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Hamas apologism has taken Australia by storm

Once poisonous but marginal views have become all too acceptable since 7 October.

Hugo Timms

Topics Politics World

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Since the 7 October pogrom in Israel, it has become increasingly clear that hostility towards Israel is no longer confined to its Islamist enemies. It is increasingly prevalent in Western democracies, too.

This has certainly been true in Australia. Indeed, just days after Hamas committed atrocities in southern Israel, mobs stood on the steps of the Sydney Opera House, chanting ‘Gas the Jews!’. It set the tone for subsequent pro-Palestine protests, each one serenaded by the hateful chant, ‘From the river to the sea’. Israel has rarely been more threatened, and it has certainly never been so alone.

Of course, there have been anti-Israel pile-ons from activists over the years. But what had been less apparent in Australia was Hamas apologism, or a refusal to condemn the terrorists. Until now, that is.

This month, the Labor government, panicked about the prospect of losing seats to the pro-Palestine Greens, said that it intends to recognise a Palestinian state. Speaking last Tuesday, foreign-affairs minister Penny Wong said that statehood is ‘the only hope to break the endless cycle of violence’. She also said this was the best way to damage Hamas.

The response from Nasser Mashni, president of the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network, to Labor’s position was revealing. He was provided with four opportunities by Sky News host Tom Connell to repudiate Hamas and agree that its involvement in the future governance of Gaza would be intolerable. Mashni dodged and equivocated on each occasion.

‘What we need to do is move beyond this fascination or infatuation with Hamas’, Mashni said, seemingly bewildered that a group that had carefully planned and executed the murder, kidnapping and rape of 1,200 people – ranging from babies to the elderly – was somehow relevant to a discussion on the future of Palestine. Towards the end of the interview, Mashni laid his cards squarely on the table: ‘The problem is not Hamas – the problem is Zionism, it’s settler colonialism.’

Mashni, often dressed in a dapper suit with a lapel pin of the Australian Aboriginal flag and Palestinian flag intertwined, has shot to prominence in the wake of 7 October. His rise has provided a startling insight into the growth of anti-Israel sentiment in Australia.

A property developer and donor to the Green Party, Mashni was threatened with legal action last October under the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act. A leading Australian barrister argued that Mashni could be guilty of incitement to hatred, after he organised rallies in his home city of Melbourne where speakers called for an ‘intifada’ against Jews. The rallies also featured harrowing chants in Arabic, recalling the massacre of Jews in 7th-century Saudi Arabia. So far, however, no case has been brought against Mashni.

Before 7 October, an operator like Mashni – who talks of the ‘Western imperialist’ ‘power structures’ that ‘all focus on [Israel]’ and openly calls for the ‘decolonisation of Palestine and the ending of Zionism’ – would have been treated with the contempt his poisonous views deserve.

But not anymore. After 7 October, Mashni has appeared on ABC’s prime-time current-affairs show, Q+A. He has even featured on the official Instagram of foreign-affairs minister Wong herself, who he met with at Parliament House 10 days after 7 October. ‘I shared my deepest condolences with Nasser Mashni from the Australian Palestinian Advocacy Network following the devastating explosion at the Gaza City hospital’, wrote Wong at the time, apparently unaware that, according to her own security agencies, misfired rockets from Islamic Jihad were responsible.

Mashni is far from an irascible, insignificant outlier. Other, more significant Palestinian organisations are similarly relaxed about Hamas continuing to rule over Gaza. Last Thursday, the head of the General Delegation of Palestine in Australia, Izzat Abdulhadi, hosed down any suggestion Hamas could be removed from Gaza. ‘I mean, you can’t remove Hamas from Gaza. You can weaken their military capabilities, but Hamas is a part of the Palestinian people’, Abdulhadi told ABC Radio. ‘Hamas is a philosophy. Hamas is an idea’, he said. It’s hard to imagine these activists saying this about any other murderous, fascistic group.

In other quarters, people have expressed outright Jew hatred. In the wake of October’s attacks, leaked videos from multiple Sydney mosques exposed a strain of anti-Semitism that, until recently, was simply not tolerated in Australia. In November, a cleric at the Roselands Mosque beseeched Allah to kill ‘Jewish Zionists’ ‘one by one’. In February, an imam at Lakemba’s As-Sunnah Mosque called for the restoration of Palestine in place of Israel ‘through jihad for the sake of Allah’. The Al Madina Dawah Centre in Bankstown has provided a pulpit for similarly graphic calls for violence. Well-known cleric Abu Ousayd has called Jews ‘descendants of pigs and monkeys’.

Before 7 October, we Aussies might have thought that these horrific views were marginal. Now, I’m not so sure. Apologism for the anti-Semitic butchers of Hamas and, in some cases, outright anti-Semitism now seem all too prevalent in Australian public life.

We need to take a far harder stand against these poisonous worldviews, before it’s too late.

Hugo Timms is a writer based in Australia.

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Politics World

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