn violence by any groups that think they have a mandate to kill" - as if the deliberate murder of civilians and pinpoint strikes against those who engage in such activity are somehow morally equivalent. "I was amazed at the degree of, not just negative response, but a certain degree of hatred, which I don't find even with my discussion with Israelis" - in other words, legitimate, non violent opposition to her receiving the prize is "hate". In all these cases, Ashrawi tells the audience just what they are able to bear - and when the audience changes, so do the demands. And to show that even when confined to Palestinians Ashrawi's human rights record is rather poor - where was the condemnation when those eight accused of being "collaborators" were shot in their cells (while awaiting trial) and then dragged by vehicles through the streets in Bethlehem April 2002? These actions provide ample opportunity to benchmark her beliefs against human rights principles - and the results are very telling indeed. As past behaviour is a good indicator of future behaviour, expect to see more of this in future.

Certainly the SMH has invested heavily in Ashrawi - at the expense of asking any probing questions or otherwise fulfilling their role as journalists. Fingering this human rightism is essential to understanding how the Palestinian leadership has for so long been able to simultaneously talk peace and pursue war. The editorial demonstrates how political activism has replaced objective pursuit of the truth in many mainstream media organisations.

If the prize was to go to a Palestinian this year, then Abbas, Arafat's holocaust diminishing, sacked prime minister would better follow their purported selection profile. At least he stepped up to the plate and said "terrorism is counterproductive", and issued orders to the few security forces under his control (overridden by Arafat) to crack down on Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Not out of moral conviction of course - just concern for Palestinian interests. But real action nevertheless. That would be a 'flawed hero' the Sydney Peace People might like to back.

There is a simple choice to me made here. Should these ideas gain preeminence, the world we inherit will be an ugly, violent, and confusing place indeed. Quite in contrast to the vision the Peace Prize paints. And it need not be.

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