Mar 11, 2015
BDS and the Kemp affair: clearing up misunderstandings
May 17, 2015
I am prompted to write because of my growing and heartfelt concern over misunderstandings about aspects of my role and activities as Director of the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Sydney. These misunderstandings have given rise, I know, to serious misgivings among some members of the Jewish community in particular, and I wish to address those misgivings and – so far as possible – set them at rest.
• I have been cleared, twice, of allegations of anti-Semitism – once in Australia’s Federal Court and then again through a University of Sydney investigation of events at a public lecture held at the University in March;
• I was not part of the protest that interrupted this public lecture. After it happened, I left my seat solely out of concern for the health and safety of protesters who were being forcefully ejected;
• While I am a critic of present policies of the Government of Israel, that should not be taken as any statement of enmity with Australia’s Jewish community – some of whom, indeed, agree with my views and work alongside me;
• It is important for such issues to be aired on University campuses, and we are all responsible for ensuring that they may continue to be openly and respectfully discussed, with contributions from people with a range of views. That is a responsibility I take very seriously.
My political stance
I am an advocate and exponent of the academic boycott of Israel. That does not make me anti-Israel, still less anti-Semitic. My concern is motivated by the values of peace with justice, and an analysis that Israel’s military occupation of Palestinian territory, since 1967, is wrong in principle, and a major obstacle to fulfilling the needs, and realising the rights and freedoms, of all the people of Israel and Palestine. In my former profession of television reporter, I once interviewed the Israeli father of a military ‘refusenik’, Adam Maor, in Haifa. “The occupation is the cancer that is killing both societies”, he told me. “Whatever you do to end the occupation, bless you”.
I believe that the occupation of the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza is made to seem more legitimate, and international political pressure for its ending is lowered, by the day-to-day continuation of normal institutional links between Israel and other countries such as Australia. Academic exchanges, at an institutional level, come into this category. As Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu wrote last year, in a column in Ha’aretz that was billed as an ‘open letter’ to the people of Israel:
“Those who continue to do business with Israel, who contribute to a sense of ‘normalcy’ in Israeli society, are doing the people of Israel and Palestine a disservice. They are contributing to the perpetuation of a profoundly unjust status quo. Those who contribute to Israel’s temporary isolation are saying that Israelis and Palestinians are equally entitled to dignity and peace”.
The nonviolent campaign for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, which is based on this logic, is a loose affiliation of those of us who respond to the call for it, which was issued by a group of Palestinian civil society organisations. This followed the advisory ruling by the World Court, in 2004, that Israel’s security barrier, erected on Palestinian land in the West Bank, is illegal. Because governments generally took no action in response to this ruling, an appeal went out to respond at other levels.
The BDS campaign has three aims: an end to the 1967 occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip (where Israel is recognised as still the occupying power by its control of borders, seaboard and airspace); equal rights for all the citizens of historic Palestine, including present-day Israel, and support for the right of return of Palestinian refugees. On the last point: BDS is, by definition, a campaign of international solidarity. We are not the Palestinians, so we cannot say how the Palestinians will or should enact that right, which is vested only in them, as the rights-holders. We are in favour of the right of return, in the context of the great historic and ongoing wrong done to the Palestinian people. But support for BDS stops well short of any ‘fork in the road’ in any future political or legal process, involving the Palestinians through their own legitimate representatives, on how their rights should be realised. In a similar way, support for BDS does not mandate support for either a so-called ‘one-state’ or ‘two-state solution’ to the conflict.
I realise these are sensitive issues, on which there are deeply felt and opposing views in our community – including among the Jewish community. I regularly take opportunities to raise and discuss them with fellow academics and the general public, because I consider it my duty to do so. I work alongside, and with the support of, prominent members of Australia’s Jewish community, such as Associate Professor Peter Slezak of the University of New South Wales; Vivienne Porzsolt of Jews Against the Occupation; Antony Loewenstein of Independent Australian Jewish Voices; Dr Marcelo Svirsky of Wollongong University; former Greens councillor Cathy Peters, and many others.
The Kemp lecture and aftermath
You will probably have heard of me most recently in connection with a public lecture at the University in March of this year, by Richard Kemp, a retired Colonel from the British Army. Kemp is known for his justification of Israeli military tactics in Gaza of recent years. As you know, there are sharply differing views on this subject, including within Israel, where the military veterans’ group, Breaking the Silence, has issued several reports based on disturbing testimony from soldiers involved in the operations, about the orders they were given and the effect on civilians and civilian infrastructure.
I was in my seat, and listening to the lecture, when a group of protesters entered, one of whom carried a megaphone. This took me completely by surprise. Contrary to what you may have heard, I was not a participant in this protest, let alone its leader.
Around two minutes had passed when University security guards began to use force to eject the protesters. I left my seat to remonstrate with them, solely because – the protesters themselves having posed no threat to anyone – the security guards’ actions created a significant risk of serious harm where none had previously existed. That was a judgment I made at the time, which has since been supported by a medical expert who viewed video recordings of the event. One protester was grabbed in a headlock, which – with rotation – can lead to spinal injuries. Carrying struggling protesters bodily off the floor, which also happened, risks fracture, including cranial and spinal fracture.
Following this sequence of events, I and my wife were subjected to a series of physical attacks by a member of the audience, whom I ultimately felt it justified to threaten to sue for assault. At one point, I produced a banknote from my shirt pocket, to lend emphasis to my point. I was horrified when it was put to me that, in doing so, I had inadvertently featured in an image that others then used to invoke a vile stereotype, connected with the persecution of Jews in Europe. I can appreciate the hurtfulness, to members of the Jewish community, of having that stereotype re-activated in our modern society.
However, I emphasise the word, “inadvertently”. An investigation into this incident by the University of Sydney cleared me of anti-Semitism, and indeed I have been at pains all along to repudiate any such imputation. For instance, I told the ABC’s PM programme, on Radio National, on April 2nd:
“The suggestion that I behaved in a way that was in any way anti-Semitic is entirely mischievous”.
(Full transcript here: http://www.abc.net.au/pm/content/2015/s4210162.htm)
I also established, last year in Australia’s Federal Court, that my policy of supporting the academic boycott does not infringe Australia’s laws on racial discrimination, after I was the subject of an application led by Shurat Ha’Din, an Israeli legal centre. That was very important to me because it reaffirmed the distinctions I always strive to uphold. My stance is not anti-Israel, let alone anti-Jewish – it is, rather, aimed solely at contributing to political pressure from the international community for the ending of policies that I consider inimical to the rights and freedoms of both Palestinians and, ultimately, Israelis.
Many in the Jewish community – and the community at large – disagree with my views and my analysis of the issues of conflict affecting Israelis and Palestinians. But the important point here is that I am sincere in wishing for positive, sustainable peace for both peoples, and that all my contributions to public debate over those issues are motivated solely by that wish.
I am willing to attend any forum to explain and elaborate further on any of these thoughts, should you wish to hear further from me on this, or any subject connected with my established research interests in peace and peace journalism.
Jake Lynch Director, Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies The University of Sydney
AUJS responds to Jake Lynch
May 22, 2015 by Dean Sherr
Read on for article
Although it is replete with self-serving rationalisations, Associate Professor Jake Lynch’s defence of his conduct at the Richard Kemp lecture on March 11, “BDS and the Kemp affair: clearing up misunderstandings”, represents a significant climb down from the militantly unapologetic support for Lynch’s actions previously proffered by the “Sydney Staff for BDS” group and other prominent figures on Lynch’s behalf.
Although we disagree with Lynch about many things, especially his so-called ‘solution’ to advance Palestinian human rights, this is not the reason we have called for his dismissal. AUJS has condemned Lynch’s conduct, including his treatment of an elderly Jewish woman in the audience, because in our view it was not a fit and proper way for an academic of his seniority to behave.
The defences of Lynch against allegations of misconduct have relied largely on falsehoods about the Jewish community and AUJS; ugly stereotyping and dog-whistling; and misrepresentation of the nature of the complaints made against him.
The most notable aspect of Lynch’s defence of himself is that he finally concedes what his supporters have been unable to face up to – that it was reasonable for people in the Jewish community, and beyond, to interpret his waving of money in the faces of the woman and a Jewish student who was standing between them as an antisemitic gesture, even though the university has accepted his assurance that this was not what he intended.
This is a significant concession by Lynch, as it lays bare the viciousness of the slur that has been put about by some of Lynch’s colleagues who have claimed that the charge of antisemitism against Lynch was cynically manufactured by “Zionists” in order to smear him and discredit his views. Lynch has all but conceded that this claim is nonsense by admitting the imagery exists and thus we see that the only “smear” has been of the Jewish community by Lynch’s colleagues.
Jake Lynch [2nd rt] with banner Photo: David Sokol/J-Wire
Lynch claims he was not part of the protest because he was seated in the theatre during the entire lecture. He claims he was taken “by surprise” by the protesters who stormed the lecture theatre, commandeered the lectern and microphone and shut down the lecture for 20 minutes as they shouted down everyone else with a megaphone. He omits to mention that he was observed and photographed with other protesters before the lecture, holding a giant “Sydney Uni Staff for BDS” banner. Also present was with him was Fahad Ali, President of the University of Sydney’s “Students for Justice in Palestine” (SJP) group, who wrote in the aftermath of the lecture that the group’s plan was always to interrupt the lecture, not to challenge it but to attempt to shut it down. These same SJP protesters were handing out flyers on behalf of Lynch’s Sydney Staff for BDS group.
The ugliness of the banknote waving gesture, and its obvious symmetry with traditional antisemitic stereotypes about Jews and money, was indirectly conceded by Fahad, and by Lynch’s colleague, Paul Duffill, both of whom initially denied that any banknotes had been waved – until video footage proved otherwise. Fahad even wrote: “If Jake had waved money on the face of a Jewish student, I would be the first person to call for him to be sacked”.
When this denial could no longer be sustained in the face of the evidence, Lynch’s supporters, from Fahad to Dr Nick Riemer, seemingly the spokesperson for the Sydney Staff for BDS group on this issue, attempted to change the topic of the conversation, by making it about academic freedom and the exercise of free speech. Several rallies to defend such “freedom” at the University were held, with prominent supporters repeating the lie that the complaints against Lynch were not genuine expressions of outrage against reasonably-perceived antisemitism, but were concocted as part of a “witch hunt” by “the pro-Israel lobby” against BDS supporters because of their views.
Now that Lynch himself has conceded that he can understand why his actions were perceived as antisemitic, this calumny will hopefully be put to rest. Conspiracy theories about a sinister, all-powerful pro-Israel lobby closely resemble yet another traditional antisemitic falsehood about the global Jewish conspiracy (just replacing the word Jewish with Zionist). It is designed to caricaturise all Jewish supporters of Israel as morally and ethically deficient, while supporters of Palestinian human rights, superior as they are, can never be wrong. This clear fallacy is accepted by the extreme ‘left’, who do nothing to support genuine progressive peace in the region and prefer to attack and undermine liberal Zionists in their intolerant and ethnocentric manner; dividing our society here in Australia, while ignoring the complex realities of the situation in Israel.
This trope seeks to nullify the rights of Jewish Australians and Jewish community organisations to participate in the processes of democracy and public debate. By portraying this participation as part of a sinister conspiracy, the attempt is made to marginalise the community’s viewpoints and to foment racial hatred by stoking other classical stereotypes about powerful, evil Jews.
Indeed, the email thread Riemer started amongst USyd Arts staff, which demonstrated great division within the faculty, included even more explicit claims by some Sydney University academics about the extent of Jewish power over the media and the University administration. The message was clear: if you don’t like what Jews are saying, the “powerful lobby” defence is an easy way out. Of course, AUJS is not a lobby organisation, but a student volunteer-run, voluntary democratic union of Jewish students across Australia and New Zealand. It is also pluralistic and, if our Israeli election poll of AUJS members told us anything, our membership are far from the uncritical ‘pro-Israeli Government’ automatons that Senator Lee Rhiannon accuses them of being.
The great irony is of course that the pro-Lynch lobby has threatened Jewish students with legal action, abused media outlets for publishing comments by “Zionists”, held public rallies and demonstrations on Lynch’s behalf, co-opted its branch of the NTEU to take sides when its membership is clearly divided on the issue and has voted against BDS, all the while refusing to discuss, let alone concede, that Jewish students and Jewish community organisations have every right to be affronted by the clear image of Lynch waving money in the face of an elderly Jewish woman and the Jewish student standing between them.
This is ultimately the crux of the argument. Despite constant claims that Lynch and his colleagues at the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies are all victims of a wider attempt to suppress pro-Palestinian activism by the Jewish community and the University; Lynch, Riemer and Stuart Rees have been advocating freely for BDS for years without any ‘oppression’ or disciplinary action by the University whatsoever.
The only issue is whether Lynch behaved in accordance with his responsibilities as a senior member of staff at the University. Even without charging him with antisemitism, the video he released through New Matilda speaks volumes about his conduct. He is observed baiting and taunting the elderly woman he claims physically assaulted him (although videos only confirm she splashed him with water), waving his hand as if to say ‘bring it on’, while threatening that if she splashes him again it will cost her thousands. Ironically, this all happened while a much younger Jewish student and AUJS leader attempted to defuse the situation and keep the two apart.
Lynch’s story and the justification for his conduct don’t add up. There are many other aspects of his piece which are just plain wrong which I have not dealt with – his views about Israel and BDS, his tortuous attempt to reconcile the so-called “right of return of Palestinian refugees” with a two-State solution, his ridiculous claim that his supporters include “prominent Jews”.
At a most generous interpretation, Lynch’s behaviour was childish, immature and undignified, bringing his position as a senior academic and the University’s into disrepute. He and his supporters can continue to try to deflect blame to a powerful lobby, and hide behind the excuse that they are pursuing “Palestinian human rights”, but this incident is not about Israel, Palestine or BDS. This is about Lynch’s conduct. To do what’s right, and protect its own reputation and that of its academic community, the University must take serious disciplinary action.
Dean Sherr is National Chairperson of AUJS [The Australasian Union of Jewish Students
Lynch ‘not dismissed’ from USYD
MAY 26, 2015
ASSOCIATE Professor Jake Lynch will not be dismissed from his post at the University of Sydney following an investigation into possible breaches of its code of conduct, The AJNcan reveal.
The university launched an investigation into incidents at an anti-Israel protest in March, which saw more than a dozen pro-Palestinian protesters storm a public talk by Colonel Richard Kemp.
Lynch, director of the university’s Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, and five students, two contractors and five members of the public, were under investigation by the university over their conduct during the protest on March 11.
On Tuesday, the university said a number of members of the university community and the public were found to have engaged in unsatisfactory conduct, as a result of which disciplinary action, including counselling, warning and suspension of access rights to the university grounds have been imposed.
Executive Council of Australian Jewry executive director Peter Wertheim said, “The university statement makes reference only to disciplinary action that includes ‘counselling, warning and suspension of access rights to the university grounds’. There is no mention of dismissals or reprimands.”
He added: “If the disciplinary action does not include the latter, it would be very disappointing, and would reflect poorly on the university in the enforcement of its own standards.”
But a source at the university told The AJN on Tuesday that Lynch would remain in his post.
University disciplinary processes are still underway in relation to five students, both protesters and members of the audience.
Lynch could not be reached for comment.
He did, however, release a statement last week addressing his behaviour during the melee.
During the protest, Lynch became involved in an altercation with 73-year-old Diane Barkas who, at one point, threw water over him. The argument continued with Lynch filming her on his phone. She tried to slap and kick him, prompting him to wave banknotes at her.
According to Lynch, “I and my wife were subjected to a series of physical attacks by a member of the audience, whom I ultimately felt it justified to threaten to sue for assault. At one point, I produced a banknote from my shirt pocket, to lend emphasis to my point.”
Barkas, however, has denied assaulting him.
On a number of occasions, goading Barkas, Lynch tells her to “keep going”, “get your money out” and “it’s going to cost you a lot of money”.
Lynch said, “I was horrified when it was put to me that … I had inadvertently featured in an image that others then used to invoke a vile stereotype, connected with the persecution of Jews in Europe.
“I can appreciate the hurtfulness, to members of the Jewish community, of having that stereotype re-activated in our modern society. However, I emphasise the word ‘inadvertently’.”
Lynch let off with warning letter
MAY 28, 2015
ASSOCIATE Professor Jake Lynch will remain in his post at the University of Sydney after “no finding of serious misconduct” was made against him.
Lynch, director of the university’s Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, and five students, two contractors and five members of the public were under investigation by the university over their conduct during an anti-Israel protest on campus on March 11, which disrupted a public talk by Colonel Richard Kemp.
More than a dozen pro-Palestinian students stormed the room. Some had to be forcibly removed by security.
On Tuesday the university said a number of members of the university community and the public were found to have engaged in unsatisfactory conduct, as a result of which “disciplinary action, including counselling, warning and suspension of access rights to the university grounds” have been imposed.
While Lynch will not be dismissed from his post, he did, however, receive a warning letter over his “unsatisfactory conduct” for interfering with security guards at the protest.
Speaking to The AJN on Wednesday, Lynch said he was “relieved and delighted” to have been cleared of serious misconduct, and that the threat to his position at the university had been lifted.
“I am particularly pleased to have it confirmed that no aspect of my behaviour represented any form of anti-Semitism,” he said. “Members of the Jewish community should know that my actions are motivated solely by a wish for peace with justice for both Israelis and Palestinians.”
Executive Council of Australian Jewry executive director Peter Wertheim said the outcome is “far from a total vindication of Lynch”.
“It has now been established that there was genuine substance to the complaints about Lynch’s conduct, even if the university was unable to conclude that it amounted to anti-Semitism,” Wertheim said.
“Lynch himself has repudiated the vicious slur that the complaints about him were baseless and manufactured. I suspect that the image of Lynch waving banknotes in the face of an elderly Jewish woman, and the university’s findings of ‘unsatisfactory conduct’, will long remain in the public memory.”
Lynch has defended the action, writing on May 17 that “I and my wife were subjected to a series of physical attacks by a member of the audience, whom I ultimately felt it justified to threaten to sue for assault”.
“At one point, I produced a banknote from my shirt pocket, to lend emphasis to my point,” he said. “I was horrified when it was put to me that, in doing so, I had inadvertently featured in an image that others then used to invoke a vile stereotype, connected with the persecution of Jews in Europe.
“I can appreciate the hurtfulness, to members of the Jewish community, of having that stereotype re-activated in our modern society. However, I emphasise the word ‘inadvertently’.”
Wertheim rejected this, saying Lynch’s explanation “does not stack up”.
“The video evidence suggests that he continued to taunt and goad her long after she sat down,” he said.
“Whether it was intended to be anti-Semitic or not, and whether it was provoked or not, waving banknotes in the face of an elderly Jewish woman was no way for an academic of Lynch’s seniority to behave.”
Wertheim added that Lynch’s concession that it was reasonable for the Jewish community to take offence at his banknote waving gesture “stands in stark contrast to the campaign run on his behalf by the Sydney Staff for BDS group, which claimed repeatedly that there were no grounds for the Jewish community – or, in their pejorative expression, the ‘pro-Israel lobby’ – to be offended by his conduct”.
“Lynch’s supporters such as Senator Lee Rhiannon and Professor Nick Riemer ought to apologise to the Jewish community for their slurs along these lines,” he said.