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Marrickville's divestment policy, divested

As a resident of the Marrickville Local Government Area for just over a decade, I am proud of my council's track record, under both the Labor Party and the Greens, of its committment to social justice and its displays of solidarity on human rights issues - examples, Burma, West Papua, and the handling of refugees seeking asylum in Australia. I am especially pleased with the attitude they have displayed on human rights in Palestine, particularly in the context of their sister city relationship with Bethlehem. They should be applauded for having the courage to consider participation in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel.

At the end of the day, however, their vote on Tuesday night not to proceed with the BDS was the right one, for practical reasons.

The first responsibility of any local government body is to administer its local district responsibly with the finite financial resources at its disposal. Once the estimated cost to the Council of compliance with the divestment program was revealed - including upwards of three million dollars to replace its Hewlett-Packard IT network - it should have become obvious to all that it was not appropriate to proceed with such an idealistic, if honourable, goal.

If there was a failing of Marrickville Council before taking the BDS to its initial vote last December, it was the failure to consult widely within its community. I have little doubt that local sympathy, on the whole, lies with the Palestinians in the horrific conflict in the Middle East, but there should have been a clearer picture obtained of what - if anything - the people of the LGA expect Council to do.

It doesn't help that the BDS is contrary to Australian foreign policy, especially in a situation where both Government and Opposition are only too willing to shoot down in flames any criticism of Israel from within their ranks.

As citizens there is always more that we can do to show our support for the oppressed around the world, including those in the West Bank and Gaza, and those being racially discriminated against within Israel's own borders. This is a protest not against the Israeli nation or its people, nor against the wider Jewish diaspora nor Judaism as a religion. It is directed against the Israeli government and its policies.

Two side issues arising from this whole episode - one is the role of the media in turning this story into a Greens-bashing exercise, all the more ludicrous as the Council decision originally had bipartisan Greens/Labor support.

The other, the threat of newly-elected Premier Barry O'Farrell to sack the council if they proceeded with BDS action. It seems that state government bullying of local councils is indeed a bipartisan practice.