Australian lawmaker defiant over Palestinian statehood suspension

SYDNEY — Australia’s Labor government is facing a backlash from the Muslim community over its suspension of an Afghan-born lawmaker.

Senator Fatima Payman, an Australian Muslim, says she has been exiled after voting against party lines on issues around Palestinian statehood.

Australia advocates a two-state solution in which Israel and a future Palestinian state coexist within internationally recognized borders. Payman was suspended after voting against her own party to recognize Palestine as a state in federal Parliament.  

The Kabul-born lawmaker told reporters that Australia “cannot believe in two state solutions and only recognize one.” 

Payman has promised to defy the government again if the issue is again put to the vote. 

The battle between the senator for Western Australia and the governing Labor party revolves around its so-called “solidarity” rule that requires all its lawmakers to vote as a bloc. 

Senator Katy Gallagher, Australia’s federal Finance minister, told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. Tuesday that Payman has breached party regulations. 

“These are decisions that she has taken knowing quite clearly what the consequences would be and, you know, she has continued to make those decisions,” Gallagher said. “So, I certainly, and I know a lot of my colleagues, would want her to remain with the Labor caucus but she also has to give a commitment that some of the decisions she has taken in the last week would not be repeated.”   

There is speculation the suspended senator could quit the Labor Party and stay in parliament as an independent, switch her political allegiance to the Australian Greens or form her own political party.   

Reports also suggest she could join a new political organization called The Muslim Vote, which is planning to run candidates on a pro-Palestinian platform in some of the governing Labor party’s safest parliamentary seats. 

Under Australia’s voting electoral system, Payman was elected in May 2022 and would serve up to six years in parliament. 

The campaign group, the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network, said in a statement it “stands firmly” with Payman and urged other lawmakers to follow her example.   

The Muslim senator was born in Afghanistan and was a child when she arrived as a refugee in Australia with her family.   

Her indefinite suspension from the governing party is a further sign that the war in Gaza is causing political and social tensions in Australia. 

Community groups have reported an increase in Islamophobic and antisemitic abuse in Australia since Israel’s war in Gaza began almost nine months ago.   

Australia has said Israel has the right to defend itself after the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas militants.   

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