The visits of Presidents Bush and Hu may be big news elsewhere but, interestingly, the brouhaha du jour in Sydney appears to be the Sydney Peace Foundation’s award of it’s annual Peace Prize to Dr Hanan Ashrawi – noted christian Palestinian academic and politician.
As I write, Sydney talkback is running hot with pro and con callers and the SMH online poll has racked up an astonishing 10,300 votes – currently 45% ‘for’ Ashrawi, 50% against and the rest undecided. Were I a world-weary cynic, I’d be detecting some stack voting here, but fortunately, I’m not.
Sydney Lord Mayor, Lucy Turnbull, has announced a Council boycott of the award on the basis that Dr Ashrawi “has not demonstrated sufficient commitment to the peace process.” This wasn’t obviously a concern for her back on the 26th of September when the City Council publicly supported the SPF’s right to make the award to whomsoever they chose. SPF Chair, Professor Stuart Rees, suggests that the Lord Mayor’s opposition may not be unrelated to her husband’s aspirations for the federal seat of Wentworth – which encompasses a sizeable Jewish constituency. The Lord Mayor , not unsurprisingly, dismisses such speculation. I digress slightly but, shouldn’t a guy who presides over matters peaceful, seek to avoid a headlong plunge into such an obvious casus belli?
The Premier, hardly an opponent of Israel himself, has stoutly rejected calls to withdraw from his role of Award presenter at the ceremony on 6 November and Dr Ashrawi, in an interview with ABC Radio 702 last night, eloquently refuted claims that she is opposed to a two state solution – not to mention being “a supporter of terrorism.” I certainly gained new respect for her and for her cause, after listening.
She must however be aware – more than most – that hers would be a controversial nomination: if only because there is no “peace” per se and the failure to produce it is hotly contested in terms of responsibility. In that sense the decision to make the award – and the motivation for doing so – was inevitably going to be subject to the same intensely partisan contestation process.
I guess my conclusion is somewhat mixed. I doubt the wisdom of the award on the one hand but I don’t doubt the essentiality – nor the rarity – of people like Hanan Ashrawi in ultimately delivering the conditions that would make the Award universally acclaimed. In the meantime, the die is pretty much cast and Ashrawi’s address (due to be delivered on the night prior to the Award) should be well worth hearing.