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