Results lack credibility

Academic says campus antisemitism survey faulty

Academic Larry Stillman claims the results from the recent ZFA and AUJS antisemitism survey are 'based on a heavily skewed sample and it's not a real sample'

The University of Melbourne. Photo: Polly Clip.
The University of Melbourne. Photo: Polly Clip.

A Jewish academic is questioning the findings of a recent survey of antisemitism at Australian universities.

The survey, conducted on behalf of the Zionist Federation of Australia (ZFA) and Australasian Union of Jewish Students (AUJS), revealed that two thirds of Australian Jewish students have experienced antisemitism on campus, more than half have hidden their identity to avoid antisemitism and one in five have avoided campus altogether.

But Monash University senior research fellow Larry Stillman said, “It’s a self-selected group of people on the AUJS database, who are politically and religiously more conservative.

“I think that the survey isn’t truly reflective, it’s based on a heavily skewed sample and it’s not a real sample.”

Stillman, who is an executive member of the left-wing Australian Jewish Democratic Society (AJDS), said he has flunked doctoral students for doing what he calls “the same kind of faulty stuff”.

“You know, with social science, you’ve got to have a defensible methodology. You just don’t use shonky numbers, it’s as basic as that,” he said.

Stillman, along with fellow academics David Zyngier and Peter Slezak, has sent a complaint about the survey to the Australian National University’s Vice Chancellor for Research, because he says it lacks credibility and breaches research guidelines as developed by the Australian Evaluation Association which the Social Research Centre of the ANU signs up to.

“They’ve got to have some sort of inquiry,” he said.

The ZFA defended the report, saying they wanted as many Jewish students as possible to complete the survey.

“That’s why we asked school alumni, sporting organisations, young Jewish professional networks, youth movements and more to send the survey to their mailing lists, alongside social media campaigns and using the AUJS database,” said ZFA director of public affairs Bren Carlill.

He said most people who see the survey results are appalled by the existence and level of campus antisemitism and want to do something about it, and the ZFA is pleased that the response so far from universities and state and federal governments suggest they are taking the findings seriously.

AUJS president Alissa Foster said, “We welcome every opportunity to work with community members to better understand the concerns and interests of Jewish students, and I would encourage the AJDS to reach out to us.”

The call for an inquiry into the survey comes as the AJDS defended itself against criticism over its involvement in La Trobe University’s controversial adoption of a definition of antisemitism.

AJDS was one of three such organisations consulted by the university when it decided to only partially adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition, sparing its examples in favour of the guidelines in the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism, which is not accepted by mainstream Jewish bodies.

The Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) labelled the AJDS, Voices for Justice and Peace and Partners for Peace as “far-left Jewish fringe groups that represent the views of a tiny minority of the Jewish community”.

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