Today Rupert Murdoch’s very serious broadsheet organ The Australian continues its brave reporting on, well knows anymore, the countless stories about Dr Jake Lynch at Sydney University. It’s beyond parody. Thankfully, Lynch is standing firm and he has received the full support of his Peace and Conflict Studies board.
Australia’s peak Jewish body has criticised the Sydney University Centre for Peace and Conflict for “misguided and obsessive zeal” after it rejected a request for assistance from an Israeli academic who has worked to bridge the Arab-Jew divide.
The comments from Executive Council of Australian Jewry executive director Peter Wertheim come as the opposition yesterday savaged Labor Senate leader and Higher Education Minister Chris Evans for refusing to take a stand on the ban.
The centre supports the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, which explicitly equates Israel with apartheid-era South Africa.
Centre director Jake Lynch cited the BDS campaign when he rejected a request by Hebrew University of Jerusalem academic Dan Avnon to be a contact person on an application for a Sir Zelman Cowen Fellowship.
Foreign Minister Bob Carr has declared the government “fiercely, unequivocally, strongly opposes BDS” in a statement in September. But Senator Evans has refused to answer questions on whether the government considers it appropriate for bodies such as the centre to maintain a BDS policy.
He has also declined to say if the government has concerns that academic staff who implement BDS policies may be in breach of the Racial Discrimination Act.
“It is time for the government leadership to be honest about its position on the anti-Semitic BDS campaign and to take a principled stand against it,” opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman Julie Bishop said.”I call on Senator Evans to declare his opposition to the BDS campaign and to assure taxpayers that he will raise his concerns with the head of the Centre for Peace and Conflict studies and the vice-chancellor of Sydney University.”
Ms Bishop said the government’s silence on the issue raised serious questions about its true position on BDS.
Mr Wertheim described the centre as “a continual embarrassment to the University of Sydney”. He said the centre was “viewed with scarcely concealed disdain by many in the academic community”.
He slammed the ban on assisting Professor Avnon. “This would have been a golden opportunity for an Australian university centre to play a constructive and effective role in peace-building in the region,” he said.
I agree with Jake Lynch of Sydney University’s Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies that he should have the freedom to criticise, even ostracise, academic peers representing Israeli universities (Letters, 11/12).
But I find Lynch’s letter confusing. If others criticise his choices, is that “a political attack on freedom of expression” or an exercise of their freedom of expression? Do members of his staff have freedom of association, even if that means breaching his boycott to work with an Israeli?
And suppose the academic board of the university were to review the merit of having a research centre that subordinates truth-seeking to political rhetoric: would that be an attack on his freedom, or an exercise of their freedom, or just a logical consequence of the free choices he makes?
James McDonald, Annandale, NSW
Jake Lynch accuses opposition frontbenchers of “a political attack on (his) freedom of expression”. Yet he has no qualms about the most egregious attacks on political freedom: banning from his centre an Israeli academic, thereby engaging in political censorship, and supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, specifically designed to damage Jewish businesses for what he considers to be inadequacies in Israeli government policy.
And not content with mounting attacks on political and economic freedoms, he justifies them on racial grounds. In democracies, freedom of political discourse must always be defended; racism and censorship should always be denounced. But in Lynch’s world, it appears the opposite is true.
Christopher Pyne, Opposition spokesman for education
George Brandis, Opposition spokesman for attorney-general
Jake Lynch shows it does not take brains to be called an academic these days. It takes skill at politically correct postulations and a belief in being as sycophantic as possible to those one is crawling up to.
In his letter he accuses the opposition of attacking freedom of expression but apparently has forgotten this is exactly what he is trying to enforce on people from Israel.
Maybe he is fishing for a job with the Greens. I have no idea how pointing someone out as an enemy encourages peace, but I am no academic.
Graham Gordon Thomas, Kadina, SA
Your editorial (“Ugliness lurks in the cloisters”, 11/12) says what has long needed to be said by those who retain the notion of a university being a bastion of scholarship with the freedom to express and exchange ideas, especially those that challenge prevailing orthodoxy.
Your suggestion that Sydney University should act must be heeded before a virus of intolerance spreads to further damage its reputation.
John Kidd, Auchenflower, Qld
Your editorial is as ridiculous and misleading as your reporting. If my and the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement had anything to do with the
nationality of Dan Avnon, how come we have hosted recent talks by professors Ilan Pappe and Jeff Halper — two prominent Israelis who appeared in a personal capacity?
You end by raising the red herring of a putative ban on Muslim scholars — repeating, by implication, your imputation of anti-Jewish racism. If that was our motivation, how come we awarded last year’s Sydney Peace Prize to Noam Chomsky, a prominent Jewish intellectual? How come we organised a well-attended talk a couple of years ago by Michael Lerner?
The boycott is of institutional links with Israeli universities. Your attempts to cloud that issue arise from an intention to intimidate those of us who take action in protest against Israeli policy, where governments refuse to do so.
Jake Lynch, director, Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, Sydney University