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.