STUDENTS at one of Australia’s top journalism schools are being taught not to be objective on the Israeli-Palestinian issue.
Two Jewish students at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS) said they were left frustrated and upset after attending a Zoom panel event entitled “Palestine and the media”, presented by the UTS Centre for Social Justice & Inclusion and Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences last week.
Head of Journalism Professor Saba Bebawi began the panel noting that “what recording reality is, is not objective journalism, it is about offering a portrayal of what’s happening on the ground”.
Palestinian writer Samah Sabawi questioned, “What is being objective when you’re dealing with an occupier and occupied, when you’re dealing with an oppressor and the oppressed?” while Jewish Israel critic Antony Loewenstein said, “Objectivity suggests there’s two equal sides.”
Bebawi also alleged Israel’s bombing of a Gaza building that housed Hamas military technology alongside the offices of Al Jazeera and Associated Press “was in an attempt to silence them”.
Students were also encouraged to look at a skewed petition The AJN reported on last month that calls on editors to “deliberately make space for Palestinian perspectives”, avoid “both-siderism” and respect the rights of journalists “to publicly and openly express personal solidarity with the Palestinian cause without penalty in their professional lives”.
Student Pnina Hagege told The AJN, “Having a panel who are all pro-Palestine does not give a correct depiction of what is actually going on. We are given a lot of resources from the Arab-Palestinian perspective but we are given only Jewish perspectives that are anti-Israel … They’re using the minority to represent our entire community and that’s a really scary thing.”
Hagege said she and another Jewish student Rachel Palmer, along with other Jewish students, submitted questions to an active chat box but were ignored.
Palmer said, “During my time at UTS, Jewish voices supporting Israel have never been heard. This has contributed to a sense of exclusion, marginalisation, discrimination and physical insecurity I feel as a Jewish student at UTS.”
Bebawi did not respond to multiple requests for comment, however executive director of Social Justice at UTS, Verity Firth, who moderated the panel, said, “It is not always possible or even desirable to include representatives with every opposing view.”
She added that a recent talk on cybercrime at the university was given by an Israeli speaker.
Executive Council of Australian Jewry co-CEO Alex Ryvchin said UTS was drawing “a false equivalence between the mere holding of an event with an Israeli speaker and an event which sought to actively persuade journalism students to abandon basic journalist ethics and become activists for the Palestinian cause”.
“Much has been said and written about declining faith in journalist standards and the spread of dubious alternative news sources as a result. This event is a perfect illustration of why that’s happening,” he said.
Meanwhile at Macquarie University, a student told The AJN during the first lecture in her Indigenous studies class this year, her lecturer presented a map that replaced Israel with “Palestine”.
Then recently, another Indigenous studies lecturer began a lecture with, “We want to express our solidarity with the Palestinian intifada currently unfolding, which seeks the abolition of the settler state and insists on the liberation of Indigenous land.”
At Melbourne University, a Jewish student said a lecture compared “what has happened in Australia to other settler colonial movements, being Israel and Palestine”.
A co-director of the ‘Indigenous Settler Relations Collaboration’ (ISRC) unit at Melbourne University also shared multiple Twitter posts encouraging students to attend pro-Palestine rallies and events, with hashtags like Decolonising PalestinianTerritory.
The ISRC unit also released a statement saying it “stands in solidarity with Palestinians resisting settler colonial violence”.
“We recognise the ongoing authority of Palestinian people over their lands and the legitimacy of their revolt against this dispossession,” it continued.
Asked whether this was justification for Hamas violence, a university spokesperson said the statement “is not intended to be teaching and learning material”.
Australasian Union of Jewish Students (AUJS) president Gabrielle Agosin said AUJS had been contacted by many students in both Sydney and Melbourne “deeply distressed by the heavily biased and one-sided accounts of the events in Israel on campus”.
“Given that universities are supposed to be spaces that endorse freedom of thought and expression, the lack of balance is very troubling,” she added, “particularly when this veers into antisemitic tropes and outright racism. The AUJS team is here to assist students if they have any difficulties on campus.”
Ryvchin said, “We will be liaising with our state constituent bodies in Victoria and New South Wales and the universities to address these incidents as a matter of urgency.”