Rally in Sydney condemning current violence against Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza

Sydney Staff for BDS endorses the emergency gathering called by the Coalition for Justice and Peace in Palestine (CJPP) to condemn the current violence against Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.

Join us to condemn the collective punishment of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.

When: 12.30pm on Wednesday 2 July 2014

Where: Martin Place, Sydney CBD (between Pitt and Castlereagh Streets)

More information: https://www.facebook.com/events/262115420657700/



Speeches in favour of the NTEU Sydney Branch starting a discussion on BDS, 4/6/14

It would have been better to be using today to talk about our urgent priorities – the library, federal funding cuts, the budget. No one supporting BDS has ever said otherwise: I’ll be moving a motion about our budget response later.

Like it or not, however, this meeting’s been called to answer a different question. Should we agree to continue a broad, open discussion on whether we should support the institutional academic boycott of Israeli universities – or should we effectively shut discussion down?

Many unions and other organisations have had this discussion already. University staff in Canadian, Irish and British unions, as well as in a dozen scholarly organisations since 2013 alone have talked, and decided to support BDS.

But supporting BDS through the institutional academic boycott certainly wasn’t what members on May 15 voted to do. Nor did they vote not to support it. They just voted to consider whether we should support it, and, if so, in what form.

Our two motions today reconcile respect for the democratically made decision on the 15th with the principle that members should control how much time, if any, we put into talking about this issue.

Our first motion asks us not to adopt any position for or against BDS, and to wait until we’ve had time to discuss it more fully.

It is reckless and irresponsible to ask us to oppose BDS today. Refusing to support or even discuss the institutional academic boycott is a serious step. Members shouldn’t be forced to pronounce on such a complex question in these pressured circumstances.

Our second motion makes some minimal proposals about what the branch could do to facilitate a discussion: devote two short slots at members’ meetings to contributions from both sides; distribute relevant emails; set up a working party to relieve the Branch Committee if necessary. As with any motion, anyone here is free to propose an amendment if they think what we’ve suggested is too much or too little. Let members today decide how much time we give to this issue, including none.

Why should the Middle East matter to us? While our Israeli colleagues and their students enjoy conditions like ours, our Palestinian colleagues and their students are subjected to continual deprivation, checkpoints, raids, tear-gas, and bullets. Intellectual freedom doesn’t exist under siege and occupation.

Our own university isn’t a bystander. Sydney has privileged academic agreements with Israeli universities that provide the ideological and technical infrastructure for the occupation. It is absolutely appropriate for us to at least talk about whether our union should support this partnership.

We’ve recently heard lots of arguments against BDS. I think those arguments are wrong – but no one should be asked to decide today, or to decide soon. To those of us who’ve come here to oppose BDS, I ask you to recognise that a discussion where we can all fairly put our views is the best outcome today. What a union is is its members talking through their different opinions.

We’ve also heard lots of counterproductive talk about division. A controversy is not division. We can’t be afraid of words or of differences of opinion. We’re a union, and a union in a university. What kind of unity do we have if we refuse to even engage on a question where people disagree?

The whole world is discussing BDS. I think it’s our responsibility, as unionists and as Sydney University staff, to discuss it too.

Nick Riemer

I started working at the University of Sydney just over a year ago, as our strike campaign was getting underway.

I have to admit it was a bit disconcerting to start my job in the middle of a serious attack on our wages and conditions, but it was exciting too, because for the first time in my life I found myself in a union branch that had a culture of grassroots activity, and democratic decision-making.

I value that culture in our branch highly, as I think we all do. And that’s why I think we should insist on our right to decide what issues are appropriate for our branch to discuss, and to reach a position on those issues collectively, without being rushed.

This to me is what a strong union is about.

A strong union doesn’t shy away from pressing global issues, or stick its head in the sand when an entire nation calls out for solidarity.

These are the actions of a weak union, of a union that distrusts its membership.

To emphasize again, all we’re asking for here is a discussion. If we can exchange views in a collegial fashion, and collectively determine a position on BDS, I’ll be thrilled, regardless of the outcome.

Our opponents have views on BDS and are entitled to them. Had this all been handled properly, I’d be treating those views today not in the form of an opposing motion, but as valued contributions to an ongoing discussion.

Frankly, though, I think that the existing NTEU national policy is too narrow.

This isn’t just about a political conflict on the other side of the world. This is about our university, and the way it conducts itself internationally.

NTEU national policy doesn’t have anything to say about our university’s ties to Israeli institutions, such as the Hebrew University, and the Technion Institute of Technology.

Two days ago in an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Israeli political scientist Neve Gordon stated what I see as the key contention behind the institutional boycott:

Wittingly or unwittingly, Israeli universities play a central role in sustaining the occupation. They are the face of Israel’s democracy that serves to hide its dark colonial side. One could call it “university washing.”

I’m not asking you to accept Neve Gordon’s proposition today. I’m simply suggesting that if there is any skerrick of truth to it, it’s something worth discussing.

Some say that this is divisive. I don’t think it’s divisive to discuss our ethical responsibilities as members of this university community.

Shutting down this discussion prematurely will be far more divisive than what we’re proposing.

Airing the views that exist in the branch, and coming to a position collectively, can only strengthen us as a union, and that’s why I recommend we all support Motion 1 today.

David Brophy

A Call for Open Discussion on BDS

NTEU MEMBERS – our union’s strength is in open, inclusive, rational debate.

Don’t be rushed into deciding – complex questions need full discussion.


  • Our success in protecting our working conditions last year was the result of collective deliberation and democratic decision-making.
  • Now, our branch has rightly decided to back NTEU member Jake Lynch against the attacks on his intellectual freedom. It is a logical step for us to consider whether, like many other unions, we should also support the BDS campaign for Palestine justice, in particular the institutional academic boycott of Israeli universities.
  • Open and inclusive discussion of both sides of the question, over a relaxed timeframe, is by far the best way to decide. Discussing the question slowly and carefully will let members reflect, and not distract from the other important work we have to do.
  • No motion taking a position either for or against BDS should be put until members have had the opportunity to consider the issue at greater length.
  • Ordinary members, not anyone else, should collectively decide how much time, if any, they are willing for the branch to devote to the discussion of BDS.

So let’s have a debate on June 4 about how much time, if any, members want to devote to discussion of BDS. This lets members decide if they don’t want any.

This solution is far preferable to any attempt to shut debate down, for four reasons:

  1. it doesn’t force members to commit themselves hastily on a complex and important ethical and political question;
  2. it doesn’t set a bad precedent by overturning the decision of the May 15 members’ meeting;
  3. it allows us to properly consider advice from all parties, including the General Secretary;
  4. it puts the decision about how much time we devote to this issue directly in the hands of members.

Why are we meeting on Wednesday?
At a meeting on May 15, the Sydney University branch of the NTEU passed a resolution calling for a “broad discussion among members about whether to endorse the BDS call and, if so, in what form.” In recognition of the seriousness and complexity of this issue, the motion envisaged a series of meetings and open discussions leading up to a vote on the issue “by the end of the year.” The aim was to enable members to make an informed decision on where they stand. The Branch Committee’s role was explicitly to facilitate an open discussion, not to endorse BDS. Now, the General Secretary of the NTEU, Grahame McCulloch, is flying up from Melbourne to try and shut debate down.

Why does BDS matter to USyd?
Sydney University is a conspicuous supporter of Israel, maintaining formal connections to a number of Israeli academic institutions through well funded exchange programs, such as the exchange with the Hebrew University, and a new partnership with the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. Through its active support of Israeli institutions the University of Sydney leaves Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians completely unchallenged, and helps Israel to whitewash its acute human rights violations. As staff at the University of Sydney we have a responsibility not to work with institutions that either remain silent while the Israeli state destroys the educational infrastructure of Palestine, or are actively complicit with this destruction. Jake Lynch, an NTEU member from the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, is currently being attacked through the Federal Court for his decision to exercise his intellectual freedom by upholding the institutional academic boycott.

BDS and union priorities
Unions have always engaged in questions of international justice and human rights. Union boycotts were a major part of the campaign to end apartheid in South Africa. No one advocating a discussion of BDS thinks it should be our main priority. Obviously, the branch should be concentrating on local issues like the job cuts at the library, and on playing a role in opposing federal funding cuts. Some Branch committee members have worried that if we begin considering BDS, all their time will be spent responding to media enquiries, placating the Israel lobby, and talking to irate members. The solution is straightforward. Form emails and letters could be prepared, stating that “Branch members are considering this issue, as they are considering many others. Until members have voted, the Branch has no position, beyond respect for its democratic processes.’

Branch unity
The NTEU needs maximum unity to fight university management and federal cuts. The motion to discuss BDS does not have to be divisive. BDS is a controversial question with strongly held views on both sides. Discussion is not bad for the branch; it is the best way to maintain unity and resolve any question on which we have a difference of views.We can maintain maximum unity by voting against the General Secretary’s motion and maintaining the branch’s commitment to open, democratic discussion of all issues.

Why weren’t members notified that a discussion on BDS was happening on May 15?
Sydney Staff for BDS notified the NTEU of the motion to begin a discussion on BDS before 9am on May 14, the day before the members’ meeting. There was ample time to circulate the motion to members. It’s important to note that the BDS motion wasn’t treated differently from any of the other motions: none of the motions passed on the 15th – on the budget, on supporting Jake Lynch’s right to intellectual freedom, on starting a discussion about BDS – was prenotified to members. No objections were raised at the meeting over a debate on the BDS discussion motion taking place, no procedural problems were raised by anyone, and a full discussion was had.

The NTEU and the 2014 Federal Budget
Budget cuts and further deregulation will bring drastic changes to our working environment, and severely restrict access to higher education. Sydney staff will suffer from the uncertainties of the new funding model, which will be used to demand increased workloads and greater flexibility (i.e. job cuts). This dismantling of public higher education must be met with a strong response from the NTEU, in solidarity with Sydney University students who have taken a lead in the campaign.

Download this post as a leaflet: Member mtg fact sheet 1-6-14