The Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu has penned a letter of praise to Marrickville Council over its support for a boycott of Israel, almost two months after the policy was abandoned amid an angry political backlash.
The Nobel peace prize recipient and critic of Israel wrote that he wanted to extend his respects to the mayor, Fiona Byrne, and her fellow councillors ”for taking a stand to isolate the Israeli state”.
”We in South Africa, who both suffered apartheid and defeated it, have the moral right and responsibility to name and shame institutionalised separation, exclusion, and domination by one ethnic group over others,” Archbishop Tutu said in the letter, which will be formally presented to Cr Byrne tonight.
”Sometimes taking a public stand for what is ethical and right brings costs, but social justice on a local or global scale requires faith and courage.”
Ten Marrickville councillors – five Greens, four Labor and one independent – voted to support the boycott campaign against Israel last December, provoking condemnation from federal and state politicians, Jewish groups and media commentators.
The motion was overturned in April, when all the Labor and two Green councillors withdrew their support.
Cr Byrne, who narrowly lost her bid to unseat Carmel Tebbutt at the state election in March, welcomed the archbishop’s support.
”I am proud that Marrickville Council was able to support and highlight the human rights violations suffered by many Palestinian people,” she said.
The issue provoked a fresh spat between federal government and opposition MPs last week.
The opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman, Julie Bishop, put forward a notice of motion asking Parliament to ”note with concern” the council’s support for the boycott and the ”fraying of the traditionally bipartisan support amongst Australia’s political parties for the state of Israel”.
A Labor MP significantly amended the motion, prompting Ms Bishop to accuse the ALP of siding with the Greens.
”The actions of federal Labor MPs in Parliament today can only further embolden the anti-Israel elements within the Labor and union movement,” she said in a statement.
But the Foreign Affairs Minister, Kevin Rudd, returned fire, saying the motion was amended because bipartisan support among the major parties was ”unwavering”.
”Israel is fully supported by the government and we are not aware of any fraying of support from the opposition,” he said.
The revised motion reiterated support for the right of Israel to exist and for a peaceful two-state solution in the region.
Mr Rudd had previously derided the boycott policy as “just plain nuts”.