Govt accused of racial discrimination

Farid Farid |

Protestors during a Rally for Palestine at Hyde Park in Sydney.
Protestors during a Rally for Palestine at Hyde Park in Sydney.

A racial discrimination complaint of a Palestinian-Australian man against the federal government for its support of Israel has been accepted by the country’s Human Rights Commission.

Nasser Mashni, 52, says the Australian government’s foreign policy and rhetoric when it comes to Israel impinge on his rights as an Australian citizen of Palestinian descent.

“When our foreign minister and our prime minister advocates on behalf of the Israelis, this creates an environment in Australia where Australians of Palestinian heritage like myself are compromised because more often than not we’re treated like aggressors,” he told AAP.

Mr Mashni explained there was a double standard in the government’s statements on China and Russia with regards to human rights but not when it came to Israel.

“The fact that my ancestry is Palestinian doesn’t mean that I should be treated differently by the government since they advocate for Uighurs, Ukrainians, Hong Kongers or Taiwanese,” he said.

He said the complaint being accepted by the Australian Human Rights Commission earlier this month meant his case had “merit”. 

Once investigations into the complaint are completed by the Commission, a conciliation conference is convened where a resolution is sought in the form of “an apology, a change of policy or compensation”.

Mr Mashni’s complaint specifically referred to the government’s comments during Israel’s bombing of Gaza in May 2021. 

Israel bombarded the blockaded enclave with air strikes for 11 days, demolishing several key buildings including one housing American news organisation Associated Press. More than 245 Palestinians were killed, including dozens of children.

He also pointed to “the Australian government’s advocacy on behalf of Israel to avoid investigation by the International Criminal Court”.

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Scott Morrison was questioned about a report by Amnesty International accusing Israel of subjecting Palestinians to a system of apartheid.

“I can assure you that Australia and my government in particular will remain a staunch friend of Israel,” Morrison said.

Mr Mashni’s lawyer Moustafa Kheir says the government’s pro-Israel stance was precisely why he took on Mashni’s “landmark” case hoping it would set a precedent for other aggrieved minorities.

“The case is designed to hold the Australian government to its obligations internationally … because its actions have created an environment where Palestinian Australians are discriminated against,” he told AAP.

Israel has been accused of war crimes and illegal occupation by human rights groups and the United Nations for decades in a conflict dating back to 1948.

But Professor Katharine Gelber at the University of Queensland, who has written extensively about the Racial Discrimination Act, was sceptical about the case progressing beyond conciliation in which all proceedings are privately held.

“The Australian government has the right to decide on its own foreign policy and it has a conflict with other policies but that’s not unusual,” she told AAP.

She said the complainant must concretely show that their human rights had been “nullified or impaired” and that its acceptance “means nothing substantive about the merits of the complaint”.

“Disagreement with a policy is different to discrimination,” Gelber said.

She said connecting Australian foreign policy over Israel to acts of discrimination domestically was “drawing a long bow”.