I am represented in Federal Parliament by a man with whom I have little in common. We don’t approach political issues or societal problems in the same way nor do we hold similar ideologies on many topics, and up until now I haven’t thought that was a concern. He clearly speaks for many of my neighbours, considering they voted him in to office. I know of many other politicians on the grassy hill who will stand up and speak on my behalf, and I’m privileged to understand and have access to channels through which I can even effect my own change in the political landscape. But this week, my local Member of Parliament did something that made me realise that his position as a spokesperson for my electorate is clearly not something that he takes seriously.
David Feeney – Member for Batman. A member of the right-wing Victorian Labor Unity faction, Feeney was up until the 2013 election a Senator for Victoria. Upon realising that his Senate seat was far from safe in the inevitable demolition of the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd Government, he opted to stand for the relatively safe Labor seat of Batman, replacing the retiring *REDACTED* Martin Ferguson.
So what did Feeney do that has me so upset? He tweeted a photo. A simple photo of himself joined by fellow MPs Mike Kelly, Mark Dreyfus, Michael Danby, Shayne Neumann and Bernie Ripoll, all toasting glasses of SodaStream water towards the camera.
Oxfam had recently accepted Johansson’s resignation as a brand ambassador due to her association with SodaStream, an Israeli company that operates factories on the disputed West Bank zone of the Palestinian Territories. The story really is quite simple: celebrity works with charity. Celebrity takes on corporate endorsement job with company. Charity has moral objections to activities of company. Celebrity and charity part ways.
Why does this photo cause me such annoyance? Put simply, it shows that these MPs know very little about a quite sensitive issue and are ready to inflame tense situations just for a laugh. For a group of Australian MPs to jump on this event and actively poke fun at what must have been a difficult decision for a global international development organisation just shows how little they understand about the wider story. The ongoing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians has caused countless deaths. It has driven people from their homeland, pushed desperate people to strap bombs to their own bodies and continues to drive much of the region’s polarisation of socio-economic standards into the ground.
By mocking such a complex and emotionally charged issue, and adding their own smug smiles to boot, these distinguished Members of Federal Parliament have shown that they lack an understanding of the deeper issues. These are men who toasts the celebrity endorsement of a bubble water company in order to ridicule a charity. Men who inflame a tense international (not to mention humanitarian) issue with myopic xenophobic loyalty rather than actually contribute anything laudable.
The problems of the Israel/Palestine conflict cannot be distilled down to a simple ‘pro-anti’ stance, despite the attempts to do so by many like Feeney. I doubt that Johansson came to such a black and white view in her own head when making the decision to resign from Oxfam. There are differences of opinion at play here about the actions of Governments, authorities, companies, organisations and individuals – all must be taken into account if we are to achieve true peace in the Middle East.
David Feeney, you do not represent my views. You do not represent my attitude towards the current tension in the Middle East. You do not represent my support for the people of Palestine. And that’s ok – I don’t expect us to agree on everything. We come from different backgrounds, with different experiences. We have worked through different political party structures, ideologies and approaches.
The thing I do expect from you is respect for the myriad of views that exist within your community. You should understand that in your role as a Member of Parliament, you have a responsibility to look beyond your own interpretation of events and represent as best you can the small section of the Australian electorate that rely on you for just that – representation.
It’s probably just a bit of harmless fun to you. A laugh with colleagues, wrapped up the sort of tribalistic camaraderie you seem to share. But really, you should be ashamed of yourself. Not for the very obvious pro-Israeli stance that you hold – clearly we disagree on this topic, and that can be left for another debate – but for the arrogance and disrespect you display by mocking the actions of a charity and a celebrity who amiably parted ways due to a difference of opinion (and, one presumes, a significant pay check).
I suggest that you and your colleagues attempt to understand this as an example of how two camps can approach a situation with different views and come to an agreement to disagree. All without smugly mocking the other, which really doesn’t help anyone. Learn from their example, and you might start to realise that this issue is more complex than picking sides, and that you should think about your actions and how they reflect on the people you represent. There are 94,563 of your neighbours in Batman other than yourself that you speak for in Federal Parliament. I guarantee there are a fair few who disagree with your views, your actions and that tweet.