Over the past few months, English-language media has witnessed a heated debate about freedom of speech and “cancel culture”. It has made me think of my own experience with the limits of freedom of speech in Australia and the tendency of the local media to “cancel” Palestine.
In the days leading up to Israel’s proposed annexation of the West Bank, I was scrolling through my Twitter feed, wondering why those who profess to care about racism, oppression and injustice in Australia rarely dare to tether their politics to Palestine.
I can name countless public figures, public intellectuals, academics, artists and activists who have been rightly vocal about a long list of global human rights violations and social and racial justice struggles but have never once spoken up in defence of the rights of Palestinians. Yes, we see you.
This silence was also reflected in the fact that in mid-June, Australia was one of only two countries to vote against a UN Human Rights Council resolution condemning Israel’s intention to illegally annex significant parts of the occupied West Bank.
What does anti-racism as practice – not a timeline of online platitudes and curated bursts of outrage – actually mean to the many academics, artists and public figures who are vocal about fighting settler-colonial and racist violence, but scatter in the dust when anyone mentions Palestine?
It was this question that prompted me and my fellow Palestinian sisters and activists, Sara Saleh (human rights advocate and poet) and Micaela Sahhar (poet and researcher) to write an open statement demanding the Australian government publicly oppose the Israeli government’s annexation plans and cease greenlighting Israeli violations of human rights and fundamental principles of international law.
The statement called on academics, artists and activists to support the Palestinian people in their struggle for self-determination and their aspirations for freedom, justice, dignity and equality for all.
On July 1, we sent the statement far and wide. The response took us completely by surprise.
Within two days, more than 800 people had signed the statement. The honour list of signatories includes prominent Indigenous leaders, elders, artists and writers, most of whom signed on within the first few hours of the statement’s life. Signing on alongside First Nations peoples were some of the most prominent academics and artists in the country, the diversity reflecting a truer picture of the nation. This coming together to express collective solidarity for Palestine was unprecedented.
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