Intifada Dreaming

On the Wednesday after the Voice referendum defeat, attendees at a South Australian government breakfast event likely endured the least welcoming welcome-to-country on record. Katrina Ngaityalya Power, one of those present elders who apparently deserve our respect, adhered to the ceremony’s customary eschewal of good manners as she banged on about stolen land. However, she also added a few original solecisms that made this particular welcome-to-country chore a bit more interesting than usual.

As she took to the stage, Ms Power warmed to her main subject by whingeing about the low volume of the applause. Without irony, she castigated “No” voters for having denied her a voice the previous weekend, and then she called for King Charles to be deposed. And yet, her most striking remark that morning in the Adelaide Convention Centre was her invocation of the suffering of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, as she professed to have a unique understanding of what they were living through.

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In fact, everywhere you looked that week, an outbreak of Aboriginal and Palestinian solidarity was impossible to miss. “Tonight we grieve. Tomorrow we go stand with Palestine.” This was the social media exhortation from Evelyn Araluen, Aboriginal poet and lecturer, after the results arrived on the evening of October 14. Her fellow academic Jordana Silverstein added to this theme with a combination of social justice jargon and self-flagellation. She sniffed: “From Naarm to Gaza, the coloniality of this day today is so devastating. I’m heartbroken for what we colonisers do to indigenous peoples. I’m so sorry.”

A week later, after that period of merciful silence, Voice architects and campaigners had a tantrum in the form of a joint statement. Alongside the skimmable stuff on misinformation and whatnot, there is an entire paragraph of Palestinian-style grievance that questions “the legitimacy of the non-Indigenous occupation in this country”. So much for working to unite Australia: official “Yes” advocates, it turns out, don’t even think Australia is a legally sound nation-state.

With these remarks, Voice leaders finally allied themselves with Lidia Thorpe and her Blak Sovereignty movement. Her spelling isn’t the only area Thorpe needs to work on, as her thin vocabulary consists of derivations of coloniser and blather about the ongoing war that she’s waging. Thorpe stuck to these familiar subjects on the floor of the Australian Senate, where she donned a keffiyeh and argued that the struggles of Aborigines and Palestinians are identical, as both seek their own sovereignty and the return of land. In her speech, she expressed her contempt for the very system of government in which she works, and she even showed off a few new words, as she barked: “I am not surprised that the Australian government, which is itself an illegal occupier of these very lands, condones illegal occupation of other lands and sides with an illegal regime.”

Thorpe’s former party, the Greens, borrowed many of these talking points for their own statements. New South Wales MP Jenny Leong had the most embarrassing public hissy fit about the decision to light up the Opera House in the colours of the Israeli flag. She called the decision “appalling” but unsurprising, as Australia, too, is “a land marked with the bloodstains of invasion and colonisation”. The reliably awful Mehreen Faruqi, a Senator, made her first public comment on the Israel-Hamas conflict via her objection to illuminating Parliament House in blue and white. She snarled: “One colonial government supporting another. What a disgrace.”

Palestinian-Australian activists, in the spirit of co-operation, also acknowledge this shared struggle. What usually stands out is their enthusiasm for the resistance, some excuse-making for the war crimes of Hamas, and a recitation of their ever-lengthening charge sheet against Israel. But before they even get to all this, it seems, they ground their activism in the language of Aboriginal grievance. In other words, they’re quick to point out that a duplicate list of Australia’s crimes can also be levelled against the “colony” of Israel.

Nasser Mashni, president of the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network (APAN), isn’t one for subtlety on this point. Mashni has been a ubiquitous figure on the ABC since the war’s outbreak, where viewers must have noticed the twin Aboriginal and Palestinian flags on his lapel. In his own bio, he writes: “Settler here, refugee there. Desperate for justice in this colony and in Palestine.” To this purpose, Mashni has been a frequent encomiast of Palestinian terrorists, though I hasten to note that he wouldn’t like my word choice there. After all, Mashni and APAN are unconvinced by the argument that Hamas should be considered a terrorist outfit at all, and nothing since October 7 seems to have changed their minds.

It’s unsurprising, then, that APAN has been one of the organising forces behind the rallies that have lately defiled our capital cities. In its promotional material, APAN indicates the location of these events by using Aboriginal place names, like Boorloo for Perth, Meanjin for Brisbane, and so on. At one of the Melbourne protests, Mashni himself led the crowd in Hamas’s favourite rhyme, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” On the steps of the State Parliament, some rallygoers reportedly added to this genocidal theme by chanting an Arabic slogan that warns the Jews of the return of Muhammad’s army and the massacre to follow. In Sydney, a like-minded mob stood in front of the Opera House illumined by the colours of Israel and called for another Holocaust.

Incitements like “Gas the Jews” don’t inspire any condemnatory language among the likes of Thorpe, Faruqi, and the activist and academic class. They do have the right words at the ready, of course, but they’re very selective and morally obtuse. In fact, instead of denunciations, it’s much easier to find some not-so-subtle glorification of Hamas’s latest atrocities.

Left-wing literary journal Overland recently published an open letter by Hirak Au, a Palestinian youth collective working and living in—as the kids call it—“so-called Australia”. Naturally, Hirak Au prefaces its remarks by noting that Palestinians and Aborigines are engaged in the same fight against colonialism. While the events of October 7 don’t rate a mention in their view, they have no qualms about acknowledging their fallen comrades with an extremist flourish: “We honour and mourn our martyrs.” The letter has thirty-seven signatures, which, someone out there might argue, could also double as a handy watch-list for ASIO.

One of those names, Sara Saleh, stands out the most, as she is a prominent poet, author, lawyer and activist. She also posts untimely commentary like “Glory to our martyrs always” as well as praise for the “considerable restraint” shown by “the Palestinian resistance” thus far. At the time of Saleh’s tweeting, though, the stories of Hamas’s latest methods—torture and the decapitation of babies—had already been well documented.

Of course, Sara Saleh, just like an industry of politicians, university lecturers, activists and other misfits, can only look at events in the Middle East through the lens of the Aboriginal struggle at home. “Our anti-colonial struggles are linked,” Saleh wrote in the aftermath of Hamas’s pogrom. “Black-Pal solidarity forever.”

Settler colonial studies on Palestine and Australia

This solidarity is something that many Australians may have only noticed for the first time, due to the co-occurrence of the Voice’s failure and the Israel-Hamas war. However, this relationship is a long-standing one. At a Melbourne rally on October 15, the day after the referendum went down, it was fitting that Gary Foley took to the microphone, as he was largely responsible for bringing the themes of the day together. When he addressed the crowd, he continued the argument he had been making for decades: “Aboriginal people have a deep understanding of what Palestinians are going through because we are going through the same. We stand with you to the end.”

Foley has enjoyed a long career in academia and museum curatorship, but is best known as a founder of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in 1972. This seeming incongruence has nevertheless worked out pretty well for him. Although Foley has taken up many positions funded by the generosity of taxpayers, he’s always quick to remind you of his utter rejection of the Australian state and how he’s never considered himself its citizen. Foley has modelled both the separatist mindset that has debased Aboriginal politics and its obsessive focus on Palestine. This solidarity, then, isn’t some new irruption into the streets; instead, it’s been cultivated for a long time.

In a podcast interview in 2019, Foley even recalled the day when the two causes united. At Monash University during the Yom Kippur War in 1973, Foley, along with fellow Black Power troublemaker Bruce McGuinness, claimed to have intervened against a “gang of Jews” beating up a lone Palestinian. It was at this moment, Foley said, that the emerging Aboriginal radicalism combined with the struggle of the Palestinians, at least for him.

At the same time, Foley also began a long association with Ali Kazak, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation who would become an influential diplomat in Australia and the region. “Your struggle is our struggle,” Foley recalled telling his friend. Kazak’s Australian-based newspaper Free Palestine spruiked Foley’s demonstrations; Foley opened Kazak’s exhibitions on Palestinian art and culture. All those lines we hear today about the shared experience of occupation and apartheid were first crafted and rehearsed back then, in meetings and journals and action groups. “In lots of ways, it’s my personal crusade, if you like,” Foley reflected.

Meanwhile, in the academy, settler colonialism emerged as a field of study, principally as a way of expanding the scope of Western masochism and keeping alive the Left’s revolutionary fervour. Its scholars theorised that the colonial era never really ended and is still with us today. Despite the advent of liberal democracy and the achievement of political and civic equality, in the minds of academics things haven’t really improved at all.

Their central claim is a meretricious one, which is why it has long appealed to graduate students in the humanities: settler colonialism is a structure rather than an historical period, and it allegedly permeates all aspects of modern settler societies, like those of Australia and Israel. The Melbourne historian Patrick Wolfe did much of the intellectual damage here, as he popularised the idea that the colonial “logic of elimination” continues right up until today. When Lidia Thorpe and her co-conspirators whinge and lie about experiencing “ongoing genocide”, it’s the nonsense of settler colonialism studies they’re drawing from.

These strands combined at a three-day conference at the University of Melbourne in 2019, convened by Gary Foley and art historian Suzannah Henty. Ali Kazak was even there to open the proceedings. “Black-Palestinian Solidarity: Contesting Settler Nationalisms” brought together a rogues’ gallery of professors, allies and activists, all determined—deep breath, as some academic clichés are on their way—to “mobilise the long-standing solidarity between Aboriginal and Palestinian peoples in their continuing and indivisible struggle against settler-colonial occupation”.

The conference produced a seventy-two-page booklet and Foley and Henty also provided a write-up for Radical Philosophy magazine. A good deal of it is simply references to so-called Melbourne and attempts to avoid using the word Australia, as this would be quite unmannerly at a university. More interestingly, there’s also a bit on the right of return for Palestinians and Aborigines, as well as some oath-making about continuing the fight, as ever, until victory.

One begins to wonder nervously, though: how might that victory be achieved? The word most often repeated at the conference was decolonisation, an academic favourite and the essential weapon in the dismantling of settler-colonialism. This doesn’t simply involve, however, even more frequent acknowledgments of country and a clean-out of the museum collection. It’s a weapon in a literal sense. Decolonisation, as activists and professors like to remind each other, is not a metaphor: it must involve the taking back of land and the reclamation of sovereignty, and one might have to be armed when doing so.

On the way to victory, a major hold-up is any attempt at reconciliation. This is a waste of time and an impossibility anyway, according to conference participant Ghassan Hage. If you’re under the delusion that you’re a current target of a government intent on genocide, a Reconciliation Morning Tea in the faculty lounge isn’t likely to allay your fears. In fact, it may even be a conspiracy of sorts to delay the intifada and therefore perpetuate the settler-colonial status quo. As Foley and Henty summarised:

Hage argued that reconciliation processes are consistently underpinned by a paternalism that seeks to ward off the ghosts that haunt stolen land, in order to prevent an uprising. Settler colonial reconciliation, therefore, is only attempted when the oppressed is pacified or dead.

Not a lot of laughs at that conference, I suspect. But nor is it very cheering or hopeful to see the widespread adoption and expansion of Gary Foley’s worldview by a younger and arguably even more radical generation of activists and educators.

After the conference, many of its speakers would go on to establish and write for their own journal, the Sunday Paper, with a mission to continue the ever-more-united struggle of Aborigines and Palestinians. Its very title is a rejoinder to the left-wing publication the Saturday Paper, which refuses to condemn Zionism and the settler-colonial project with the urgency and vigour that the times demand.

Amy McQuire, now an editor for the Sunday Paper, wrote a piece for the 2021 inaugural issue titled “Our Shared Resistance”. McQuire is a journalist who has received numerous awards, fellowships and book deals. She has also attained a PhD and has an academic appointment at the Queensland University of Technology. In the country that’s given her everything, she remains of the view that the British settlement of Australia was “our own Nakba”, which continues to the present. Accordingly, she tells her readers and followers that the elimination of indigenous people “is still at the very core of the project”.

All this may have begun as Gary Foley’s personal crusade, but that’s certainly no longer the case. A new banner and updated slogan, which McQuire has also adopted, has lately been prominent on social media and at protests in the streets. It serves as a useful but sinister encapsulation of where radical Aboriginal politics in Australia has arrived, but also where it may be headed. You’re likely to see it for yourself soon, I imagine. Against the Aboriginal flag are set the words: “From the river to the sea. Always was, always will be.”


Post-referendum politics

This radical cast of mind explains one more thing that many Australians would have noticed, but perhaps couldn’t understand. Let us recall that Hamas terrorists boasted of their massacre of 1200 Israelis, including infants and the elderly, and they committed mass rape of women and mutilated their bodies. When the world became fully aware of the horror of October 7, Hamas vowed to do it again and again, for as long as necessary, until no Jewish settlers were left.

In the Aboriginal and Palestinian resistance movement in Australia, and among its academic and media allies, I challenge you to find any condemnation of what occurred, or even words of stern disagreement with the tactics. Instead, there are only vehement demands for an Israeli ceasefire, which would allow Hamas to get on with the actual genocide it has promised to commit. But none of this should be mysterious or difficult to understand at all: it’s simply decolonisation in practice and the manner in which settler-colonial states have to be dismantled.

The resisters, as they helpfully remind us, see no moral or practical difference between Israel and Australia. So perhaps we should start to wonder what else they’ve got planned, or what they’re willing to countenance in the fight against settler-colonialism closer to home. This is especially relevant as we navigate post-referendum politics, as it isn’t simply the future of indigenous policy or spending or audits that are up for review.

Isabella Higgins, an Indigenous Affairs reporter at the ABC, appeared on Insiders the day after the vote to provide analysis on where things were headed. She said the rejection of the Voice would irrevocably “change the way indigenous Australians want to interact with the rest of the country”. She argued that Lidia Thorpe’s Blak Sovereignty movement and its goals would soon become much more attractive, as would the desire to unleash “black anger”. All this, she said, would constitute a broader challenge to “the Australian regime”. Many viewers would have been left with the impression that Higgins wasn’t only predicting a likely future scenario of Aboriginal politics, but actively stirring up her own preferences.

There have also been a number of eulogies for reconciliation since the Voice defeat, but few speakers have seemed particularly saddened about its passing. This is especially true of Larissa Baldwin-Roberts, CEO of the left-wing group GetUp. On the ABC’s Q&A, Baldwin-Roberts showed off both her Palestinian and Aboriginal accessories and her talent for demagoguery: “Personally, I think reconciliation is over. It’s time for a reckoning. We cannot have reconciliation with people who do not say that we exist in this country.” Her obvious mendacity about the mindset of “No” voters wouldn’t matter to the people she’s trying to incite. She didn’t elucidate what she meant by a reckoning, but it isn’t likely to involve an outbreak of good sense and compromise.

To prove this point, Triple J presenter Nooky, who didn’t take the referendum result very well, dedicated the entire hour of his Blak Out program to playing the Yothu Yindi song “Treaty” on repeat. “We ain’t licking our wounds today,” Mr Nooky added. “We’re sharpening our spears.”

Do comments and avowals like these foretoken just a nastier era of politics, or something much worse? While that last example is, at first glance, somewhat risible, it’s also part of a theme that Aboriginal activists have been building on for years. The Australian public seems to co-operate in the memory-holing of these kinds of incidents, perhaps because we don’t want to think about what they mean.

On January 26, 2012, to commemorate the fortieth anniversary of the Tent Embassy’s founding, Aboriginal rioters at Parliament House clashed with police and forced the evacuation of Tony Abbott and Julia Gillard. No one was arrested and the prevailing sentiment must have been that the disruptions and threats could have gone much further. A few years later, when more Aboriginal protesters set Old Parliament House alight, they could even find a cheerleader for their arson in Senator Lidia Thorpe. In 2019, again on the ABC, Aboriginal woman Nayuka Gorrie outed herself as an enthusiast for an Aboriginal uprising and its attendant violence, telling her audience, “I wonder what our kind of tipping point in Australia’s going to be when people will start burning stuff. I look forward to it.” With these remarks, Gorrie was only echoing what has become a recurring talking point at the annual Invasion Day rallies. At one of these get-togethers, Tarneen Onus-Williams, it should be remembered, told the mob outside the Victorian Parliament House, “F*** Australia. Hope it burns to the ground.”

Onus-Williams is a member of the Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance (WAR), a group of militants who formed a coalition in 2014. They advocate for the return of land, reparations and separatism from the Australian nation. One of their politer ways of getting these points across is by burning and spitting on the Australian flag. Gary Foley is an admirer, especially of WAR’s organising prowess. After all, every January 26 they bring tens of thousands of people to the streets to support their cause, which is not to change or abolish the date, but to abolish Australia itself, as any of the placards will tell you. As a warm-up for the next one, WAR has also been responsible for the frighteningly large turnouts at the recent hate marches that masquerade as pro-Palestine rallies.

It hasn’t taken long, then, for the radicalism of WAR to become something like the mainstream of Aboriginal politics. What’s the difference, really, between their views and those of the Voice architects or some journalists at the ABC? It might not take much longer, then, for someone to act more effectively on the violent and pyromaniacal imaginings we’re constantly told are on the way.

To this end, early in the Voice campaign there was a comment by Marcia Langton which deserves reconsideration. Speaking to business leaders, Langton, who usually favoured abuse as a get-out-the-Yes-vote strategy, opted instead for a kind of blackmail. Do what she asked, Langton told the audience, or you’d soon be up against an intifada in the Western Desert.

To be fair to Langton, it’s unclear whether she would actually join such an uprising herself; there’s little doubt, though, that her intellectual and activist successors would thrill to it. How could it be any other way? Such a desire has never been a secret or a conspiracy. For some time now, younger generations of Aboriginal radicals and their academic teachers have been cheering on the intifada against the settlers in Palestine, while just dreaming of one of their own.

Timothy Cootes lives in Sydney. He reviewed Thomas Mayo & Kerry O’Brien’s Voice to Parliament Handbook in the July-August issue and Charles Prouse’s On the Voice to Parliament in October

9 thoughts on “Intifada Dreaming

  • Occidental says:

    Well if there is no difference, both should be happy to migrate to Gazza. We could even pay them generously to live there or in Ramala. No loss for them and a significant gain for us. Though I wouldn’t wish that on the Palestinians.

  • Citizen Kane says:

    ‘So much for working to unite Australia: official “Yes” advocates, it turns out, don’t even think Australia is a legally sound nation-state.’
    The exact same argument the useful idiots who have recently populated these pages make in relation to Israel, even after having been at the vanguard of the commentary behind the ‘No’ campaign. The usual suspects cannot see the forest of their hypocrisy for the trees of their intellectual and moral relativism deficiencies.
    Thankfully a vanguard of erstwhile article contributors here have shown a consistent intellectual and moral application to both issues. Well done the Peters, Tony, Timothy et al. for the intellectual and moral clarity.

  • Ceres says:

    Yep. When the lefties don’t get their way they just double down as though their rejection never happened. Never eat a bit of humble pie just become more brazen. Abuse and rants are their MO.

  • Aussietom says:

    A good article. However, a lot of these people are now moving towards the irrelevance they deserve. Hopefully we will see less and less of them as time goes on.

    • Bosun says:

      I’m not at all sure that militancy just fades away. Liberal democracies like Australia seem unable to do other than turn the other cheek and the cheek keeps getting slapped.

      Government’s response to the pro Hamas demonstrations and the vile hate speech have encouraged malcontents and militant activists to incrementally push the boundaries of tolerable protest. The inroads terrorist organisations like Hamas have made into the Australian polity should be a screeching alarm, but it’s not. Not only doesn’t the State move to set the boundaries of acceptable protest it actually inflames the activism.

      For example HAMAS is a listed terrorist organisation and it is unlawful, in Australia, to offer encouragement or support for a terrorist organisation. One could argue that Australian members of parliament, academics, local Councils and Australian businesses have done exactly that – encouraged terrorists. There doesn’t appear to be any legal ramifications for chanting terrorist slogans in public demonstrations or calling for aboriginal activists to adopt the tactics of terrorists. The left side of politics in Australia openly supports HAMAS – breaking the law.

  • Paul W says:

    How terrible that they seem to think Arabs are indigenous to Palestine. Someone should ask them what the indigenous name is. And what the indigenous language is. And since they call it so-called Australia, we can ask also what its original name is.

  • Mike says:

    1 Hamas launched ‘Al-Asqa Storm’ on 7 October.
    2 The Al-Asqa Mosque was built on top of Solomon’s Temple.
    3 QED The ‘Palestinians’ are the real occupiers of Israel.

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