‘Civility’, Zionism and the hostile corporate takeover of scholarly communities.

A review of Steven Salaita’s book – Uncivil Rites: Palestine and the Limits of Academic Freedom, published by Haymarket books, Chicago, Illinois, 243 pp.

Jake Lynch

uncivilrights.cvr_.2Uncivil Rites is an uplifting, uneven, fizzing celebration of the struggle for humanity in the face of an unholy alliance between Zionism, the hostile corporate takeover of scholarly communities that has corrupted University administration, and the militarism that seeks to quell resistance to injustice. By turns angry, funny, maudlin, defensive, militant and ultimately affirmatory, the book never lapses into either of the two signature modes that pro-Israel propaganda shares with ethnocentric American ‘patriotism’, namely rage and hate.

Salaita was born in West Virginia to a Jordanian father, and married into a Palestinian family. At the outset of the book, he remarks on the subject of his PhD thesis, “on interrelated discourses of colonization in North America and Palestine” (p. 1). In 2013, he was appointed to a Professorial post in the American Indian Studies Program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) – only to have it withdrawn, the following year and before taking up the position, at the behest of the institution’s Board of Trustees. He was forced to establish this in court, as the University tried to deny that he’d ever been offered employment – just one of a stunning array of dirty tricks played upon him in a campaign of “Zionist repression” (p. 53).

Salaita’s ostensible “crime” was a series of tweets, sent from his personal Twitter account, critical of Israel’s so-called “Operation Protective Edge”, the attack on Gaza in mid-2014 in which over 2,000 civilians were killed. One said: “I wish all the fucking West Bank settlers would go missing” (p. 10). As he observes, the word, “missing” acquired a particular resonance in Israel at the time as it was used to refer to three teenaged boys from a settlement in Gush Etzion, in the occupied Palestinian West Bank, who were kidnapped from a hitch-hiking stop and whose bodies were later found in a field near Hebron.

As Salaita recalls, “the Israeli government immediately blamed Hamas, which turned out not to be responsible, and facilitated one of the worst outbreaks of mob violence in recent Israeli history” (p 10). His ‘offending’ tweet came a week into this cynically engineered bout of nationalistic hysteria.

The murder of the three boys was an infamous crime, but there was – and remains – something obscene about the disproportionate political and media attention the incident generated, when the far greater number of young Palestinian lives destroyed or blighted by the occupation, its appurtenances and cruelties are met typically with comparative indifference. The former stood out as an aberration from a norm; the latter is the everyday grinding reality for a dispossessed people.

In Salaita’s own words, “I thought it a suitable moment to reflect on a fundamental Palestinian desire to end military occupation. I invoked the ‘go missing’ phrase because of its currency in that moment. I didn’t mean kidnap or murder”. But the tweet was to return to haunt him as it was one of those cited by the “sub-mediocre sycophants” (p. 195) who populate upper University administrative corridors as an excuse to ride roughshod over UIUC’s own rules, and the integrity of its American Indian Studies program, and fire him.

The ‘offence’ his tweets are supposed to have caused has to be seen in context. ‘Protective Edge’ saw Israel isolated in world public, media and political opinion as seldom before. It leant further impetus to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which was by then identified by authorities in Israel as a strategic threat. We now know, thanks to a report by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, that foreign direct investment in Israel halved in 2014, with one of its co-authors, Israeli economist Dr Ronny Manos, attributing the sharp drop to fallout from the military onslaught on Gaza and “international boycotts” against Israel for “alleged violations of international law.”

Salaita’s “vocal support” for the academic boycott, a key component of BDS, tops his own list of “factors that contributed to my firing” (p. 48). As he remarks, BDS puts the wind up the parasitic class of corporate-friendly administrators now wrecking universities throughout the neo- liberal world, not merely for its Palestine advocacy but because it represents “grassroots organizing, faculty autonomy, antiracism, decolonization, systemic critique” (p. 56) – all supposedly prerogatives of academic freedom that somehow feel embarrassing in attempts to cosy up to rich donors.

There is also something intrinsically disobliging about Palestine advocacy to a still-dominant American narrative that waxes choleric when reminded of the genocidal war against the continent’s first nations that was a condition of its founding. “Palestine… is an anxiety, one whose existence ensures the survival of the American Indian” (p. 100). US support for Zionism is tendered “for reasons that eclipse geopolitics” (p. 100).

Similar observations could be made about Australia, which suppresses its Aboriginal population with ever-intensifying bureaucratic zeal, and where my own prominent advocacy of the academic boycott has given me a taste of the treatment meted out to Salaita. The “consummate disingenuity” (p. 123) that leads critics of Israeli government policies to be smeared as “antisemitic” is one experience we share. As is the Orwellian use by University managers of the word, “civility” to shut down dissension from an approved spectrum of views and modes of expression when tackling divisive issues on campus.

Earlier this year, University of Sydney management disgracefully connived in a libellous campaign against me by a hasbara organisation, the “Australasian Union of Jewish Students”, and instrumentalised the resulting hysteria to institute disciplinary proceedings, after a speech by a notorious apologist for Israeli militarism was interrupted by a noisy student demonstration. My “crime” was to intercede to prevent security guards from manhandling protesters in ways assessed by a senior medical practitioner as potentially highly dangerous.

In common with other campuses, including many in the US, the scholarly community includes many who profess to be ‘progressive except on Palestine’, and many more who keep their heads down or occasionally pop up to parrot management idiocies. But there are also a few doughty fighters for freedom and for human values in the governance of public affairs in general, and solidarity with peoples in struggle for rights and freedoms, in particular.

In my own case, the campaign worked, and the University had to declare that the charge of antisemitism was refuted. Unlike Salaita, I managed to keep my job. As he notes, “the kindness and generosity of the uncivilized [is] stunning… if this is incivility, then I eagerly accept my confinement to the dignity of the uncivil” (pp. 62-63).

Uncivil Rites rambles at times, and has the feeling of picking at different threads in parallel. It was forged in struggle, which took its author on a nonstop speaking tour as word spread of the injustice done to him, and its implications – with portions of the book written in haste or in discomfort while waiting for planes or travelling on trains.

The public outcry at his treatment took the backstairs-crawlers at UIUC by surprise. As Salaita concludes, “Suppression relies on the anxiety of its targets. It is sustainable… only in relation to our quiescence” (p. 188). He goes on to set out a stage-by-stage plan for effective campus organising around the academic boycott and related issues. Uncivil Rites deserves to be read as a classic of the movement, and its author’s courage and integrity widely emulated.

Associate Professor Jake Lynch is Director of the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Sydney, and a member of Sydney Staff for BDS, which is affiliated to the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network.

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Sydney University’s decision not to dismiss Jake Lynch highlights baselessness of the Israel lobby’s campaign against him

2015-05-14 13.15.37

Today’s announcement by Sydney University management that it will not be dismissing Jake Lynch highlights the vexatious and baseless nature of the Israel lobby’s campaign against him, Sydney Staff for BDS (SSBDS) said.

SSBDS welcomes management’s decision to end the disciplinary process against Lynch. It brings to an end a politically motivated two-month investigation, initiated in response to pressure on the university from pro-Israel forces.

The Israel lobby has long sought the scalps of pro-Palestine academics such as Lynch. “Peter Wertheim, Alex Ryvchin, Dean Sherr and other spokespeople for pro-Israel organisations cynically saw an opportunity to attack one of their ideological opponents,” said David Brophy from SSBDS. “The fact that the University of Sydney has rejected their allegations is a blow against Zionists’ intimidation of Palestine activism in Australia.”

This case must be set in the context of a worldwide upturn in the use of accusations of anti-Semitism to intimidate and silence pro-Palestine voices on campus. In the first four months of 2015, Palestine Solidarity Legal Support recorded 60 instances at US universities where criticism of Israel was met with accusations of anti-Semitism. This unscrupulous tactic of conflating criticism of the Israeli State with anti-Semitism has done great damage to the need to identify and combat genuine racial discrimination, including anti-Semitism, in society.

Claims that Palestine activists at Sydney are anti-Jewish have been the go-to argument of Lynch’s critics. After Sydney University responded to the allegations of anti-Semitism by launching an investigation, The Australasian Union of Jewish Students leapt into action by emailing its members a set of misrepresentations and fabrications, among them that Lynch “shouted in the faces of Jewish students” and that he “has a history of supporting harassment and discrimination against Jewish students.”

In addition it launched a petition for Lynch’s sacking, arguing that “anti-Semitic behaviour, harassment, and intimidation have no place in Australian society and they certainly have no place at the University of Sydney.” Even after the charge of anti-Semitism was found to be groundless, AUJS’s Julian Kowal maintained that Lynch had compromised the university as a “safe space for Jewish students”, for which he should be dismissed.

In this light, Dean Sherr’s recent claim that AUJS’ campaign against Lynch does not rest on a complaint of anti-Semitism stands exposed as a scandalous bid to rewrite the factual record.

Peter Wertheim has stated that “the charge of antisemitism is not levelled lightly,” but the barrage of irresponsible op-eds smearing as Lynch as anti-Semitic suggests otherwise. Under the headline “Antisemitism on Campus: Has Sydney University’s Jake Lynch Finally Gone Too Far?”, Glen Falkenstein included Lynch’s actions in a discussion of “anti-Zionism”, “which through its manifestations and rhetoric clearly can serve as a mask for blatant antisemitism.” In The Australian, Peter Baldwin continued along the same lines, saying: “My sense is that increasingly anti-Zionism is a mask for occulted anti-Semitism.” In recent weeks such insinuations have continued to flow freely from the pens of Lynch’s critics.

“The Israel lobby’s resort to these plainly baseless accusations highlights their lack of any real arguments against Palestine justice activists,” said David Brophy.

“These lobby organisations are dedicated to preventing a free and informed debate on the question of Israel/Palestine from occurring in Australian society. Sydney University should strive to ensure that such a debate can take place on campus by resisting these vexatious attacks. The institution’s commitment to academic freedom, which has been reiterated a number of times with reference to Lynch, requires that it do so.”

“We welcome the end of the proceedings against Lynch,” added Nick Riemer from SSBDS. “The University should be congratulating Jake for promoting the cause of a just peace in the Middle East, not threatening him with the sack for it. It’s now time for the University to drop all its charges against the student protesters too.”

Sydney Writers’ Festival: Reject Partnerships with Apartheid Israel

A Palestinian man inspects the damage to a library inside al-Eslah mosque after local witnesses said it was hit by an Israeli airstrike in Gaza November 18, 2006.  REUTERS/Mohammed Salem (GAZA) - RTR1JGJZ

Click here to add your name to this petition. 

To the organisers of the Sydney Writers’ Festival:

It has recently come to our attention that the festival has received support from the Israeli embassy for one of its panels (Assaf Gavron: The Wild West Bank). We have no objection to the author or his work, but rather to the institutional relationship that brings him to the festival. Sustaining a partnership with the Israeli embassy at this time serves to normalise and legitimate Israel’s many violations of international law and Palestinian human rights.

In 2008 an Israeli invitee to the festival revealed that Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs offered funding for his visit to Sydney on the condition that he would “promote the policy interests of the State of Israel via culture and art, including contributing to creating a positive image for Israel.” Whether or not such contracts are still in use today, the purpose of Israeli sponsorship remains the same: to use culture to whitewash Israel’s image abroad.

This year’s festival theme asks the question “How to Live?” We reply: by avoiding complicity with historical and ongoing injustices, with practices of occupation, colonialism, and apartheid.

The people of Gaza are still struggling to recover from the bloody 51-day assault last year, which left over 2100 Palestinians – including around 500 children – dead, displaced a fourth of the population, and involved numerous potential war crimes. The world’s silence towards this atrocity has only emboldened Israel’s war camp: this month saw the election of an extreme right-wing government with ministers who have publicised calls for the genocide of the Palestinians.

While we in Sydney celebrate the pleasure of reading, Israel denies this same pleasure to the Palestinians. Along with schools and universities, the 2014 assault also destroyed two libraries in Gaza, and Israel’s blockade of the Palestinian territories regularly prevents shipments of books from reaching readers. The occupation also restricts the ability of Palestinian writers to travel abroad to festivals such as yours.

Since 2005, Palestinian civil society has called on people of conscience around the world to engage in a peaceful campaign of boycotting, divesting from, and sanctioning Israel in order to force it to comply with international law. The BDS movement has grown exponentially since then, attracting support from a range of cultural and literary figures around the globe, including Naomi Klein, Arundhati Roy, Cornell West, and John Pilger.

We appeal to the organisers of the Sydney Writers’ Festival to withdraw the current sponsorship arrangement with the Israeli embassy, and henceforth to refrain from collaboration with it. This is not, we emphasise, a call to isolate or boycott individual Israeli authors, but to renounce business as usual with the organs of a state that routinely violates international law and basic human rights with impunity.

As was the case in South Africa, where international solidarity played a crucial role in bringing down apartheid by boycotting the economic, sports and cultural institutions of the apartheid regime, we request that you not partner in any capacity with the Israeli government and other complicit institutions, until Israel fulfils its obligations under international law and recognises the Palestinian people’s right to live in full equality and freedom in their homeland.

This attack is wrong, it is cowardly, it is corrupt. It must not be tolerated.

civil libs mtg 2

A speech delivered to the April 29 campus meeting opposing the disciplinary action being taken by the University of Sydney against SSBDS member Jake Lynch and five students, all advocates of Palestinian human rights.

I acknowledge that we’re meeting on Aboriginal land.

I’d like to put our current agonies in context by asking what the value of dissent is in a university.

Some people have expressed disbelief that freedom of speech could be invoked to defend the students’ protest against Richard Kemp. They’ve denounced what they call our “perversion” of that concept.

Our critics, including the Vice Chancellor, have made it clear what forms of dissent they’re prepared to tolerate. Only speak when it’s your turn; don’t raise your voice; always be tolerant of others – unless, of course, you’re the Vice-Chancellor himself, when you get to threaten people with the sack if you find their views hard to bear.

Protest, interruption and dissent are what democracy looks like. That’s not an empty slogan: it’s the fact of the matter. We can’t allow academic decorum to paralyse us so rigidly that we’re prevented from turning our heads to face the lesson of history: it’s the young activist with her megaphone, not the intellectual in their seminar room, who leads the struggle for a better world.

Students routinely interrupt speakers on university campuses. In threatening them with disciplinary action, the leaders of this university obediently do their bit to legitimize and reinforce one of the most dangerous features of modern societies – the criminalization of dissent. This is the opposite of the civic purpose a university should fulfil.

Today we’re told what an intolerant, disrespectful, uncivil thing it was to interrupt Richard Kemp – Richard Kemp, who brags of the humanity of the army that littered Gaza with over 2000 Palestinian corpses less than a year ago.

I wonder what they’ll tell us tomorrow, or the day after. Perhaps that it’s disrespectful to hold a political meeting? They’ve already banned a meeting on Anzac day and militarism.

Or perhaps that it disturbs people to hand them a political leaflet on their way into university.

Or maybe they’ll tell us that we can’t be too critical of politicians at conferences, or in our tweets.

Is this irresponsible hyperbole? It’s a matter of public record that these kinds of censorship are already happening at our university. Our current Chancellor is from QBE Insurance. Who’s to say our next one won’t be from SBS?

Yesterday, the Vice-Chancellor posted an article on Yammer by the Human Rights commissioner, Tim Wilson, defending the sacking of Scott McIntyre for expressing his political views. The VC said the article was “interesting”.

So, who here is really on the side of free speech? Those of us defending protest and dissent, or those who demand the scalps of staff for their political views and who support dragging them and students through an inquisitorial legal investigation?

Free speech can’t be invoked to quarantine power from its critics and to doubly silence the voiceless. Disruption is what protest is for. Another name for it is “speaking truth to power”. Suppressing it in the name of civility is to substitute etiquette for the real battle of ideas.

And what about Jake in all this?

Education should be directed to the liberation of human capacities. Academics aren’t just obliged to conduct free enquiry and disseminate its results; we also have a duty to maximize the opportunity for others to do the same.

In advocating justice for Palestine, Jake’s intention has been to do exactly that.

Now, he is facing the sack for his principled expression of a conscientious and nonviolent educational politics. A more serious affront to the university’s purpose couldn’t be envisaged.

Teaching and research are already heavily shackled by inequalities of class, gender and race – as Palestinian academics and students know only too well. They must not also be subject to the politically-motivated interference of university administrations.

It’s not a coincidence that this attack is being made against a BDS exponent. It’s precisely the controversial views which the principles of intellectual and political freedom are needed to protect.

What’s being done to Jake is an attack on every student and academic here, whatever their views on Palestine and BDS. It’s wrong; it’s cowardly; it’s corrupt; it must not be tolerated.

Defending Jake and the protesters is incumbent on everyone who thinks dissent matters.

Universities should be places where people stand up to power, not where they are docile and compliant before it. Otherwise we’re consenting to the servile debasing of education for political gratification, and professing the creation and reproduction not of knowledge but of propaganda.

Nick Riemer

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.