Tertiary vilification
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Tertiary vilification

The tactics used by the University of Sydney’s Student Representative Council (SRC) to respond to the boycott of the Sydney Festival for accepting Israeli funding are deplorable.

A motion by the SRC resolving to support the boycott describes Israel as “an apartheid state founded on the dispossession and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians”. This odious, historically false motion was railroaded through, with no opportunity for free debate.

One Jewish student who tried to speak against the motion was heckled, while another had her Zoom connection muted. Unsurprisingly, others were too intimidated to speak up. It was the hallmark, not of a student council, but of a kangaroo court.

It was perhaps the darkest day for this university since 2015, when associate professor Jake Lynch waved a five-dollar note at an elderly Jewish woman who had been engaging anti-Israel protesters during a lecture by British Colonel Richard Kemp, a respected supporter of reasoned debate about Israel’s policies.

No doubt, the academic year now starting will be challenging for Jewish students on Australian tertiary campuses. Returning to what hopefully will be the first full year of in-person attendance since the end of 2019, they will have to contend with an upsurge in anti-Israel and antisemitic conduct by some fellow students.

As Natalie Gunn, president of the Australasian Union of Jewish Students (AUJS), points out in The AJN this week, those starting their academic year will have to wade into campuses where the temperature on Israel and Jews has been raised by various issues, not only the Sydney Festival saga. There’s the scurrilous Amnesty report on Israel, and Whoopi Goldberg’s bizarre, brain-snap contention that the Holocaust wasn’t racially motivated.

Additionally, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism – which the USYD SRC ironically adopted in 2018 – has already been falsely branded as suppressing free speech (the same free speech denied to Jewish students by the University of Sydney’s SRC). There are already some “Students Against IHRA” groupings emerging.

It’s encouraging to know that a valuable resource such as AUJS will be there to support, counsel and advocate for Jewish students on Australasian campuses. It’s tragic, however, to know there are battles AUJS needs to fight.

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