Senate unites to condemn ‘river to the sea’

Anthony Albanese has responded to a rogue Labor senator who broke ranks on Palestine. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Martin Ollman

The Senate has overwhelmingly voted to condemn the phrase “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” after a Labor senator used it as she broke ranks with her party to condemn Israel of genocide.

Senator Fatima Payman on Wednesday blindsided her party when she questioned how many more Palestinian deaths would be needed before Anthony Albanese declared “enough”.

As she used the controversial phrase, she said it was a call for “freedom from the occupation, freedom from the violence and freedom from the inequality”.

But it drew rebukes from both sides of politics, with the Prime Minister himself re-denouncing the chant as a “violent opposition to a two-state solution”.

Coalition foreign affairs spokesman Simon Birmingham moved a motion in the Senate on Thursday, calling a vote on whether or not the slogan “is violent”, “opposes Israel’s right to exist”, and if Mr Albanese is correct to call it a statement “in opposition to a two-state solution”.

Liberal senate leader Simon Birmingham and Foreign Minister Penny Wong both repudiated the phrase during a motion in the Senate. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Martin Oldman
Only the Greens and now independent Senator Lidia Thorpe voted against the motion. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Martin Oldman
Ceasefire Petitions
Labor senator Fatima Payman broke ranks with her party to say Israel was committing ‘genocide’. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Martin Ollman

While her Labor colleagues sided with the Coalition, Senator Payman was not in the chamber.

As he spoke to the motion, Senator Birmingham said the Coalition “calls on the Prime Minister to take appropriate action and to ensure members of the government, members of his party, do not act in ways and repeat phrases that incite, fuel, or are used by those who incite or fuel anti-Semitism”.

In response, Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong reiterated the government’s official position – that of a two-state solution.

“We want a two-state solution,” she said.

“The phrase from the river to the sea is not consistent with a two-state solution.

“And it is that solution which is needed for peace and security of Palestinians and Israelis alike.”

Senator Payman returned to the Senate for question time.

Independent Senator Lidia Thorpe was vocal during Senator Birmingham’s motion in the Senate. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Martin Oldman
Greens Senator Mehreen Faruqi also wore a Palestinian scarf in the Senate. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Martin Oldman
Fatima Payman FIRST SPEECH
Senator Payman was not in the senate during the vote, but returned for question time. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Martin Ollman

Mr Albanese had earlier said it was “not appropriate” for Senator Payman to use the phrase, as he confirmed he had not been told ahead of time she would be officially breaking with the party’s position.

Mr Albanese on Thursday morning was asked if he had spoken to Senator Payman since she made the comments, to which he gave an emphatic “no”.

He said he did speak to her regularly, as he does all his Labor Party colleagues, and their last conversation was “very pleasant”.

He revealed he had not been told ahead of time she would make the comments, and her use of the politically charged phrase was “not appropriate” and did not reflect the Labor Party’s position.

“What is appropriate is a two-state solution, where both Israelis and Palestinians have the right to live in security and peace and prosperity,” he told ABC Radio.

“It is not in the interests of either Israelis or Palestinians to advocate there just be one state. That is a forerunner of enormous conflict and grief.”

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said he hadn’t spoken with Senator Payman. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Martin Ollman

Coalition home affairs spokesman James Paterson said the Prime Minister “has to take action”, noting Senator Payman had “laid down the gauntlet” to Mr Albanese.

“She’s used a phrase the Prime Minister himself has agreed is a violent statement. She’d endorsed the phrase, and in the Prime Minister’s own analysis, people who make this statement are in opposition to a two-state solution,” Senator Paterson told Sky.

“She’s not just undermined decades of bipartisan foreign policy, she’s undermined decades of Labor Party policy.

“The Prime Minister has said this phrase has no place in Australia. Surely he cannot (have) a member of his caucus saying this.”

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton went even harder, criticising Mr Albanese for not “hauling her in” to chastise her.

“Last week, the Prime Minister was saying this was a violent statement that had no place in our streets, and now we know that one of his own senators is shamelessly sprouting it,” he told 2GB.

“I don’t know why the Prime Minister hasn’t called her in.”

Senator James Paterson
Senator James Paterson said Mr Albanese had to ‘take action’ against Senator Payman. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Martin Ollman

Senator Payman gave a statement to a small selection of media on Wednesday on Nakba Day – the anniversary of Israel’s 1948 establishment – where she acknowledged there was “disillusionment” in the community with the political parties.

“Today, more than ever, is the time to speak the truth – the whole truth – with courage and clarity,” she told SBS News and Capital Brief.

“My conscience has been uneasy for far too long. And I must call this out for what it is. This is a genocide and we need to stop pretending otherwise.”

Mr Albanese said the scenes coming out of Gaza were “very traumatic”, but Jewish Australians were also experiencing “a lot of trauma” due to rising anti-Semitism.

“People who happen to be Jewish are being held responsible here for the actions of the Netanyahu government. I don’t believe that is appropriate,” he said.

Senator Paterson said Senator Payman’s call for Australia to end trade with Israel especially at a time of rising anti-Semitism would “further undermine and test social cohesion”.

Executive Council of Australian Jewry co-chief executive Alex Ryvchin said Senator Payman must “immediately apologise for stoking hatred”.

“If she can’t refrain from using racist slogans at a time of extreme tension in our society, she should consider her position,” he said.