Dr Jake Lynch and other academics at Sydney University’s Centre of Peace and Conflict Studies (CPACS) came under attack in The Australian newspaper recently for supporting the boycott campaign against Israel. There is every reason for students and staff to support them in the fight for Palestinian rights.
Israel’s assault on Gaza last November, Operation Pillar of Cloud, killed 157 Palestinians including dozens of children. Israel’s indiscriminate bombing of civilians was described as a “war crime” by Human Rights Watch. It was immediately followed by Israel announcing plans to build 1500 new settlement homes on illegally occupied Palestinian land.
Despite the fact it was Israel that broke the latest cease fire and Palestinians suffered, as usual, the disproportionate amount of casualties (six Israelis were killed), the leaders of the world’s most powerful states presented it as a balanced conflict and backed Israel’s “right to defend itself”. Gillard urged “both Hamas and Israel to exercise restraint”.
Israel was founded on the dispossession and ethnic cleansing of 750,000 Palestinians in 1948. It is a racist apartheid state where Palestinians in the occupied territories are subject to daily humiliation, with their movement restricted via checkpoints controlled by the Israeli military. It has built an apartheid wall to seal off further lands for Israeli settlers. Israel is armed to the teeth with US-supplied state of the art weaponry to enable it to dominate the region and maintain the oppression of the Palestinians.
In 2005 Palestine’s civil society called for supporters of human rights the world over to launch broad boycotts, implement divestment initiatives, and to demand sanctions against Israel until it complies with international law. Their Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) call is inspired by the successful boycott movement against South African apartheid. It has received widespread international support, including the backing of South African anti-apartheid leader Archbishop Desmond Tutu and artists and musicians including Elvis Costello, Carlos Santana and Arundahti Roy.
In December New Zealand’s national Super Fund cut three Israeli companies from its investment portfolio due to their involvement in constructing illegal settlements and the apartheid wall in the West Bank.
The Australian’s attack
Throughout December last year Murdoch’s newspaper The Australian dedicated no less than ten consecutive articles, an editorial and two front-pages to denouncing Dr Jake Lynch and (CPACS) over its support for the boycott of institutional links with Israeli universities. Rightly, CPACS refused to support Hebrew University academic Dan Avnon’s proposed fellowship with the university under an academic exchange program between the institutions.
The Australian argued that since Avnon has been involved in developing “Israel’s only state program in civics written for Jewish and Arab students” boycotting him hurts the chances of peace, and is an attack on academic freedom. University management backed them.
The Sydney University Vice Chancellor Michael Spence was quoted as saying that the Australian Government’s diplomatic relations with Israel make the university boycott “inappropriate”.
But Israel’s universities play a key role in materially supporting and the illegal actions of an apartheid state. The target of the CPACS boycott, the Hebrew University, is clearly implicated in the illegal occupation of internationally recognised Palestinian land stolen for its Mount Scopus campus. Israeli universities also work closely with the military and arms manufacturers. The Technion, which also has links with Sydney Uni and many other Australian universities, has helped develop bulldozers used to demolish Palestinian homes and does research for a company helping to build the apartheid wall.
The boycott targets institutional links, not individuals’ political views. It is about denying lucrative international partnerships, resources and grants to Israeli universities. Israel’s hi-tech war machine depends upon access to international research and training. Denying this access helps ensure that Israel’s disregard for international law comes with a price. Students, staff and the University of Sydney as an institution should support BDS—and demand an end to Israel’s brutal and illegal policies.