Speak-out: End Sydney Uni’s Exchange with Israeli Apartheid

Time: Monday 20 April, 1pm

Location: Eastern Avenue, University of Sydney

This coming Monday, Sydney University will hold its Sydney Abroad Fair, where members of the “Australian Friends of Hebrew University of Jerusalem” will be promoting Israel as a study abroad destination.

Our official relationship with Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HUJ) confers legitimacy and prestige on an institution globally recognised as a violator of Palestinian human rights.

HUJ has direct links with the Israeli State, contributing to its military programme, actively participating in the illegal occupation of Palestinian land, and denying rights to Palestinian students.

In 2014 HUJ gave full public support to the assault in Gaza that killed more than 2,200 people, including more than 500 children.

It has expanded its Mount Scopus campus onto land illegally confiscated from Palestinians in East Jerusalem.

HUJ allows admission to few Palestinian students, and those that it does admit have their freedom of speech and right to protest restricted.

HUJ’s record is no secret and academic institutions internationally are beginning to act. Last month staff and students at London’s prestigious School of Oriental and African Studies voted overwhelmingly to cut all official ties with HUJ.

It’s time that Sydney University did the same.

Join us at 1pm on Eastern Avenue to speakout against Sydney University’s exchange partnership with Hebrew University, and to call on our institution to cut all ties with Israeli apartheid.

Members of Sydney Staff for BDS will be leafletting at the Sydney Abroad Fair from 11am onwards. Please get in touch if you’d like to help out!

Israeli soldiers arrest a Palestinian protester during a Palestinian protest at Hebrew University in Jerusalem,

Crackdown on Palestine advocates at Sydney University a chilling development for political freedom and civil liberties on campus

15/4/2015, 23:40. For immediate release

Sydney Staff for BDS condemns the disciplinary proceedings the University of Sydney is taking against Palestine advocates on campus, as announced by the Vice-Chancellor, Dr Michael Spence, today. The university’s move follows the protest on March 11 at a talk by Mr Richard Kemp.

“The University of Sydney claims to be committed to the struggle against racism and discrimination,” said Dr Nick Riemer from SSBDS. “But today Michael Spence has shown what side he is actually on. The Israel lobby only had to snap its fingers and the university jumped to take action against Palestine advocates. We call on supporters of peace and justice in the Middle East to write to Dr Spence demanding that no sanctions be made and a full statement of the University’s opposition to Israeli violations of international law and Palestinian human rights be issued.”

“It couldn’t be clearer that the university has been taking part in the Israel lobby’s witch hunt against Jake Lynch,” Riemer continued. “The complaints made against Lynch constitute the latest chapter in the ongoing campaign against him for his promotion of the Palestinian call to boycott Israel. It is scandalous that the University of Sydney has been collaborating with this campaign. The fact that it is doing so is consistent with Sydney’s extensive support for Israeli universities, which continue to play a key role in sustaining the occupation, and in Israel’s onslaughts on Gaza.”

The university’s decision to escalate its action against Palestine advocates comes despite an open letter with over 1500 signatories calling on Dr Spence “not to allow [him]self to be made the agent of the Israel lobby’s persecution of those committed to a just peace in the Middle East”. Signatories to the letter include Desmond Tutu, Julian Burnside AM QC, Noam Chomsky, John Pilger, Mary Kostakidis, Mike Carlton, Richard Falk, (former UN special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories), federal and state politicians, and staff of universities on every continent.

“We will not be deterred by this attempt to silence Palestine activism at Sydney,” Dr Riemer said. “We will continue to speak the truth about Israel’s crimes and the University of Sydney’s complicity with them. It will not be too long before Sydney University’s cooperation with Israel and its lobby is seen as the serious stain on the university’s reputation that it is.”

“From the university’s announcement today, we can only conclude that it intends to bully Palestine supporters, including young students and human rights activists. Protest is inherently disruptive. Protesters at Kemp’s lecture were conscientiously exercising their civil liberties on a matter of major international importance. Richard Kemp has the world’s media at his disposal. To appeal to freedom of speech as grounds to punish Palestine advocates for interrupting Kemp is deeply hypocritical.”

“The University of Sydney must not declare itself off-limits for political action in favour of Palestine,” Riemer said. “Going after staff and students for their political views is a chilling outcome for Australia’s oldest university and the proud traditions of political dissent it embodies. Sydney must not side with a nuclear power to intimidate a small band of human rights activists. Doing so would make a mockery of the university’s claims to care about justice and anti-racism. How many of the Freedom Ride protesters, whom the university now celebrates, were involved in disruptive protest as a key mechanism to advance the cause of Indigenous rights?”

The university’s announcement of charges follows a highly compromised investigation, which saw the university lying to its staff about the identity of the investigator in charge. Staff voluntarily participating in the enquiry were told that this investigator was external and independent, when in fact she is listed in the university phone book as an employee. The National Tertiary Education Union has written to the university making the point that this gives every impression of an attempt to entrap staff, and can only raise serious questions about senior management’s good faith.

As revealed in a letter to New Matilda by the talk’s organisers, Richard Kemp appeared on campus with the blessing of the Vice-Chancellor’s office. In 2013, by contrast, the university tried to ban the Dalai Lama. Last year, it banned Uthman Badar from appearing on campus.

“To punish Palestine justice advocates in the name of freedom of speech is highly paradoxical. If it really cared about either freedom of speech or human rights, the university would not be cracking down on political protest on campus. This is a shocking development for political freedom and civil liberties at Sydney University, and beyond,” Riemer said.

Sydney Staff for BDS urges Dr Spence to protect his own reputation and that of the University of Sydney by strongly reaffirming the university’s independence from political interference, and by refusing to side with Andrew Bolt, Tim Blair and the other voices calling for Lynch to be dismissed and Palestine activists to be silenced.

More information: Nick Riemer, 0481 339 937 nick.riemer@sydney.edu.au; David Brophy, 0434 026 003 david.brophy@sydney.edu.au

See SSBDS’ statement on the original enquiry, and our press dossier, here.

 

 

Sydney Staff for BDS statement on the Vice-Chancellor’s email of March 19

Sydney Staff for BDS has made the following response to the Vice-Chancellor’s email of March 19, in which he singles out anti-Semitism as the trigger for the University’s investigation into the student protest at the March 11 lecture by Colonel Richard Kemp and its sequel.

Sign the open letter to Michael Spence calling on him to resist Israel-lobby calls to punish Palestine-supporters at Sydney

1.     We note that Dr Spence’s email follows public criticism of our members in the conservative media. Furthermore, we note that the accusations made against us have been comprehensively debunked, and we refer readers to the meticulous account of the March 11 event published by Michael Brull in New Matilda, and the video-evidence it contains.

2.     It is clear that the present charges of anti-Semitism form part of a vexatious and politically-motivated campaign against supporters of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions tactics for peace and justice in Israel-Palestine.

3.    We also note that while it is conducting an investigation to address baseless accusations of anti-Semitism, the university has not announced any enquiry into the very real, and documented, acts of anti-Arab racism and physical assault, which also took place at Kemp’s lecture, and on account of which the police were called by us.

4.    To judge from the Vice-Chancellor’s email, the terms in which the investigation has apparently been framed reinforce the very racial discrimination and prejudicial treatment to which the University says it is opposed. We further note that the perception of the discriminatory treatment of Muslims that will result risks seriously damaging the University’s standing in the Muslim and the wider community, and weakening the effectiveness of the university’s participation in anti-racism initiatives such as the “Racism. It stops with me” campaign.

5.    The University should be a place of free enquiry, open political debate, and freedom of speech. University management should not therefore be in the business of conducting untransparent, ill-defined and inquisitorial investigations into the activities of its staff or students. As a result, we call on it to make public the specific terms of any investigation it is currently conducting into the events of March 11.

6.    We also call on the University to treat its Jewish and Muslim staff and students transparently and equitably. We note that while Colonel Kemp’s lecture was allowed to go ahead, the Muslim Students’ Association was prevented last year from hosting Uthman Badar at a campus Q&A. SSBDS disagrees with Mr Badar’s position on a number of questions, but we believe he has the right to appear on campus, as did Col. Kemp. If people do not like what he has to say, they are within their rights to protest disruptively at his campus appearance.

7.    Sydney Staff for BDS did not choose to disrupt Kemp’s talk, but we support the protesters’ right to do so. Disruptive protest is a central democratic prerogative; far from being inconsistent with free speech, it is an instantiation of it.

8.    We note that while Kemp’s appearance was publicized in Jewish community media, it was not advertised in any university forum. We conclude that, as a result, the talk had the character of a political meeting, and was not an activity that benefits from the protections that we would expect to hold at an academic occasion occurring in the context of teaching or research. This latter kind of activity we would expect to have been advertised in the wider university community.

9.    We note that, by contrast, SSBDS advertises its own campus events openly and widely. We invite the Vice-Chancellor and any other interested members of staff, whatever their position on BDS, to attend our forum on April 14, “Why boycotting Israel isn’t anti-Semitic”, which will include ample time for questions and discussion.

 

Sydney Staff for BDS draws attention to the following accounts in the media about the events of March 11

The renewed witch hunt against Australian champion of Palestinian Rights. David Brophy, The Electronic Intifada, April 6 2015

Put down the pitchforks, Sydney University! Nick Riemer, New Matilda, April 7 2015

When the factual record matters: On Israel’s elections. Michael Brull, New Matilda, April 6 2015

Talking point: Sydney Uni committed to free speech, letters from Nick Riemer and Jake Lynch, The Australian, April 4, 2015 (scroll down page)

Pro-Palestinian protest investigated by Sydney University, PM, ABC radio, April 2, 2015. (Link contains transcript and audio)

Why Jake Lynch was waving money around at an anti-Israel Protest, Nick Riemer, Crikey, March 25, 2015

Palestine supporter Jake Lynch assaulted at BDS action, Jemma Nott, Green Left Weekly, March 21, 2015

Palestine Smear, letter in Sydney Morning Herald from Jake Lynch and Nick Riemer, March 19, 2015 (scroll down page)

Peace Centre Farrago, letter from Jake Lynch in The Australian, March 19, 2015 (scroll down page)

Disruptive Protest And Freedom Of Speech: A User’s Guide, Nick Riemer, New Matilda, March 19, 2015

Witch hunt against Jake Lynch the latest attempt to silence pro-Palestine activists, Alma Torlakovic, Red Flag, March 18, 2015

Blaming The Victims: What Really Happened At The Colonel Kemp USyd Protest, Michael Brull, New Matilda, March 18, 2015

Unbalanced and distorted media coverage doesn’t help sensitive matters of free speech and international conflict, Paul Duffill, Online Opinion, March 16, 2015

 

 

An Interview with Scholar and Activist Ronit Lentin

Ronit Lentin1.    Tell us a bit about your early life, being born in Haifa and migrating to Ireland.

I was born in Haifa, Palestine, in 1944, before the establishment of the state of Israel. My parents came to Palestine from Bucovina, northern Romania, my father in 1926 as a boy of 13 and my mother in 1940, as a 20 year old; many members of her family were deported by the Romanian fascists to Transnistria and some perished. My British Mandate birth certificate lists my parents’ nationality as ‘Palestinian’, but of course this does not make me a Palestinian. I grew up in the State of Israel in a Zionist family and there was nothing in my education that made me question Zionism. I did not serve in the army (for medical reasons, not my choice at the time) which thankfully made me different to most Israelis. I studied at the Hebrew University, but did not complete my first degree for a variety of reasons.

My ‘road to Damascus’ moment happened shortly after the 1967 war when I followed Matzpen, the first anti-Zionist socialist group to analyse Israel as a settler colonial imperial power and to speak about the dispossession of the Palestinians in the 1948 Nakba. By that stage, I was no longer a Zionist. In 1968 I joined the newly founded Israel Television, where I met my husband, television director Louis Lentin, with whom I migrated to Ireland in 1969. I worked in television and in journalism before I embarked on a late academic career, working as a lecturer in sociology in the University of Dublin, Trinity College, where I founded a masters programme in Ethnic and Racial Studies (later re named ‘Race, Ethnicity, Conflict’), teaching Race Critical Theories and Gender and Race. I published extensively on Israel-Palestine, gender and violence, and race and migration in Ireland.

2.    How did you come to be involved in the Palestine solidarity campaign, and why do you feel it’s important for others to do the same?

I formally joined the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign only recently, although I was active in debating Palestinian issues and organising conferences on Palestine for many years, bringing speakers to the university, and supervising PhDs on Palestine. In 2007 I organised a conference on Palestine in a global context, the proceedings of which were published in an edited collection Thinking Palestine (Zed Books, 2008) with chapters by Ilan Pappe, Honaida Ghanim, Raef Zreik and several UK and US scholars. In 2010 I published Co-Memory and Melancholia: Israelis Memorialising the Palestinian Nakba (Manchester UP, 2010). Over the years I have written many newspaper articles and spoken publicly about the question of Palestine.

I plan to get further involved with the IPSC, particularly working on the academic boycott. Recently, we have been discussing establishing a group of Jews for Palestine – I am aware of the impact made by Jewish people working for Palestine, but I am yet to be convinced about organising ‘as Jews’.

There is broad public support for Palestine in Ireland culminating recently in the Irish lower house, the Senate, voting to recognise the state of Palestine (though personally, I wonder whether such recognition, despite its strong symbolic value, is actually about bringing the two state solution in by the back door). The IPSC is articulate and effective and is also clear about opposing any signs of antisemitism, of which we are accused by Israel and its representatives and supporters.

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Building the BDS Campaign in the NTEU: Cross-Campus Meeting

In 2014 the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) call has emerged as a focus of debate in the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU). The narrow defeat for BDS at the recent National Council of the NTEU indicates the potential for Palestine solidarity activists on campus to win the NTEU to a pro-BDS policy. Yet as our campaign widens among NTEU members, and gains varying degrees of institutional support, we will inevitably confront new challenges.

Sydney Staff for BDS invites all supporters of the BDS call to a meeting on November 6 to discuss the state of the BDS campaign on campus and in our union, and the next steps for 2015.

Goals: What should be the goals of the BDS campaign at Australia’s universities? What role can the NTEU play in realising these goals?

Organisation: What sort of cross-campus collaboration do we need? How can we best share resources and information? Is it time for a nation-wide pro-BDS network in the NTEU?

Strategy: What has been the experience of BDS activists within the NTEU so far? What approach should we take to campaign work in 2015, particularly in the lead-up to National Council 2015?

We welcome all NTEU members with an interest in promoting BDS on campus. Please circulate this announcement, and bring along any colleagues who may be interested in this event.

Date & time: November 6, 6-8pm

Location: University of Technology, Sydney: CB11.04.101. The room is on Level 4, room 101 in the new Engineering and IT building (Building 11, or ‘the cheesegrater’) on Broadway down from the tower.

Contact: David Brophy (david.brophy@sydney.edu.au; 0434 026 003)

A Close Call for BDS at the NTEU National Council

The National Council of the NTEU has narrowly missed an opportunity to add its weight to the growing support for BDS in unions around Australia. At its meeting in Melbourne on October 2-4, a motion endorsing the PACBI boycott and committing the union to initiate discussion of BDS among its membership was lost by only a handful of votes. Various reports of the count indicate a split of roughly 62 to 54, with some 6 abstentions.

Facing the united opposition of the NTEU Executive, the ability of pro-BDS councillors to achieve this result shows how significantly the ground has shifted around the issue of Palestine solidarity. This debate marks the first time the issue has reached the floor of National Council since 2011. Since then a handful of branches, including ours at Sydney University, have seen discussion of BDS, but the majority have not. Many councillors confronted the question of BDS for the first time, and BDS proponents gained considerable support among this unaligned majority. Of those won to the pro-BDS position, a number subsequently expressed a desire to take the issue back to their branch.

The debate at National Council confirms a point that Sydney Staff for BDS has been making all along: that although disagreement exists within the union on this question, resolving it need not be divisive. Councillors report that the opposing motions on Israel-Palestine were discussed in a frank but collegial fashion, and there no reason to believe that a more inclusive debate among the membership would be conducted any differently.

Opponents of BDS at the National Council sought to portray it as an issue beyond the purview of the union’s work, an abstract proposition lacking concrete proposals for implementation. This is hardly an argument against it: even as a symbolic move, adopting a pro-BDS policy would be a significant gesture in support of the Palestinians. But the truth is that BDS is far from symbolic, and there are many ways in which the union can take action in support of the boycott call. After all, winning the union to BDS is only the first step in a long campaign to force Australian universities to cut ties with Israel. The NTEU can, and should, lend moral and material support to such a campaign, as it has done in the case of a series of recent boycott and divestment campaigns, including Greenpeace’s call for universities to divest from fossil fuel companies, and the push by refugee activists for UniSuper to divest from Transfield.

Clearly Israel’s mid-year assault on Gaza has given fresh impetus to this campaign. It would be a grave mistake, though, for the NTEU to wait for the next bloody pogrom before taking a further step towards BDS. Can there be any doubt now that consensus is forming around the need for an institutional boycott of Israel? Surely it is only a matter of time before our union joins this consensus. Those arguing against BDS at the National Council stated that BDS is inconsistent with the Education International position on Israel-Palestine, which the NTEU has previously endorsed. Yet such appeals to the authority of a remote Educational International bureaucracy will ring increasingly hollow as events in the Middle East expose the ineffectiveness of Education International’s “balanced” policy.

In light of the close vote, and the growing support for BDS it represents, the NTEU leadership would be well advised to take the matter in hand, and not seek to stifle debate on BDS. A process of union-wide discussion and voting on BDS in the lead-up to National Council 2015 is the best way to proceed.

Whether or not the union’s leadership takes such steps, BDS supporters in the NTEU have an opportunity to capitalise on this success at National Council, and spread the campaign at the local level. Such work is essential if a pro-BDS policy in the NTEU is to have any teeth: experience shows that top-down resolutions on an issue such as this will remain a dead letter if a body of active support has not been cultivated at the grassroots.

There is momentum around this issue that has not existed for some time, and good reason to believe that 2015 will be a year of BDS breakthroughs on campus in Australia.

To build on this important development, members of Sydney Staff for BDS invite BDS activists in the NTEU to a cross-campus meeting at Sydney University on November 6. Details to be advised.

Against the Zelman Cowen Fund and Sydney University’s ties with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, September 18 2014

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On behalf of Sydney Staff for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, I want to thank you for lending your voice to those of us on campus who have been campaigning for the boycott of Israeli universities.

We’re here for a few very simple reasons. We’re here because we refuse to remain silent while Sydney University celebrates its ties with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, an institution deeply complicit the recent massacre in Gaza, or celebrates the Zelman Cowen fund that facilitates those ties.

We’re here because we believe that an institutional boycott is an effective means of putting pressure on Israel to treat the Palestinians with decency.

And we’re here because we believe that Sydney University has an obligation to act ethically in its connections with the rest of the world, as do all Australian universities. We reject the view, articulated by vice-chancellor Spence, that our university should not adopt a position on pressing global issues. I believe that view is incompatible with a university’s responsibility to uphold ethical standards in the work that it does.

But in this case we need not even take a position on Israel. All we need to do is ask a very simple question of our partner in the Zelman Cowen Fund, a question that we should surely ask of all of our partnerships. It’s a very simple question, to which many people in Maclaurin Hall tonight would no doubt assent. That question is this: Do you, as a university, from the top, consciously and deliberately lend support to the perpetration of human rights abuses? If the answer to that question is yes, then I believe grounds for a boycott exist.

Now some may say that this casts the net too widely, that this would lead to a boycott of a great many institutions in repressive regimes around the world. Sadly there is some truth in this. So I think there’s a second question that needs to be asked: Is there a credible campaign, on the part of those directly resisting these human rights abuses, that is calling for a boycott? That is to say, can our boycott here at Sydney realistically be seen as contributing to a growing campaign to end this conflict?

Here again the answer is yes. Palestinian civil society organisations have unanimously endorsed the BDS campaign, and we heed that call. Every single Palestinian trade union has endorsed BDS. As a member of the NTEU I’m proud to stand in solidarity with my comrades in Palestinian trade unions, particularly those working in Palestine’s besieged universities. So my final reason for us being here this evening is the simplest of all: we’re here because the Palestinians, suffering through bombardment, occupation and daily racism and discrimination, have asked us to be here. Continue reading

SSBDS to join three other Palestine solidarity groups in protest outside USyd dinner celebrating links with Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Sydney Staff for BDS (SSBDS) will join three other Palestine-solidarity organizations in protesting outside a fundraising dinner at Sydney University on Wednesday.

The $120 a head dinner will be held in the MacLaurin Hall at the university to celebrate the work of the Zelman Cowen Universities fund (ZCF), which organises and funds exchange scholarships and research partnerships between the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HUJ) and the University of Sydney.

Organisers say the aim of the protest is to exert pressure on Sydney University to cut ties with Israeli academic institutions, in line with the call for the academic boycott of Israel, part of the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions strategy initiated by Palestinian civil society. Earlier this year, SSBDS wrote to academics involved with the ZCF, outlining the rationale for the boycott and inviting them to withdraw their support from the fund.

Endorsed by the Coalition for Justice and Peace in Palestine, the Palestine Action Group and Jews Against the Occupation, the protest will draw attention to the connections between ZCF and the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory and the systemic human rights abuses and violations of international law it involves, most recently the war in Gaza, responsible for the death of more than 2000 Palestinian people.

“The Hebrew University  of Jerusalem is the direct recipient of ZCF’s largesse,” said Dr David Brophy from SSBDS. “But far from being a politically neutral institution, HUJ is enthusiastically complicit with the war-crimes that flow from Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory.”

“HUJ has its Mount Scopus campus on stolen Palestinian land and trains members of the IDF,” Brophy continued. “During the recent war in Gaza, it stated that ‘the university is joining the war effort to support its warrior students’, for whom it established a scholarship fund. It is unacceptable that the University of Sydney has a privileged exchange and scholarship arrangement with an institution like this. The connection only serves to legitimate and normalize Israeli crimes in the international arena.”

“There is nothing at all to celebrate in the work of the Sir Zelman Cowen Universities Fund,” said Vivienne Porzsolt of Jews against the Occupation, which endorses and will participate in the protest. “Its effect is to build support for Israel and its continuing dispossession and oppression of the Palestinians.  Now, more than ever, in the wake of the recent slaughter in Gaza, it is imperative for all defenders of justice and humanity to hold Israel to account and isolate it until it abides by international law. This is no time to embrace Israel and its crimes.”

The chairman of HUJ’s board of governors is Michael Federmann, Chairman of Elbit Systems (Israel’s largest privately owned armament maker), one of two main providers of the electronic detection fence in the West Bank.

“Supporters of the ZCF say that they are supporting medical research,” added David Brophy. “But this support comes at the price of providing cover in HUJ for a key cog of the Israeli war machine. The University of Sydney should have nothing to do with one of the principal suppliers of the institutional, educational and intellectual infrastructure of the occupation. Every medical advance to which the ZCF contributes is offset by the soldiers HUJ trains and supports, the military research it conducts, the theft of Palestinian land it perpetuates, and the respectability it confers on Israeli state crimes.”

“As an institution that says it is committed to the robust exchange of ideas, the University of Sydney should welcome our protest,” Brophy continued. “Whole tracts of Gaza City lie in ruins and Gazans are mourning their dead. To celebrate a link with HUJ at a time like this does serious damage to Sydney University’s reputation. As concerned members of staff, we feel obligated to act. The University of Sydney maintains no dedicated scholarship or exchange schemes for Palestinian people, whom the occupation robs of opportunities for study and research. We look forward to the university establishing such a scheme and hosting a fundraising dinner for it, in celebration of the work of those of its staff, like Prof. Jake Lynch, who have done so much to further the cause of a just peace in the Middle East. Unlike the ZCF celebration, that dinner would not provide cover for systemic state violence.”

In line with their commitment to the principle that ideas must be given political expression if they are to play a role in the real world, protest organisers intend to demonstrate outside the MacLaurin Hall from 5.45 on Wednesday September 17. There is no intention to disrupt the dinner itself.

Contact: David Brophy, 0434 026 003, Nick Riemer 0481 339 937

Speech given by SSBDS at the Israeli Film Festival Protest, 21 August 2014

We should have been assembling a few blocks down the road outside the Verona cinema, so we could protest outside the cinema.

But now the police and the courts have banned us from doing that.

The court apparently doesn’t think the right to protest is important enough to justify the same traffic arrangements which would easily be made for a burst water-main or a broken-down bus.

This should be of real concern to everyone committed to political freedom in this country.

The right to free political expression is a cornerstone of a democratic society.

The decision to outlaw it is a step down a dangerous road, at the bottom of which looms a darkly blinking police-state.

Our demonstration was called to defend Palestinians’ right to justice and political freedom. In a far less acute way, we now find ourselves having to defend our own.

Some people might ask what the fuss is about, given that we’re demonstrating here now.

But let’s be clear about what the effect of the court decision has been: the state has sheltered the principal audience of our protest from our demands.

For the Israeli dignitaries who’ll be gracing the event with their presence, they’ve tried to make it like we’re not even there.

They’ve also succeeded in suppressing our numbers and in affirming that the police have the power to shut down public demos that it doesn’t like.

It’s now up to us to make sure that this attempt to silence us doesn’t succeed.

Attacks on fundamental freedoms don’t come with a sign saying “Danger: attack on civil liberties inside”.

Freedoms like the right to protest aren’t swept away in obvious full-frontal attacks – they’re eroded step by step, with each further one carefully cocooned in the reassuring idioms of legal rationality, administrative sobriety and respect for basic rights.

That’s exactly what we saw in the Supreme court this week. We condemn it, and condemn it unreservedly.

The court’s decision follows the banning of three Gaza protests in and around Paris last month.

It also comes in the context of tightening restrictions on the right to protest in Australia. Victoria and Tasmania have both recently introduced laws which substantially restrict protesters’ rights.

These are unacceptable – and again, it’s up to us to stop them. We should call on everyone who’s committed to political freedom in our society to join us in decrying the court’s decision.

But we can’t let this outrageous affront to democratic rights make us forget why we called this demonstration in the first place.

It’s easy to criticise calls to boycott a film festival. But let’s be clear why we’re here.

We are here to protest against official state-sponsored cultural festivals like this one, which use films to cloak the reality of Israel’s policy towards Palestine.

The Australia-Israel cultural exchange, which is backing the festival along with the Israeli embassy, was opened by Netanyahu in 2002 – the same Netanyahu who now has the blood of more than 2000 Palestinians on his murderous hands.

To our critics who ask us why we can’t leave cinema alone, we’ve got a question.

How many would-be Palestinian directors, actors and audiences have been slain by Israeli missiles? What prospect is there for a real film industry in a culture strangled by war and occupation?

So don’t lecture us about how film has the power to foster dialogue. You can’t have a dialogue when there’s a gun pointed at your head, or when there are IDF missiles trained on your houses and your family.

At the moment, the films that best advance the cause of justice for Palestine are the ones that Israel wants to ban, not the ones it wants to promote.

The film that’s being screened tonight is called “Self Made”. In the trailer, there’s a shot of the brutal separation wall that encloses Palestinians, like animals in a zoo.

On the wall’s clear surface, there’s been painted a large bunch of sunflowers, which the camera lingers over lovingly.

We know that that wall means deprivation, enclosure, and death. But for the film, it’s a canvas to paint with flowers.

For me that’s like an image for what Israel’s doing with film festivals like this one – it’s trying to hide the killing, by promoting works that it hopes will make us to forget about the bombs, the rubble, the oppression of an entire people.

The best thing we can do for peace in Israel-Palestine isn’t passively consume films like this, but actively boycott any festivals they’re in when these are funded by the Israeli state.

I’m speaking here on behalf of SSBDS, a group of staff at Sydney University who have been pressing the university to end its association with Israel.

Because what goes for cinema and culture also goes for academic research: there’s no freedom to study when your people is under siege and occupation.

Just as we call for the boycott of Israeli film festivals, we’re calling for Sydney University to boycott Israel’s academic institutions, which provide so much support for the occupation.

We need the BDS call to get stronger and stronger.

Because it isn’t sensitive and compassionate films, or high-level academic research that will bring justice to Palestinians, but a robust politics of public pressure. And that’s why we’re taking part in this demonstration today, just as we’ve taken part in every rally since the war in Gaza started.

It’s more and more clear to us, as it is to so many, that the international call for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel represents the most powerful mechanism Palestine has to bring about a just peace.

So let’s spread the boycott call, let’s demonstrate against official Israeli events like the film festival, with even greater energy than ever.

The police and the courts can try and ban us all they want, but they will never silence us. This is the right side of history. The calls for justice and peace for Palestine will not be stifled. Palestine will be free, and it’s ultimately our choice, in this international movement we belong to, how quickly that will happen.

Nick Riemer

Joint media release: Palestine protest going ahead on Thursday after court decision

PALESTINE PROTEST GOING AHEAD ON THURSDAY AFTER COURT DECISION: NOW MEETING AT TAYLOR SQUARE

A protest against the opening night of the Israeli Film Festival will be held at Taylor Square at 5.30pm on Thursday, despite today’s judgement in the Supreme Court of NSW.

Protest organisers have condemned the court for upholding NSW Police’s decision not to facilitate the protest, which was originally called outside the Palace Verona Cinema in Paddington, the cinema hosting the festival.

In handing down his decision on Wednesday, the Supreme Court’s Justice Hidden stressed that the courts do not have the right either to ban or to authorize protests. All the court has done is remove the immunity from prosecution that participants would otherwise have if disruption to the road is caused. Nevertheless, today’s decision has effectively banned the protest from going ahead in the form the organisers had chosen.

“This has every appearance of a politically motivated bid to silence pro-Palestine activists,” said Nick Riemer from Sydney Staff for BDS, one of the coalition of groups organising the protest. “The court apparently doesn’t think the right to protest is important enough to justify the same traffic arrangements which would easily be made for a burst water-main or a broken-down bus. This should be of grave concern to everyone committed to political freedom in our society.”

“It’s striking that this decision follows the police’s earlier refusal to facilitate a march on the News Corp offices to protest against their deeply biased coverage of the war on Gaza,” added Damian Ridgwell, from the Palestine Action Group. “In 2012, the police also took us to court to try to prevent a march through the city to commemorate the Nakbah, the ethnic cleansing of Palestine during Israel’s foundation in 1948.”

“We are outraged at this denial of freedom of speech and assembly in relation to a crucial human rights issue – the rights of Palestinian people,” said Vivienne Porszolt from Jews against the Occupation. “Our purpose is entirely peaceful. Events such as the Israeli Film Festival are part of a “charm offensive” by the State of Israel to distract attention from its crimes against the Palestinian people.”

“It would be perfectly possible to divert traffic around the protest,” said Ophelia Haragli, from the Palestine Action Group. “The police even presented the court with a plan for how they would do this. By accepting the police’s argument against the demonstration the court has effectively declared weekday evenings protest-free. But the right to protest is a basic democratic freedom which we will not surrender.”

Today’s decision recalls the banning of a protest against the Gaza war in Paris last month. It comes in the context of tightening restrictions on the right to protest in Australia. Victoria and Tasmania have both recently introduced laws which restrict protesters’ rights. Legal representation for the Israeli Film Festival protest was provided by the NSW Council for Civil Liberties.

Organisers have decided that Thursday’s protest to draw attention to Israel’s ongoing war on Gaza will assemble at Taylor Square at 5.30pm. Israeli attacks have now killed over 2000 Palestinians, including a woman and a child in one attack on Gaza City late on Tuesday.

For further information, contact:

Nick Riemer (Sydney Staff for BDS) 0481 339 937

Vivienne Porszolt (Jews against the Occupation) 0411 366 295

Ophelia Haragli (Palestine Action Group) 0410 782 263

Damian Ridgwell (Palestine Action Group) 0408 369 182