Taking back USYD

Standing up against campus hate speech and intimidation

Speakers at the demonstration co-organised by Together with Israel and StandWithUs called for peace, respect and tolerance for all

The rally at the University of Sydney on Friday morning. Photo: Gareth Narunsky
The rally at the University of Sydney on Friday morning. Photo: Gareth Narunsky

More than 500 members of the community turned up on Friday morning to call on the University of Sydney to take action against hate speech, intimidation and exclusion against Jews on campus.

As pro-Hamas demonstrators chanted “intifada, intifada” and “from the river to sea” at the University’s quadrangle just a few hundred metres away, speakers at the demonstration co-organised by Together with Israel and StandWithUs called for peace, respect and tolerance for all.

“We’re here today to simply stop the hate … and demand in Australian universities take action to remove all hate from campuses and foster a safe and inclusive learning environment for all,” Together With Israel’s Hagit Ashual told those present.

“We cannot allow calls such as ‘Intifada’ or ‘from the river to the sea’ to be chanted on university grounds, particularly by children of six years of age, what were you thinking?

“We call on the Australian universities to stop the hate and return peace to our campuses and address this issue head on.”

StandWithUs Australia executive director Michael Gencher thanked everyone who came “for not being afraid”.

Addressing University of Sydney ice chancellor Mark Scott, he said “inaction is no longer tolerable”.

“Frustration, fear, intimidation, provocation, and abuse – these are not just words. These are realities that some amongst us here today on campus are facing daily.

“We’re appalled by the vicious, anti-Jewish racism that has been promoted under the guise of political statements and free speech against Israel.”

Acknowledging that free speech is “a cornerstone” of university life, he said, “However, this right does not extend to promoting bigotry, discrimination or violence against any individual group based on their ethnicity, their religion, their countries of origin or any other identity. It’s imperative that we distinguish between constructive discourse and destructive hate.

“We call upon you, the university administration, and specifically you, Vice Chancellor Mark Scott to take all necessary measures to ensure that this campus is a safe space for learning and the growth of all students regardless of background and belief.

“We are here today because our Jewish students, faculty and staff expressed that they do not feel safe. And it seems nothing is being done about it. This is unacceptable.”

Biology academic Dr Sarah Aamidor said she loved teaching.

“But for the past six months, I’ve been spending a lot of my time helping staff and students deal with the new reality of being Jewish on this campus. It’s hard and it’s scary,” she said.

“For us Intifada means suicide bombings, and calling for the death of innocent Israelis and Jews, which I’ve experienced firsthand. When we hear Zionists aren’t welcome, that means me and anyone else that thinks that the State of Israel has a right to exist is not welcome.”

She said the past six months on campus “has been relentless”.

“The protests, the posters everywhere and the rallies. You have no idea about the fear and anxiety this causes us, students and staff. Many are now hiding the fact that they are Jewish. Some aren’t coming to campus at all,” she said.

“Free speech is important. It really is and we’re privileged that we have it. But what is going on at campus right now doesn’t feel peaceful and it doesn’t feel inclusive.”

StandWithUs national youth and education manager Adam Marks read a testimony from another student who couldn’t be present.

“We are here to stand up against hate. We are here because it is un-Australian to be antisemitic, it is un-Australian to be racist. We are here because we’re here for one another,” he said.

“We have seen statements in support of violence grow bolder on our campuses in Australia, and it’s unfortunately only getting worse,” he said.

“Jewish and Israeli students at ANU in Canberra, one of the country’s preeminent institutions, must now attend class knowing that their peers are free to express their unconditional support for Hamas.

“If our university Chancellors, if our politicians do not stand up to the hatred, the animosity, the complete vitriol that is taking place across our campuses, then unfortunately, it will be uncontrollable before we know it.”

Saying the Iranian regime, Hamas, and their supporters “will be a another chapter in our history, just like the Babylonian Empire, just like the Roman Empire, the Spanish Inquisition and the Nazis”, Central Synagogue’s young adult rabbi, Rabbi Yosef Eichenblatt said, “We need to ask ourselves, How do I want to look back at these times?

“I want to be able to tell my children and grandchildren that I stood up as a proud Jew who did not hide in fear, hoping that the hate will pass. But I showed up for Israel and for the Jewish people. I went to rallies, I involved myself in the community and did everything that I could to help the Jewish people,” he said.

“Each and every single one of us are part of this story.”

Following the Australian and Israeli national anthems, a peaceful march then finished with dancing and singing.

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