The criminalisation of pro-Palestinian activism could see states implementing further anti-protest laws that would stifle democratic freedom of speech, writes Tom Tanuki.
WHEN RALLIES broke out around the world following Hamas' bloody attack on 7 October and the immediate Israeli retaliation on Gaza in its wake, amid the cries for Palestinian liberation was a tiny and vocally anti-Semitic fringe.
It is a fringe. Many political movements have a parasitic fringe they must deal with of racists and bigots. Our political opponents take footage of these parasites and use it to serve as evidence that they represent the true intentions of the masses. This naturally happens to every political movement subject to conflict.
In fact, I am impressed by the wave of newfound literacy about the clear distinction between political anti-Zionism and anti-Semitic stereotyping or targeting of all Jewish people. Despite an often disingenuous Zionist argument characterising all pro-Palestinian action post-7 October as anti-Semitic, this movement is performing particularly well at ejecting racists in its rush to fight for the safety of Gazans under fire.
We understand that we are fighting against a colonial system that subjugates Palestinians; in our political stance, we are accompanied by anti-Zionist Jews. Our intentions are clear.
Nonetheless, there is always a fringe of some kind to be dealt with. On 9 October, they were at a Sydney rally. Their chants were shown around the world. Subtitled videos that immediately went viral showed a group shouting, "F**k the Jews" and, worse still, "Gas the Jews".
Sydney rally organiser Fahad Ali immediately condemned the horrific chants. He told those responsible they weren't welcome anywhere in the movement. Fahad demonstrated what every organiser must do with dangerous or unwelcome fringe elements.
There is a distinct difference between these two chants. To be clear, they are both examples of rank anti-Semitism. Both are immediately to be condemned in any anti-racist peace movement. But to yell about gassing feels more dangerous, by several orders of magnitude. It adds to the racism a very explicit call to deploy violence - infamous and historic Nazi German genocidal violence, no less - against Jewish people. It's quite clearly incitement. And that kind of thing can lead to the suppression of protest.
I am vehemently against the suppression of protest as a matter of principle, having consistently argued that even the worst scumbags in the country should be allowed to rally. I have often said, including in this column space, that what should happen in response to dangerous political formations, like Melbourne's organised neo-Nazi street movement, is the convergence of a popular counter-movement against them - essentially our community policing itself. I don't believe that piling on additional legislative, policing and surveilling powers eliminates dangerous political movements.
But my arguments remain on the fringe. Anyone calling for more surveilling, cops and draconian laws tends to take pride of place in media coverage of protest and activism in Australia. The liberal Left and Right often join in unison on the need to have more laws to suppress activists (although the targets of their calls differ). So, that's usually what we get.
We've introduced laws to ban Sieg Heils and swastikas. We chuck them on the pile of laws that already exist to suppress activists, like Victoria's ban against face masks at rallies, or NSW's ability to move anyone on they don't like the look of and arrest them if they refuse, or Queensland's ample laws to arrest people for swearing.
Among those who argued prominently for more laws to be introduced to govern the political fringe was the Anti-Defamation Commission's Dvir Abramovich. Dvir, at every opportunity, would secure a media spot for this express purpose. He once offered to stand side by side with Opposition Leader Peter Dutton, then the Minister for Home Affairs in Scott Morrison's Government, if Dutton would agree to introduce more laws to surveil the far-Right.
Dvir's job is to document the happenings of the far-Right as they concern anti-Semitism. (And only anti-Semitism; throughout the late-2010's Islamophobic patriot movement, Dvir would often excise all mention of anti-Muslim racism and bigotry when documenting local neo-Nazism, as though it wasn't even happening.)
Now Dvir has turned his attention to pro-Palestinian activism. He documents the activities of a handful of racists and neo-Nazis, and now they appear to be emblematic of the entire movement. He describes most pro-Palestinian activism as vile anti-Semitism, "hate crime", "guerilla-style tactics" and 'incitement', with all the legal implications that carries.
But I admit: this is understandable if entire groups are chanting about gassing Jews. That's a horrific chant, going beyond mere racist sentiment into a call that is actively violent and endangering for Jewish people.
Except it's not clear that anybody ever chanted that.
A Sydney livestreamer, Chriscoveries, recorded a later conversation with the man who filmed that footage. He says he doesn't even believe that that's what they said. He also confirms he didn't subtitle it that way - someone else did that with his footage.
Chris, who was also there, says that once something is reported a certain way, you have to "run with it as fact".
I'm not sure you do, Chris. Not when the "fact" in question is feeding very explicit calls to criminalise protest in Australia.
Let me be clear again. All anti-Semitic sentiment is terrible. I do not intend to "grade" varying tiers of anti-Semitism as expressed by racist scumbags. They're all unwelcome, no matter what vile thing they're saying about all Jewish people.
What concerns me is rising calls to ban peaceful protest, which are shaped around a discussion based on what is, at best, a misunderstanding. Racists can be told to leave, as Fahad did in his organising capacity. But imagine if we'd heeded calls to criminalise this protest based on a fabrication!
Around the world, a raft of liberals' cherished anti-hate crime laws and regulations are now being brought to bear against pro-Palestinian peace movements. In Britain, a South Asian woman has been arrested under hate crime laws for holding a placard at a Palestine rally depicting PM Rishi Sunak as a coconut - an insult among Black and Brown communities that cannot seriously be said to be "racism" if you have a basic understanding of the concept.
In France, a law was proposed to sanction anti-Zionism. No, not racist anti-Semitism, but criticism of political Zionism. Germany is considering illegalising "from the river to the sea" as a hate chant, despite the effort put into clarifying that it isn't a hate chant.
Now we're seeing the reintroduction of calls for move-on powers to be introduced in Victoria, ostensibly in the name of scattering pro-Palestinian activists.
Palestine is not a liberal Left issue. A pro-Zionist propaganda apparatus has long co-opted significant portions of the Western media and political construct. Expressing pro-Palestinian sentiment is difficult, intimidating, unprofitable and even risky. Acting out of self-interest, a lot of liberals pretend, even now, that they don't see the mounting pile of dead Palestinian children as Israel forges ahead with its brutal ethnic cleansing campaign.
Meanwhile, liberal Left efforts to hasten away the disappearance of unpalatable fringe movements have left us with a raft of draconian surveillance and policing powers that stifle protest. Now, we are watching their favourite laws threaten to turn on an anti-racist Left-wing peace movement.
We must always do as organisers have done and force racists and anti-Semites out. We must not let them interrupt our urgent campaign to pressure our government to call for a ceasefire and to call for Palestinian liberation. We must not let our political opponents misrepresent us and then use those misrepresentations to call for our criminalisation. And we must not continue to imagine that draconian policing is a "solution" to the right to protest.