There’s been so much media coverage of Dr Jake Lynch at Sydney University taking a principled stance against an Israeli academic that it’s vital to just have all the stories on the record. I’ve been publishing all the information I can find about it on a daily basis (here’s the piece from yesterday).
Higher Education Minister Chris Evans has offered an unequivocal rebuff to academic supporters of the anti-Israeli Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.
And Sydney University professor Suzanne Rutland, a member of the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies council, criticised the centre’s support of the BDS movement.
“The Australian government has repeatedly made clear that we strongly and unequivocally oppose the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign,” Senator Evans told The Australian. “This is on the public record and reflects my own position.”
The Australian revealed last week the centre rejected a request for assistance from an Israeli academic, Dan Avnon, credited with developing the country’s only civics curriculum designed for both Jewish and Arab school students.
Senator Evans said he had sought assurance from the University of Sydney that it does not support the BDS campaign.
“The university advised the centre’s director, associate professor Jake Lynch, was speaking on his own behalf and his views were not those of the centre, the faculty or the university,” he said.
“It confirmed the university does not support the anti-Israeli BDS movement. I understand that other University of Sydney faculties and schools have made offers to associate professor Dan Avnon and I hope he will seriously consider them.”
Professor Rutland said the centre’s stand on BDS was “counterproductive”. “For a peace agreement to occur between Israel and the Palestinians dialogue is crucial so that trust-building can take place,” she told The Australian.
Professor Rutland, a member of the university’s Department of Hebrew, Biblical and Jewish Studies, warned of the impact of religious fundamentalism and extremism on both sides of the conflict in the Middle East.
“Since BDS only targets Israeli universities and other products, I believe this creates an asymmetric view of the conflict,” she said.
Professor Rutland said she had been concerned by the centre’s position on BDS for a number of years, while supporting the centre’s other work.
She said she had written to the head of the centre’s council, Kenneth Mcnab, after Professor Lynch’s decision over Professor Avnon, saying: “It seems to me that his area of research and work in Israel, in trying to bridge the Jewish/Palestinian Arab divide in Israeli society, is exactly the type of activity which CPACS should support and encourage.”
It is rather disingenuous of the director of Sydney University’s Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, Jake Lynch, to trot out four anti-Israeli Jews who had been invited to his peace centre as evidence that he is even-minded (Letters, 12/12).
One of them, Noam Chomsky, who was singled out for the centre’s peace prize, has been feted by Hezbollah on a visit to Lebanon.
He had also at one stage defended writing a preface for a Holocaust denier’s book on the spurious grounds that one cannot automatically assume that a Holocaust denier is an anti-Semite.
Another, Ilan Pappe, has been thoroughly discredited for fabricating the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The third, Michael Lerner, promotes anti-Israel bigotry and the fourth, Jeff Halper, favours the Palestinian historical narrative as opposed to that of his own people and country.
Lynch would have had more credence had he invited a well-known pro-Israeli academic to address his centre as a means of providing its audiences with a point of view at variance with an anti-Israel one. On the other hand, that might be contrary to the centre’s ethos.
Leslie Stein, West Pymble, NSW
It is important to keep separate a number of points about the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies and its support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. The centre’s director Jake Lynch has every right to argue for, defend and try to persuade others of his reasons for supporting the BDS campaign.
Academic freedom is not a principle one can simply choose when it pleases you. It applies as much to issues about which there is deep disagreement as it does when there is broad consensus. Universities are the place where difficult issues should be debated respectfully but also in a rigorous and searching way. I defend Lynch’s right to do so.
However, it is not the policy of the school in which the centre sits, nor the faculty of arts and social sciences, nor the University of Sydney to support the BDS campaign.
Indeed, I believe the campaign, as it applies to universities, cuts against one of the fundamental roles a university should play in a free society. But I respect the fact that there are different views about the campaign and remain willing to debate with those who think differently.
Duncan Ivison, professor, faculty of arts, Sydney University, NSW
The arguments put forward by Jake Lynch in his letters can be condensed: “I’m not racist, some of my best friends are Jewish”. Lynch should understand that his support of the BDS movement means he will be judged by the company he keeps.
Bill Lyndon, North Sydney, NSW
Jake Lynch’s letter simply adds fuel to the fire. He gives as examples of visitors hosted by his centre, Ilan Pappe, Jeff Halper and Noam Chomsky, all of whom are virulent opponents of almost everything the state of Israel does.
However, his centre is not prepared to host academics who might identify any positive policies implemented by Israel, Dan Avnon being the recent example.
Lynch is not a proponent of freedom of expression. His centre acts as a proponent of partisan grandstanding.
David D. Knoll, Coogee, NSW
Jake Lynch tries hard to hide his biases behind a wall of seemingly harmless and pompous spin. His letter (11/12) was a wonderful example.
“The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement is conceived as part of a remedial strategy in the face of inadequate government responses to Israeli policy.” You don’t have to be an associate professor in reading-between-the-lines to see where this movement is heading.
T. Griffin, Adelaide, SA
It seems safe to say that Hebrew University professor Dan Avnon thinks of himself as one of the good guys—and rightly so. He’s spent a considerable part of his career promoting coexistence between Jewish and Arab Israelis. In 2001, he even created a high school program that enables religious and secular Jews to study together with Arabs—no small feat in Israel, where the three populations generally study apart.
So it came as a rude awakening when Sydney University’s Center for Peace and Conflict Studies refused his request to work together, simply on the grounds that he’s Israeli. The Center’s Associate Professor Jake Lynch wrote in an email: “I and the Center have nothing against you personally, and your research sounds interesting and worthwhile. But we support the boycott campaign against Israel, and that includes the call for an academic boycott of Israeli universities.”
For someone with a track record as sympathetic as Avnon’s to be boycotted seems galling. But because it’s a fact that boycotts always harm innocent people—consider the South Africa boycott, which put black South Africans out of work—it may be tempting to just chalk this all up to a regrettable inevitability. Boycotting, one might argue, means some sympathetic people will get caught in the crossfire—that’s an unfortunate but necessary corollary.
And yet Avnon’s case is so profoundly ironic that it actually casts doubt on that argument. It points up the major pitfall of academic boycotts, a pitfall so serious as to make them counterproductive.
After all, who is better positioned than Avnon to change Israeli society from within? To do the painstaking, indispensable work of convincing fellow citizens and policymakers that, for example, encouraging Israeli Jews and Arabs to learn with and from each other might actually be worthwhile? And who, if not Avnon or someone like him, does Lynch imagine will successfully do that work?
That Avnon got painted with the broad brush of academic boycotts shows just how counterproductive such boycotts can be. Of course, Lynch and his supporters would probably argue that, on the whole, the benefits outweigh the costs. But Avnon’s case should, at the very least, make that camp think twice. Because academic boycotts lack the granularity to differentiate between sympathetic and unsympathetic individuals, they often end up locking out precisely those people who would be their greatest allies.
Senior Jewish leaders have slated a University of Sydney academic and supporter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign for “bullying” an Israeli counterpart.
Last week, Professor Dan Avnon of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who designed the first high school civics program for both Israelis and Palestinians, wrote to several contacts, including Associate Professor Jake Lynch at the University of Sydney’s Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies (CPACs), asking if he could include them as references on an application for a Sir Zelman Cowen fellowship.
“Professor Lynch seized the moment, wrote to me that he cannot sponsor my stay due to his principled support of the boycott, and then – without further ado – sent his response to me to a mailing list,” Avnon told The AJN.
Avnon said he attempted to engage Lynch in dialogue on the issue, but received no reply.
B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission (ADC) chair Dvir Abramovich condemned Lynch’s actions as a “gross violation of academic freedom” and “an extreme, partisan bullying tactic”.
“The politics of prejudice have no place in academia where the common pursuit is the championing of truth and discovery,” he said.
The Executive Council of Australian Jewry’s Peter Wertheim labelled CPACs “a continual embarrassment to the University of Sydney”.
“To the university’s credit, I understand that arrangements have been made for Professor Avnon to work with another department which has much higher international recognition for its research and teaching,” he said.
Lynch also drew criticism from the dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Professor Duncan Ivison, who said he “cannot make decisions about who comes here”, while a spokesperson for university vice-chancellor Michael Spence made it clear that he “does not speak for the school, the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences or for the university”.
When contacted by The AJN, Lynch maintained CPACs’s support of BDS was not in any way “racist, anti-Jewish or anti-Israeli”.
He said he had not been able to reply to Avnon’s follow-up email due to being in the middle of a “perfect storm” of other commitments. He also said that he had sent his reply to Avnon only to CPACs’s governing council of “between 15 and 20 people”
It’s worth publishing the complete answers Lynch sent to the Australian Jewish News as it shows the typical dishonesty that the paper displays when covering Israel and Palestine. These days it is little more than a propaganda sheet for the Israeli government:
Hi Prof Lynch,
I was hoping you could answer a few questions for an article I am writing [in the Australian Jewish News] about your refusal to assist Dan Avnon due to CPACs support for BDS. Specifically:
Has the reaction from media, politicians and indeed some of your colleagues been fair?
Why did you decide to forward your reply to Prof Avnon to a mailing list?
When Prof Avnon emailed you again, attempting to engage in dialogue on the issue, why did you not reply?
Prof Avnon works for peace between Israelis and Palestinians. How is the Palestinian cause helped by boycotting him?
By your own admission Prof Avnon’s work sounded interesting and worthwhile. Given that BDS blanket bans you from even considering what he has to say – is there surely not a better way than BDS to help the Palestinian cause?
Your assistance in answering these is greatly appreciated. We go to press tomorrow mid-morning, I’d appreciate any reply.
Thanks and Kind Regards,
Thanks for your questions.
I am satisfied that I have had the opportunity, through the news coverage in the Australian, to set out at least a small portion of the rationale for the BDS campaign. From Friday’s edition of the paper:
‘In a stinging critique of Australia’s foreign policy, Jake Lynch said the centre boycotted Israeli institutions “because of the deficiencies of official foreign policy and diplomacy by Australia and other influential states”.
He said supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel sent a “message of unacceptability for Israel’s expansionist policies and militarism”. “The message has not been clear enough from many governments, including Australia’s, and that has contributed to the problem,” Mr Lynch said.
“By withholding our co-operation on an institutional level, we are doing our bit to make up for that”.’
However, it is most unfair for the Australian to insinuate, as it has in more recent editions, that our policy on BDS is in any way racist, anti-Jewish or anti-Israeli. In recent years, and under my direction, CPACS has hosted talks by prominent Jewish speakers – Israeli and non-Israeli – who have appeared in a personal capacity. They include Professor Ilan Pappe; Emeritus Professor Jeff Halper of ICAHD, and Rabbi Michael Lerner. Last year’s Sydney Peace Prize, given by our sister organisation, the Sydney Peace Foundation (on whose Executive Council I also serve) was awarded to Professor Noam Chomsky, a prominent Jewish intellectual (both he and Rabbi Lerner disagree with me on BDS, by the way, and I had an interesting discussion with Michael about that when he was here).
The only fair and responsible statement for the University of Sydney to give was the one quoted in the Australian’s Friday’s edition:
‘University of Sydney vice-chancellor Michael Spence rejected a call from Associate Professor Lynch in 2009 to cut links with the Hebrew University and a second Israeli institution, the Technion, in the city of Haifa. “I do not consider it appropriate for the university to boycott academic institutions in a country with which Australia has diplomatic relations,” he wrote in response at the time’.
A spokesman for Dr Spence said his position had not changed. The spokesman said Associate Professor Lynch was “entitled to express a public opinion where it falls under his area of expertise”, but added, “on this particular matter he does not speak for the school, the faculty or for the university”.’
Unfortunately a University spokesman then informed the paper on Friday – for Saturday’s edition – that I had been told by ‘university leaders’ in the past that my remarks were ‘inappropriate’. This is factually incorrect – I have never been told my remarks are inappropriate, and neither is it within the rights of the University to deem them to be so. The University’s response, I believe, contravenes my right to free expression as provided for in Clause 209 of the University’s Enterprise Agreement:
209 The Parties are committed to the protection and promotion of intellectual freedom within the University, including
the rights of:
(a) Academic staff to:
engage in the free and responsible pursuit of all aspects of knowledge and culture through independent
research, and to the dissemination of the outcomes of research in discussion, in teaching, as publications
and creative works and in public debate; and
(b) Academic, General and English language teaching staff to:
(i) participate in the representative institutions of governance within the University in accordance with
the statutes, rules and terms of reference of the institutions;
(ii) express opinions about the operation of the University and higher education policy in general;
(iii) participate in professional and representative bodies, including Unions, and to engage in community
service without fear of harassment, intimidation or unfair treatment in their employment; and
(iv) express unpopular or controversial views, provided that in doing so staff must not engage in
harassment, vilification or intimidation.
The quotes from Opposition front-benchers, Christopher Pyne and Julie Bishop, also risk constraining free expression – though I believe they may have made them without the Australian having fully explained the facts on which they were being asked to comment.
Information provided by the University to the paper has also inadvertently lent credence to the non sequitur that I was appearing to speak for the university as a whole, in declining Professor Avnon’s request. This is not true – in fact, in my reply to him, I attached both sides of the correspondence with Dr Spence from 2009, quoted above, and stated that my and the Centre’s policy was not the policy of the University as a whole. Neither could such an appearance ever have arisen – Professor Avnon’s request was to me personally, simply asking permission to put my name down on his application for a fellowship. It was always clear that he was at liberty to approach others at the University, and indeed in his own interview with the Australian’s John Lyons, on Saturday, he said that he had approached as many as six of us altogether.
It’s potentially misleading to say I forwarded my reply to Professor Avnon to a ‘mailing list’. The Centre’s policy on BDS was adopted, and has been affirmed, by its governing Council, and I thought CPACS Council members should be made aware that I had taken this action under the policy – so I asked our Admin Assistant to forward it to Council members (between 15 and 20 people).
I do owe Professor Avnon an apology for not having replied to his follow-up email, which contained some good points. I’m afraid it came in during a ‘perfect storm’ of deadlines for marking, research grant applications and so on. Then, I had to take an executive role in the conference, in the last week of November, of the International Peace Research Association, of which I was, at the time, Secretary General. I’m afraid it’s just one of those occasions when the urgent crowded out the important.
As to your last two questions, I can do no better than to pass on a message from Ofer Neiman, who sent it to the University Vice Chancellor, Dr Michael Spence, with a copy to me. He acceded to my request for permission to circulate it:
Dr Michael Spence,
Vice-Chancellor and Principal,
University of Sydney
Dear Professor Spence,
I am an Israeli citizen, and an alumnus of the Hebrew University’s math and computer science department. I have been active for several years against my government’s policies of racism, apartheid and occupation. I strongly support the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israeli institutions, called for by Palestinian civil society.
Unfortunately, the Hebrew University, my Alma Mater, has been complicit in numerous violations of human rights (http://www.pacbi.org/etemplate.php?id=1852), including Israel’s criminal and illegal land grab policy in the occupied Palestinian territories.
I would like to thank and support those members of the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Sydney who have decided to refrain from institutional cooperation with the Hebrew University, and other Israeli institutions. It should be emphasized that such action does not amount to a personal boycott of Israeli individuals.
Israeli human rights activists are too few in number to change reality from within. Furthermore, millions of Palestinians living under an appalling apartheid system, including students and university teachers whose academic lives are disrupted on a daily basis, are looking up to citizens of the world for solidarity through action!
This has always been the other key component of the rationale for BDS.