By Lawrence Gibbons
Israel’s 60th birthday caused quite a stir in Leichhardt. To mark the 60th anniversary of what Palestinians call ‘al nakba’ (the catastrophe), on May 8 the Leichhardt Public Library allowed a local peace activist group to install Hebron and Al Nakba. The show featured the photos of Mary Baxter, a seventy-something retired Australian mathematics professor, who escorts young Palestinian students to school in Hebron past trash-throwing Jewish settlers. Also exhibited by Leichhardt Friends of Hebron were pictures from the United Nations funded OCHA report that catalogued the high cost of inserting ‘(800) settlers into the heart of a densely populated Palestinian city (of 150,000 people)’. Marking the 59th anniversary last May, Leichhardt Council unanimously passed a resolution supporting ‘the establishment of a friendship or sister city relationship with the City of Hebron in Palestine’.
Surely that ain’t no way to treat your sister. As soon as the Hebron exhibition went up on the evening of May 8, the New South Wales counter terrorism taskforce paid an unexpected visit to the Norton Street branch of the public library. Following a site inspection from the antisedition squad, the council’s administration decided the show was too controversial and ordered its removal. According to a council spokesperson, ‘the material was deemed inappropriate for a public library space’. The spokesperson was unable and unwilling to specifically indicate what was inappropriate for exhibition at a library and Leichhardt’s mayor Carolyn Allen told City Hub: ‘I suppose it does look like we were censoring a politically controversial exhibition, but we did it because we didn’t want to cause dissension or inflame some members of the community.’
Last year the council was roundly criticised in the pages of the Australian Jewish News whose readers were ‘offended to know that Leichhardt was twinned with Hebron.’ Then Waverley mayor and federal aspirant George Newhouse weighed into the debate, proclaiming: ‘There is no place whatsoever for local government to be seen in any way endorsing extreme political causes overseas’. Unless, of course they are Zionist causes. In voting unanimously to consider establishing a relationship with the City of Hebron, Leichhardt Council undertook ‘to help put in place the infrastructure required for a modern democratic state’. Presumably, the good burghers of Leichhardt proposed to export an Aussie model of democracy to the Middle East: one without a charter of human rights protecting the right to free speech.
Photos from the Hebron exhibition before it was censored appear below: