Sydney Uni campaign for BDS has controversial start

On 4 June, a 130 strong meeting of the Sydney University branch of the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) voted 68-56 against a motion to devote branch time and resources to discuss BDS.

A motion committing the branch to a discussion of BDS had originally been put by the recently formed Sydney Staff 4 BDS, and carried unanimously, at a meeting on 15 May. That motion condemned the expansion of Israeli settlements in the illegally occupied Palestinian territories, and called for, “a broad discussion among members about whether to endorse the BDS call.”

The vote precipitated a few weeks’ stormy discussion, which resulted in the resignation of branch vice-president, Damien Cahill, followed by the unprecedented intervention of NTEU General Secretary Grahame McCulloch. On 4 June, the branch carried a resolution moved by McCulloch, “Not to support, or to use Branch resources to promote a debate around, the BDS campaign.” While disappointing, the narrow vote indicates there is a solid basis to continue the Sydney Staff 4 BDS campaign.

The group was initiated in support of Sydney University academic Jake Lynch’s refusal to participate in a fellowship scheme with the Hebrew University, funded via the Zelman Cowen Foundation. Lynch has been the subject of both a media campaign by The Australian and mischievous court action by Israeli apologists.

Lynch’s boycott of the fellowship reflects the official policy of the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, which backs BDS. Sydney Staff 4 BDS’s first act was to write to all Sydney University board members and advisors of the Zelman Cowen Foundation asking them to step down, because, “Research collaboration, conferences, and scholarly visits between Israeli institutions and international institutions…form an integral component of Israel’s attempt to whitewash its human rights violations.”

This is part of the BDS group’s strategy to put pressure on Sydney University and expose the ways in which universities and other institutions are complicit with Israel’s ruthless colonial expansion.

Several left-wing, but anti-BDS, union members argued that opening up the BDS debate in the union would divide the branch when it needed unity to fight the Abbott government’s attacks. But staying clear of controversial issues and ignoring the Palestinian call for solidarity is no way to build a political, confident union capable of beating Abbott.

As BDS supporter David Brophy put it, “A strong union doesn’t shy away from pressing global issues, or stick its head in the sand when an entire nation calls out for solidarity.”

A follow-up Sydney Staff 4 BDS forum the day after the vote attracted around 40 people. More forums are planned to extend the discussion to win the campus to the BDS campaign.

By Erima Dall
NTEU & SydneyStaff4BDS

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