Tasmanian lawyer and indigenous activist Michael Mansell has rejected his nomination for an Australia Day award, claiming that it would be hypocritical of him to accept the award. He said “they are so inextricably linked to the coming of one race at the expense of another”.
If rejecting the country he lives in is what he calls activism on behalf of indigenous Australia, then good for him. But Mansell goes a step further, making the bizarre comparison that “it’s like asking the Palestinians to accept an ‘Israeli of the Year’ award”.
Is he suggesting that like the Aboriginals in Australia, the Palestinians were the sole occupants of the land for thousands of years before those pesky Jews arrived and took over? If so, he implicitly rejects thousands of years of Jewish presence in the land of Israel well before there was even a group of people called Palestinians.
Many Jews are strong supporters of indigenous rights because they empathise with the suffering, and see a link between the Aboriginal and Jewish long-standing connection to land. Indeed, collaborations like Yachad – an educational partnership between Australia and Israel that helps improve the lives of indigenous students in regional and rural Australia – help build bridges between the two countries.
Mansell, on the other hand, is grandstanding and piggybacking on a conflict he doesn’t understand. According to him, it would only be legitimate to accept an award if there were a treaty between indigenous and white Australians. Treaties and apologies are symbolic only – what’s really needed is genuine collaboration to improve the lives of indigenous Australians.
If he’s actually interested in better standards of living for indigenous Australians, he should look no further than Israel, where Arab and Palestinian citizens and residents enjoy a standard of living far higher and have a life expectancy much longer than most places in the Middle East.
David Werdiger is a technology entrepreneur, writer, and public speaker. He’s involved in several not-for-profits at director and committee level, and has an interest in Jewish community, education, and continuity. You can connect with David on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.