This week Rupert Murdoch’s Australian newspaper has been running countless page one stories about Dr Jake Lynch, the head of Sydney University’s Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, for abiding by BDS and refusing to assist an Israeli academic associated with an Israeli university. Here’s the background.
Today the obsession continues with heaps more coverage. For those of you who don’t read the paper (ie. most of you under the age of 68), I’ve posted it below.
An Israeli academic who set up one of the few centres where Jews and Arabs study together says he felt like “a fish on a hook” when he was boycotted by the University of Sydney’s Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies.
Dan Avnon says he still hopes to study in Australia and has been overwhelmed by public and academic support after Jake Lynch, director of the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, rejected his request to be a contact person on an application for the Sir Zelman Cowen Fellowship application.
Associate Professor Lynch said he and the centre would not assist Professor Avnon’s application because of their support for the campaign of boycott, divesments and sanctions against Israel, which extends to an academic boycott of Israeli universities.
The decision prompted the dean of the university’s arts and social science faculty, Duncan Ivison, to write yesterday to Associate Professor Lynch spelling out that “he does not speak for the faculty on visiting scholars and cannot make decisions about who comes here”.
A spokesman for the University of Sydney said the institution and Vice-Chancellor Michael Spence did not support Associate Professor Lynch’s position on Professor Avnon and that the centre director spoke “on behalf of himself and maybe one or two colleagues”.
Professor Avnon, who works at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, told The Weekend Australian he thought it was ironic that a department focused on peace and conflict would boycott him.
“This is how conflicts start,” Professor Avnon said. “This is groupthink at its worst. My attitude to peace and conflict is ‘go meet your enemy’.”
Professor Avnon’s career includes time spent at leading US universities and he is an expert in the teaching of civics. He received his PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, and his first job was at Stanford. In 2005 he was part of an EU program, Toward a Culture of Tolerance and Co-existence, with Palestinian partners. He has been associated with Hebrew University for 20 years. He will apply for a Sir Zelman Cowen Fellowship, with references from two other academics at the university prepared to sponsor him.
He established the only centre in Israel where students from the three streams of Israeli state education – secular Jewish, religious Jewish and Arab – studied together in 2001. “I’m seventh-generation Israeli and growing up I was not able to relate to Arabs at an equal level because we were not at schools together,” he said.
“The same was true for my children. I thought: ‘I am going to change this’, so I started this program where all three groups in the state system could study together.”
The drama began when Professor Avnon decided to study how a diverse community such as Australia’s studied civics. He wrote to six Sydney University academics. “Four said yes, one did not reply and one said he’d boycott me.”
He said Professor Lynch within 12 hours “trumpeted his principled stand across Australia on a mailing list”. “It was an opportunity for him to trumpet his principled stand,” he said. “I was strung on the hook of his fishing line.”
This year the centre hosted Ilan Pappe, a left-wing Israeli academic attached to Exeter University in Britain.
Professor Avnon said that if he met Professor Lynch he would try to change his mind.
“I’d ask him: ‘What’s your story, man? Am I your enemy? Is your thought more important than the person in front of you?’ ” Professor Avnon said.
He said his email inbox had been filled with Australians offering assistance. “I’ve never been there but now I know a lot of people. These are people who don’t know me, don’t need anything from me and have said: ‘We want you to know this is not what Australia is about, this is specific to this person.’ This guy Lynch has done me a huge favour.”
The program Professor Avnon began in Israel has lapsed, partly due to lack of funding, but it may be revived.
One of Professor Avnon’s PhD students is a Palestinian woman who was a teacher at the school. A film called Living in Jerusalem has been made about the course.
The head of the University of Sydney’s Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies has been slapped down by his faculty head for refusing to help a Jerusalem-based civics teacher to study in Australia.
The dean of the university’s arts and social science faculty, Duncan Ivison, yesterday wrote to Jake Lynch spelling out that “he does not speak for the faculty on visiting scholars and cannot make decisions about who comes here”.
Associate Professor Lynch caused outrage after he rejected a bid for assistance by Hebrew University of Jerusalem academic Dan Avnon, credited with developing Israel’s only state program in civics written for Jewish and Arab students, on the basis of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel.
Concern has been growing over the centre’s support for the BDS, with academics saying it “shouldn’t play a partisan political role” and staff expressing fears that by choosing one side of the conflict, it will not be perceived as “neutral” on policy and research.
Avril Alba, who is the Roth lecturer in Holocaust studies and Jewish civilisation at the University of Sydney, said the BDS movement ran the risk of “being blind to the great work” that individual academics are doing.
“I personally don’t support the BDS movement,” she told The Weekend Australian.
“Within the Israeli academic community, it’s precisely these academics like Professor Avnon who are doing the important peace and reconciliation work that are being penalised through an individual blind policy such as the BDS.”
According to minutes of the centre’s council meetings, Jewish scholar Suzanne Rutland, also based at the University of Sydney, expressed concern about Associate Professor Lynch’s support for the BDS.
“Suzanne said that Jake’s decision to send letters to support BDS was a political one,” say the minutes of a meeting on April 5 last year. “We shouldn’t play a partisan political role,” she was quoted as saying.
Other university colleagues raised alarm bells even earlier, with both Professor Rutland and staffer Jenny McNaughton taking issue with Professor Lynch’s attendance of a “Sydney rally over the Gaza flotilla, and general position of the centre in Middle East issues”.
“Jenny told the council that she was concerned that CPACS (the centre) was not being neutral as an academic institution by supporting one side of the conflict over the other,” say the minutes of a meeting held in June 2010. ” She believes CPACS should not be partisan.”
In both meetings, Professor Lynch and his colleagues defended the centre’s support of the BDS and involvement in rallies, saying there was “no intention to be partisan”.
“CPACS shouldn’t be neutral regarding human rights issues or international law,” Professor Lynch said, according to the 2010 minutes.
“Especially regarding Israel, mainstream Australian media tries to excuse Israel’s actions so CPACS has a duty to discuss it.”
A spokesman for the University of Sydney said yesterday that the institution and vice-chancellor Michael Spence did not support Professor Lynch’s position on Professor Avnon.
“Professor Duncan Ivison has written to Associate Professor Lynch advising him that he does not speak for the faculty on the issue of visiting scholars and cannot make decisions about who comes here,” the spokesman said. “Professor Ivison and other academics in the arts faculty are very happy for Avnon to come to the University of Sydney.”
The spokesman also said it was not the first time Professor Lynch had been warned by university leaders that his comments about the BDS were inappropriate.
“Both the vice-chancellor and the dean … have written to Associate Professor Lynch pointing out that his comments were inappropriate and did not reflect university policy, and they have said so publicly on a number of occasions,” the spokesman said.
“The vice-chancellor first wrote to Associate Professor Lynch in June 2009 advising him that he did not agree with … (his) call for a boycott of Israeli universities and academics.”
The spokesman said that when Professor Lynch wrote of “we”, he was only “speaking on behalf of himself and maybe one or two colleagues”.
“He does not speak on behalf of the school of philosophical and historical inquiry, or the faculty of arts and social sciences or the University of Sydney,” he said in a statement.
Professor Lynch told The Weekend Australian yesterday he was happy to explain the situation to Professor Ivison, saying he simply declined Professor Avnon’s request to name him as a personal contact for the University of Sydney in his fellowship application.
“I quite understand why Duncan has sought clarification from me on this, and I was happy to supply it,” he said.
” I am careful to make it clear that support for BDS is a policy of my centre, not the university or any other part of it … It was, and remains, open to him (Professor Avnon) to approach any of my colleagues, who may of course respond as they see fit.”
Professor Lynch said he had “nothing against him personally, and his research sounds interesting” but he declined his request because of the centre’s support for the BDS.
“I explained, in my reply, that this would involve us in an institutional arrangement with Israeli higher education, and as such I would decline to do so, under our support (as a centre) for BDS,” he said.
The controversy sparked a furious response from British academic Denis MacEoin, the editor of Middle East Quarterly, who wrote a letter to the university saying he found the prejudice shown by Professor Lynch “appalling”.
I never thought I would live to see the day when an institution such as Sydney University would employ the likes of Jake Lynch (“Uni peace centre rebuffs Israeli civics teacher”, 6/12).
The fact that he heads up a department titled the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies would be hilarious if it wasn’t so badly misnamed.
Perhaps someone should explain to the professor that there are two sides to every conflict, even in the Middle East. His support for a boycott of all Israeli universities indicates a worrying lack of academic even-handedness. What next, a degree in anti-Semitism?
Terry Griffin, Belair, SA
IT is a great shame that far too many of our universities have become infested with left-wingers such as Jake Lynch.
Australians should be concerned by the unconscionable indoctrination of our young, who are largely unaware of the manipulations to which they are being subjected.
If people such as Lynch want to play politics, they should pursue a political career and stop polluting our places of higher learning.
Norman Aisbett, Subiaco, WA
The very essence of academe should be the concept of the open mind.
And we might be entitled to expect that, more than anywhere, a university centre devoted to peace and the resolution of conflict would welcome intellectual inquiry.
Yet at the University of Sydney Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies we have been dismayed to learn that the academy has been infected by the attitudes of the closed mind. In a turn of events that would be laughable if it were not so serious, the pursuit of peace and the study of conciliation has fallen prey to a most destructive partisanship.
The centre’s director, Jake Lynch, has subscribed to the controversial Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel — an initiative so counter-productive it has been disowned even by the Greens after they initially supported its adoption by Sydney’s Marrickville Council. To isolate Israel and support the Palestinian people through BDS, Associate Professor Lynch eschews academic exchanges with Israel. Specifically, he rejected a bid for co-operation from Hebrew University of Jerusalem academic Dan Avnon. Professor Avnon’s crucial work has been to develop a civics course that can unite Jewish and Arab students behind a common civic understanding. By rejecting co-operation on what is self-evidently worthwhile work, the Sydney centre seems to be demonstrating that it is less attuned to peace than conflict.
Through the Sydney Peace Prize the same centre has seen fit to provoke the Jewish community by honouring controversial Palestinian activist Hanan Ashrawi. The intolerance evident in Associate Professor Lynch’s decision has no place in Australia, let alone at a university — an institution devoted to cultivating the civilised mind. It is a telling fact in this complex debate that the plurality of views and open debate we enjoy in these matters is, of course, possible in Israel but not in Gaza or even the West Bank. Students at the University of Sydney interested in religious freedom, political plurality, women’s equality or gay rights would find acceptance on the streets of Tel Aviv but mainly oppression in Gaza.
Israel is not blameless and it must be accountable for its actions. But as Hamas inches towards sharia law, uses women and children as human shields, and fires rockets indiscriminately into Israel, it should not be able to draw comfort from the foolish, partisan posturing of academics in the West.
The idea of The Australian preaching ethics to anybody, after backing the Iraq and Afghan wars, every Israeli onslaught since forever and torture and Guantanamo Bay since 9/11, is comical.
The issue of academic BDS has been deliberately ignored by the paper. Here’s why it’s vital as as non-violent way to challenge institutional Zionist racism in Israel. Here’s two articles (here and here) by Britain’s Ben White about why academic boycotts tell Israelis associated with universities that their institutions are key propagandists and defenders of Israeli state policy towards Arabs and Palestinians. Here’s why Hebrew University, where the Israeli academic is based, is complicit in oppression of Palestinians. Here’s more about Hebrew University.
Dr Lynch’s principled stance should be praised. It’s unsurprising that The Australian, gutless academics and the Zionist community want to silence his point of view. It’s yet another break in the wall of almost universal elite praise for Israeli “democracy” in Australia. There must be a tangible price paid for Israeli organisations and universities that back a state breaking international law on a daily basis. BDS is one tactic. And it’s growing globally. Lynch is part of this noble tradition.