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


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