Student union rescinds anti-Israel motion

"You don't need to be Jewish to see something wrong, something that's hateful, and an agenda that's purely antisemitic ... many Jewish students feel unsafe on campus."

Photo: Justin Riazaty
Justin Riazaty.

Australia’s Jewish student leadership felt encouraged this week by news that the University of Melbourne Student Union (UMSU) has rescinded a virulently anti-Israel motion.

In April 2022, UMSU passed a motion titled ‘UMSU stands with Palestine – BDS and Solidarity Policy’, accusing Israel of “massacres, forced expulsion and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians”, calling Zionism “a racist, colonial ideology” and supporting Palestinians “to engage in self-defence against their occupiers”.

A legal challenge by non-Jewish law student Justin Riazaty led to UMSU passing a thinly revised motion in August that year supporting Palestinians to “engage in self-defence against their occupiers” and describing “use of Zionism to justify illegal occupation of Palestine”. It drew condemnation from six Jewish organisations, including the Australasian Union of Jewish Students (AUJS).

Riazaty told The AJN at the time, “You don’t need to be Jewish to see something wrong, something that’s hateful, and an agenda that’s purely antisemitic … many Jewish students feel unsafe on campus.”

In October 2022, Riazaty and another plaintiff launched legal action against UMSU over its motion, claiming it breached Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. Last Friday, UMSU settled the case – due in the Victorian Supreme Court in April – by rescinding the motion and paying legal costs.

Emphasising AUJS was not a party to the case, AUJS president Noah Loven told The AJN, “Any motion that targets Jewish students and makes Jewish students feel unsafe on campus being rescinded is a positive step forward in the reconciliation between Jewish students and the students’ union.”

He said a new UMSU executive has a fresh perspective on Israel. “We have positive relations with the incoming students’ executive at Melbourne University and we hope to continue that relationship for this year, knowing that it’s going to be a very difficult time for Jewish students as well.”

Loven was buoyed by unusually high numbers of Jewish students taking AUJS membership at his Monash University campus during orientation week, and this has also occurred on Sydney campuses. “It’s a very positive development but also a reflection of the insecurity of Jewish students going back to campus. Jewish students are looking for a place to come together at a very difficult time.”

Welcoming the settlement, Anti-Defamation Commission chair Dvir Abramovich said, “We have sent a message that we will not allow antisemitism to find a shelter on campuses”. Students “deserve to be protected and learn in a safe environment”.

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