Sanctions, the Left, and Palestine
Reflections from Melbourne
By Dave Muller

Condemnation of Israel and zionism draws little but a yawn in the left here today. But support of the Palestinians has always been the touchstone for activism of Australian progressive circles. Campaigning for the removal of sanctions against Libya, Iraq must overcome the disinformation that these Arab states have treated the Palestinians badly.

The magic triangleIn Iraq and Libya the government's central and basic objectives are Unity, Freedom and Socialism. But the question of unity in the Arab world is more than a unity -in-opposition to Israel; it is a question of transcending this to a higher positive unity of governments, popular forces and the people in general.

Anti-zionism is one thing but positive support for Iraq and Libya in Australia needs to build on a higher base of unity with the Palestinian people. In the words of Michel 'Aflaq "The Palestinian cause is a condensation of the entire Arab cause. It is the expression of the difficult situation that the Arab Nation is confronted with colonialism, zionism and the Arab reaction". 1

Historically the Melbourne left have shared these views that zionism is a form of racism and spinoff from colonialism. Israel is seen as a recreated ghetto in the oil rich middle east used by the imperialist west as a base and sanctuary for all sorts of crooks and corporate rogues. Principally these views have been ideologically derived from a point of opposition to the right.

The conservatives in Melbourne, a bastion of racism and anti-semitism, have consistently been vocal in its support for Israel in the Middle East. The anti-semitism is manifest in different forms. On one side the propertied establishment such as the Melbourne Club has historically refused membership to Jewish businessmen. On the other, right wing labour leaders have anti Arab immigration phobia greater than Hanson's anti-Asian sentiments. Bob Hawke, Prime Minister during the 1991 Gulf War, ACTU advocate in 1973 alluded to the right of Israel to use nuclear weapons against the Arabs. Successive labour or conservative governments have consistently denied Yasser Arafat a visa to visit Australia.

The left views have also been partially molded historically from a communist perspective, particularly that of Mao's China in the 1960's but later from the position of the Non-aligned Movement in the UN. On the ground the left views also come from the expatriate Palestinian community here and the ALP's socialist left "Baghdad" Bill Hartley's trade union links with Iraq in the 1970's

But the left has historically also had reservation about Arab regimes following the Hashemite kingdom of Jordan's seizure of the West Bank and Egypt of Gaza in 1948 left the Palestinians without a homeland. The events of "Black September" in 1970 reinforced this distrust of regimes in the pay of imperialism.

On the question of Palestinian leadership the left in Australia is now virtually unanimous in its acceptance of Yasser Arafat's Fatah group, although in the past various groups in the left flirted with various factions of the PLO, hosted by the radical states of Syria, Iraq and Libya in the 1970's. But these associations fell apart with the departure for Greece of the PLO from Beirut in 1982 when the Arab regime support against the Israeli siege was at an all time low.

Socialist Iraq, at war with Iran, was unfortunately tainted by the "self preserving" actions in Lebanon of the rival Syrian Ba'ath regime. Libya's close alliance with Syria similarly tainted it in the eyes of expatriate Palestinians and the left.

Many commentators have made the point that the solution of Palestine is the very essence of Arab unity. But very few Arab states have made the qualitative leap from the anti Zionist confrontationist front to support of the Palestinian people. Iraq and Libya are notable exceptions.

In return PLO chairman Arafat gave support to Iraq in the Gulf War. This helped mobilize the left in support of Iraq during the Gulf War. Yet the Zionist disinformation machine played on the underlying suspicion on the wisdom of the move on Kuwait - a place of work for many exiled Palestinians.

Unfortunately little was known of the circumstances and the revolutionary coup d'etat in Kuwait which led Iraq into Kuwait. There was certainly no support in the left for overthrown Kuwaiti sheiks. But the imperialist propaganda had tainted the government of Iraq very badly.

The recent reported fist fights in Baghdad at the 5th conference of Arab popular forces over Yasser Arafat's leadership of the Palestinian Authority serves this propaganda. 2 It serves to perpetuate a fear that Iraq like some other Arab governments have their own non- Palestinian agenda in confrontation with Israel.

Yet the disturbances come despite Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's explicit instructions last year that Arab leaderships "must agree on supporting President Yasser Arafat and Palestinian leaderships, regardless of the gains obtained or the sins committed". 3

When Palestinians in Libya, driven out of their homes from the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, tried to return, they were stopped in transit home at the Libyan-Egyptian border because Israel refused access. But the subsequent imperialist propaganda only talks about Libya's ill treatment and expulsions of the Palestinians. This unfortunately has taken toll of fraternal support from the left for Libya.

The realisation of the Arab nation and the liberation of Palestine are found in the unity of the fraternal masses, their freedom found in awareness and socialist exchange. But mass support for ending of the sanctions against Libya and Iraq will only come when progressives here overcome the inherent distrust of these Arab states on the Palestinian question.

Melbourne, June 1998

Michel Aflaq: " Palestine is the Condensation of the Arab Cause".
Reuters : "Pro and anti Arafat factions scuffle in Baghdad", May 2
Saddam Hussein: Address on the 29th anniversary of Iraq's national day, July 17 1997

In the modern era, Iraq became a self ruling kingdom in 1932. In July 1958 it became an anti-imperialist Pan-Arab republic. It embraced socialism under the Ba'ath Party in July 1968.

In the modern era, Libya became a self ruling kingdom in 1949.  On September 1 1969 it became an anti-imperialist Pan-Arab republic. It embraced socialism in March 1977 when it became known as the Socialist Peoples' Libyan Arab Jamahiriya. Jamahiriya in Arabic means the "state of the masses".