Israeli academic recounts ordeal

After an ordeal lasting around 90 minutes, with no apparent intervention from University of Sydney security personnel, the Israeli guests were escorted off the premises.

Professor Milette Shamir (Photo: LinkedIn)
Professor Milette Shamir (Photo: LinkedIn)

When pro-Palestinian demonstrators at the University of Sydney invaded a function room where Tel Aviv University (TAU) academics were running an information stall, Professor Milette Shamir, one of the Israeli visitors, was just metres from the rampage.

Shamir, TAU’s vice-president for international academic relations and Sharon Ziv-Kafri of TAU’s Lowy International School found themselves in the same room as the demonstrators who had burst in and were shouting anti-Israel slogans.

There are reports that with another anti-Israel demonstration on campus, the function room’s doors were locked, but a University of Sydney spokesperson was adamant that nobody inside the function room had been forcibly detained.

After an ordeal lasting around 90 minutes, with no apparent intervention from University of Sydney security personnel, the Israeli guests were escorted off the premises.

The Israelis had been invited by University of Sydney to run the information booth as part of a March 19 international fair promoting student exchanges.

Shamir told The AJN she had encountered multiple demonstrations of this type in different parts of the world.

“It wasn’t a huge shock or surprise, as I’m familiar with what’s going on now on campuses. This one was particularly unpleasant because it was very close to where we were. There was no buffer between us and demonstrators.

“We were for a long time in the same room with the pro-Palestinian protesters. I will say that at no point were we not allowed to leave or unable to leave.

“The choice to stay there was ours – simply because we didn’t think it was right, having travelled so far, to put an end to what we set out to do.

“We did not feel that we were physically threatened. We felt very uncomfortable because it was loud and there were accusations [relating to] Tel Aviv University,” she said, recounting slogans shouted by the demonstrators accusing TAU of complicity “with genocide and apartheid – all the slogans that we’re familiar with”.

TAU president Ariel Porat sent a stern letter to University of Sydney vice-chancellor and president Mark Scott on Wednesday, describing the invasion of the information expo as “a violent instance of verbal assault against two women, preventing them from fulfilling the purpose for which they were invited”.

“I request a detailed explanation from you regarding what appears to be an extreme neglect by your university in preventing or at least taking responsibility for this shameful incident,” wrote Porat.

Shamir told The AJN that TAU is waiting to hear from Scott about the university’s account of what happened, and that meanwhile, University of Sydney’s international office has been providing support for the Israeli visitors.

“They were concerned about our safety and wanted to help us,” she said.

The TAU visitors, including Professor Karen Avraham, TAU’s faculty dean of medicine and life sciences, are in Australia to expand partnerships with Australian universities.

Australian Friends of Tel Aviv University president David Solomon said University of Sydney must take steps to ensure such incidents are not repeated. “We’re concerned that the university didn’t take stronger action to protect our people and also other stallholders.”


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