The University of Sydney will host a three-day conference "BDS – Driving Global Justice for Palestine" on 24-26 July 2020.
The organizers asked academics and activists to send in proposals for a 20-minute talk addressing aspects of Palestine solidarity activism, BDS campaign, and their wider contexts and ramifications. Possible themes could include the following: “Palestine solidarity, antiracism and indigenous justice; Palestine and decolonization; Palestine and the failure of international law; the cultural boycott; transnational solidarity and BDS; Palestine and the media; the academic boycott beyond the humanities; Israel’s anti-BDS campaign; the Nation-state law; Israel, Palestine and the Trump administration; Palestine and the Australian Labor Party; BDS, refugees, and the right of return; the academic boycott of South Africa; critiques of BDS; Palestine, students and activism; Zionism and BDS; freedom of speech, academic freedom and BDS; Anti-Semitism and the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance; legal attacks on BDS; justice-work, activism and BDS in academia; Palestine and South Africa; the Israel lobby; BDS in Palestine and abroad; Palestine, unions and politics; arms, cultural and sporting boycotts; Palestine and the Jewish community; boycott politics in academic organisations."
The conference is organized by Sydney University Staff for BDS along with a number of pro-Palestinian organisations such as the Australia Palestine Advocacy network (APAN) and BDS Australia. The international keynote speakers include Knesset member Haneen Zoabi, Mazin Qumsiyeh, David Palumbo-Liu, among others. The conference intends to "contribute to greater academic and public understanding of campaigns for justice for Palestinians, including through boycott, divestment and sanctions".
The conference academic committee includes Nadia Abu El-Haj (Columbia); Eran Asoulin (UNSW); David Landy (Trinity College Dublin); Alana Lentin (Western Sydney) Ronit Lentin (Trinity College Dublin); Stuart Rees (Sydney) Nick Riemer (Sydney); and Marcelo Svirsky (Wollongong); among others.
This is the second conference on this theme. The first conference "BDS: Driving Global Justice for Palestine," was held in July 2017. IAM reported then that the first conference speakers included notoriously anti-Israel academics such as Jake Lynch, Sol Salbe, and Marcelo Svirsky among others, and many non-academic activists. IAM also noted that a year earlier, in 2016, Sydney University's vice-chancellor Dr. Michael Spence spoke on the topic of antisemitism and BDS on campus stating that “We have repeatedly expressed the fact that anti-Semitic behaviour is not acceptable on campus,” he said. “One is always going to have people who engage in hateful behaviour of one kind or another. What I want to do is empower the great body of students and staff to know how to deal with and fight against that.” In particular, he said, “BDS is not university policy... We think that we should have academic relations with universities wherever good academic work is being done... Exceptional academic work is being done in Israel and we have relationships across the board, most recently in nanotechnology and agriculture with universities in Israel, so that’s not an issue." But he also commented that “Academic freedom means that there’s nothing I can do to stop him taking that position... I also can’t censure an academic for holding a view or advocating a view, because that’s what academics do.”
Those who are not sure what is BDS, according to the BDS movement website, "Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) is a Palestinian-led movement for freedom, justice and equality. BDS upholds the simple principle that Palestinians are entitled to the same rights as the rest of humanity. Israel is occupying and colonising Palestinian land, discriminating against Palestinian citizens of Israel and denying Palestinian refugees the right to return to their homes. Inspired by the South African anti-apartheid movement, the BDS call urges action to pressure Israel to comply with international law."
There is no doubt that Palestinians deserve "freedom, justice and equality", but Israeli authorities have noted that Palestinians have not achieved anything remotely resembling this requirement under the self-rule in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. It is also not in Israel's capacity to pressure Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and other states to grant Palestinians equal rights. Israel contests the argumentation that it is "occupying and colonizing Palestinian land" since the Palestinian People have their own governance. Israel also contests the assumption that it is "discriminating against Palestinian citizens," who enjoy full freedom and rights equally to all other Israeli citizens. As for Israel's "denying Palestinian refugees the right to return to their homes,” this proposition misrepresents the 1947 UN partition proposal which granted the Palestinians the better part of the former British Mandate. The Palestinians and their Arab allies started a war in which they had the misfortune to lose and face the consequences, similar to other belligerents in the WWII disputes.
In striking contrast to the rational of this conference, in November 2019, Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that “The UN was born out of the horrors of WWII, born out of an ethos of never again. An institution born to do so much good has allowed anti-Semitism to seep into its deliberations, all under the language of human rights and we are not buying that, my government is not buying that, our government is not buying that... We know the character of our friend Israel and we stand with our friends and under this government, we’ve set up trade and defence office in west Jerusalem to deepen our ties on trade and defence industries.” Earlier that year, PM Morrison called the UN "the place where Israel is bullied and where anti-Semitism is cloaked in language about human rights."
Worth noting that some of the proposed topics of the conference are indeed legitimate. But Sydney University should make sure that an academic conference is balanced, and all sorts of views are presented as in a marketplace of ideas. The conference academic committee should also include those who oppose BDS, and proposals could include also topics such as calling to boycott Palestinian academics for not condemning Palestinian terrorism. Likewise, Sidney University should not be hiding behind shop-worn excuses for academic freedom to avoid dealing with the abuse of academic legitimacy by Palestinian and pro-Palestinian activists. There is a huge difference between a legitimate panel and the type of political activism that the conference currently offers.
The second ‘BDS – Driving Global Justice for Palestine’ conference
Sydney University Staff for BDS along with a range of pro-Palestinian organisations including the Australia Palestine Advocacy network (APAN) and BDS Australia are calling on supporters of justice in Palestine-Israel, both activists and researchers, to participate in the second ‘BDS – Driving Global Justice for Palestine’ conference, which will be held at the University of Sydney on 24-26 July, 2020. The 2020 instalment of the conference follows the successful inaugural edition in 2017 (see here and here for a selection of the 2017 talks).
International keynote speakers include longstanding Knesset member Haneen Zoabi, Mazin Qumsiyeh from the Palestine Museum of Natural History, and David Palumbo-Liu, Professor of Comparative Literature and Louise Hewlett Nixon Professor at Stanford.
In line with the call for boycott, divestment and sanctions from Palestinian civil society, including from academics at Birzeit University, and from organisations such as the Palestinian Federation of Unions of University Professors and Employees, the Palestinian Union of Social Workers and Psychologists and many others, the conference will analyse the context and politics of Palestine solidarity activism, including BDS, in Australia, the Asia-Pacific and abroad; reflect on previous BDS and other Palestine solidarity initiatives; discuss the current situation in Gaza and the West Bank; and contribute to greater academic and public understanding of campaigns for justice for Palestinians, including through boycott, divestment and sanctions.
Little in the current political context inspires confidence in the prospects of justice in Palestine-Israel. Among the many factors militating against that outcome, the escalation of US-endorsed illegal Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank, Israel’s defiant declaration of the apartheid Nation-State Law, and the clear rightward shift in Israeli society and politics are among the most serious. Given the comprehensive failure of international institutions to secure progress for Palestinian people and the clear shortcomings of both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority as vehicles for Palestinians’ political aspirations, civil-society initiatives like the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign represent one of the rare grounds for hope that justice in the region is attainable.
The present moment witnesses both intensifying legislative repression of Palestine-solidarity activism in many national and local contexts, and a growing support for BDS among members of scholarly associations such as the British Society for Middle Eastern Studies, the African Literature Association, the American Studies Association, the Asian American Studies Association, the Critical Ethnic Studies Association, the National Women’s Studies Association and many others. In this context, it is essential that public appreciation of the nature and rationale of the boycott movement be enhanced.
We call for 20-minute papers, from both academics and activists, addressing any aspect of Palestine solidarity activism, the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign and their wider political and socio-cultural contexts and ramifications. Possible themes of papers include, but are not limited to:
- Palestine solidarity, antiracism and indigenous justice
- Palestine and decolonization
- Palestine and the failure of international law
- the cultural boycott
- transnational solidarity and BDS
- Palestine and the media
- the academic boycott beyond the humanities
- Israel’s anti-BDS campaign
- the Nation-state law
- Israel, Palestine and the Trump administration
- Palestine and the Australian Labor Party
- BDS, refugees, and the right of return
- the academic boycott of South Africa
- critiques of BDS
- Palestine, students and activism
- Zionism and BDS
- freedom of speech, academic freedom and BDS
- Anti-Semitism and the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance
- legal attacks on BDS
- justice-work, activism and BDS in academia
- Palestine and South Africa
- the Israel lobby
- BDS in Palestine and abroad
- Palestine, unions and politics
- arms, cultural and sporting boycotts
- Palestine and the Jewish community
- boycott politics in academic organisations
The conference is supported by the Australian Palestine Advocacy Network, BDS Australia, Jews against the Occupation Sydney, the Australian Palestinian Professionals’ Association, Australians for Palestine, Women for Palestine, the Australian Friends of Palestine Association, Adelaide BDS, Independent Australian Jewish Voices, the Palestine Action Group Sydney, the Coalition for Justice and Peace in Palestine and the Palestine Israel Ecumenical Network.
Members of the academic programme committee are listed here.
Submit a paper
Proposals are invited from activists, community members and academics alike. Academic proposals will be reviewed by members of the academic program committee. If you are an activist or a community member, please use the proposal to tell us what you want to speak about and how it relates to the theme of the conference. Proposals (of around 200 words) for 20-minute papers and for panels should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org by March 2, 2020, with acceptances to be notified by April 2. Earlier submissions are encouraged.
Academic program committee
Randa Abdel-Fattah (Macquarie)
Nadia Abu El-Haj (Columbia)
Eran Asoulin (UNSW)
Robert Austin (Sydney)
Govand Khalid Azeez (Macquarie)
Jumana Bayeh (Macquarie)
David Brophy (Sydney)
Bassam Daly (Adelaide)
Nadine El-Enany (Birkbeck)
Ben Etherington (Western Sydney)
Mike Griffiths (Wollongong)
Victoria Grieve-Williams (RMIT)
Ghassan Hage (Melbourne)
Sarah Keenan (Birkbeck)
David Landy (Trinity College Dublin)
Anthony Leaker (Brighton)
Alana Lentin (Western Sydney)
Ronit Lentin (Trinity College Dublin)
Rose Martin (Auckland and Norwegian University of Science and Technology)
Benjamin Miller (Sydney)
Stuart Rees (Sydney)
Nick Riemer (Sydney)
Nicholas Rowe (Auckland)
Ahmad Shboul (Sydney)
Marcelo Svirsky (Wollongong)
Peter Slezak (UNSW)
Jerusalem Prize: PM rewarded for UN stance
By KIERAN GAIR
9:18PM NOVEMBER 21, 2019
Scott Morrison has been awarded the Jerusalem Prize by Australia’s leading Zionist organisation after he called out the UN for “bullying” Israel and controversially pledged to recognise West Jerusalem as the country’s capital.
The Prime Minister received the award from the Zionist Federation of Australia during a ceremony in Sydney on Thursday, attended by Wentworth MP Dave Sharma, Israeli ambassador Mark Sofer, NSW Liberal MP for Vaucluse Gabrielle Upton, and billionaire chairman of Premier Investments Solomon Lew.
The prize is awarded annually to an individual who has been “exceptional in strengthening Australia-Israel relations”.
“We are also taking a strong stand against the targeting of Israel at the UN general assembly,” he said on Thursday night.
“The UN was born out of the horrors of WWII, born out of an ethos of never again. An institution born to do so much good has allowed anti-Semitism to seep into its deliberations, all under the language of human rights and we are not buying that, my government is not buying that, our government is not buying that.”
“We know the character of our friend Israel and we stand with our friends and under this government we’ve set up trade and defence office in west Jerusalem to deepen our ties on trade and defence industries.”
President of the Zionist Federation of Australia, Jeremy Leibler, said Australia’s Jewish community welcomed Mr Morrison’s steadfast and tireless support of Israel.
“The Prime Minister recognised West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and established a trade and defence office in the city,” Mr Leibler said.
“He also changed Australia’s voting pattern at the UN General Assembly, including now voting against the insulting resolution that declares as ‘null and void’ any Jewish claims to Jerusalem.
“Mr Morrison called out the UN as ‘the place where Israel is bullied and where anti-Semitism is cloaked in language about human rights.”
The Zionist Federation of Australia also highlighted the ongoing anti-Semitism saga that has engulfed UK Labour and threatened the leadership of the British opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn at the ceremony on Thursday night.
“The resurgence of anti-Semitism from the left and right in both the US and UK reminds us of how lucky we are in to live in Australia,” Mr Leibler said.
“When Jews elsewhere in the diaspora are increasingly worried about their place in contemporary mainstream politics, true leadership shines bright.”
Mr Morrison joins an illustrious group of Australian recipients of the Jerusalem Prize, including former Prime Ministers John Howard, Bob Hawke and Julia Gillard, former Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, and the late Sir Zelman Cowen.
The Jerusalem Prize is jointly awarded annually by the Zionist Federation of Australia, the Zionist Council of NSW and the World Zionist Organisation.
BDS: Driving Global Justice for Palestine
By Stuart Rees on July 17, 2017
All Australians have a responsibility to learn about the Boycott, Divestments Sanctions movement, writes Professor Stuart Rees.
A national conference, ‘BDS: Driving Global Justice for Palestine’, will be held at Sydney University on the 28th and 29th of July. BDS refers to the international, non-violent Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement to end the Israeli occupation and to promote Palestinians’ rights to self-determination.
To their considerable credit, the University of Sydney authorities have not tried to close the conference. That stand is welcome, given that the letters BDS usually send the Zionist lobby into a frenzy. On cue, they claim that the BDS movement is anti-Semitic and aims to destroy Israel.
To foment fear, BDS supporters can be defined as potential or actual terrorists. Any polemic will do.
Following signs from the Zionist lobby, most Federal and State politicians dare not mention BDS, let alone express their support. In Federal parliament there have been brave exceptions, such as Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon, Labor MP Maria Vamvakinou and former Labor MP, Melissa Parke.
It is difficult to know why cowardice persists, in parliaments, in mainstream media and elsewhere. On Australian university campuses, the only staff group for BDS is at Sydney. Under business models for running universities, authoritarianism does make academics fear for their jobs. But even if Chief Cop Peter Dutton rules in Canberra, Australia is not a police state.
Why do academics fear to take a stand on a major human rights issue? A couple of years ago, the supposedly radical union the NTEU, opposed support for BDS, albeit by a small majority of voting members. Opponents of BDS argued that it was not the right time, that if the union’s image was tarnished, it would be more difficult to represent members’ interests.
Eroding Free Speech
The organizers of the Sydney conference have thrown down a gauntlet. Are you interested in justice? Do you support human rights and the rules of international law? Will you refuse to be intimidated by the Zionist lobby? Will you find the time and energy to inform others about this global movement for justice?
Threats to stigmatize BDS supporters, to stifle their voices and to forbid their activities are real. Free speech is at risk. It’s not just BDS.
Palestinians feared to contribute to the Sydney conference because they felt certain the Israeli government would in consequence forbid them to return to their homes in occupied Palestine.
Repeated attempts to stage a conference on BDS and the future of Palestine at the UK’s University of Southampton have been cancelled on the usual bogus security grounds.
In France people get arrested for wearing pro-boycott T-shirts. In the USA, pro-Palestine professors have been fired, anti-occupation students suspended and threatened with expulsion, pro-Palestinian groups defunded.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop neither understands BDS nor cares much for the rules of international law. She condemns BDS as anti-Semitic. To deflect attention from Israel’s cruelties and illegalities, she trots out the time worn argument that it’s hypocritical to criticize Israel when other countries encourage even worse human rights abuses.
Legislators across the US and Europe say they protect freedom of speech if it concerns racist, anti-gay and hate speech, but when they want to protect Israel from any criticism, they don’t care one iota for free speech.
Israel is allowed to be exceptional. The Jewish American scholar, Judith Butler says that protecting Israeli Jews from criticism is in itself an outrageous form of censorship. She insists that censoring any criticism of the policies of Israel would suppose that criticism is not a Jewish value, a contention “which clearly flies in the face not only of the long tradition of Talmudic disputation but of all religious and cultural sources which have been part of Jewish life for centuries”.
Israel’s exceptionalism and politicians’ indifference to the plight of Palestinians is challenged by the BDS movement. For that reason, cowed legislators make support for BDS a criminal offence.
The distinguished Israeli journalist Gideon Levy writes that it has become a crime to protest a crime, a crime to boycott the criminal, a crime to fight violation of international law.
Why don’t politicians, academics and any leaders in public life discover the international law based objectives of the BDS movement, and find sufficient courage to express their support? Those questions could be regarded as a means of shaming but such a technique seldom works. Instead, let’s ask why people don’t open their hearts, if only because they’ve learned about the conditions which the BDS movement seeks to end, such as the dire situation in Gaza.
A previous UN report said that by 2020 this densely populated strip of land would have no safe drinking water, no reliable sewage system, standards of health care and education would have declined alarmingly, and visions of reliable electricity supply would be a distant memory. Gaza would become uninhabitable. With the collusion of Israel, Hamas, and the Palestinian Authority, today’s almost complete ending of electricity supplies to beleaguered Gazans is a catastrophe already happening. No-one is waiting for 2020.
Organizing the BDS conference could be regarded as brave. I see it as important but unexceptional.
BDS follows a significant history of non-violent dissent. In the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King argued, ‘A boycott only means withdrawing from an evil system. That’s not heroic. That’s a moral obligation.’
Jeremy Corbyn recently observed, ‘When people’s minds are opened up, there’s no end to the possibilities.’
Learning about BDS provides a possibility to participate in ending the abuse of a whole people. Such protests for justice are even good for mental health and could make participants feel better physically. That’s a prescription worth trying.
Emeritus Professor Stuart Rees AM is a regular New Matilda contributor, an Australian academic and author who is the founder of the Sydney Peace Foundation and Emeritus Professor at the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Sydney in Australia.
BDS: Driving Global Justice for Palestine Conference - Sydney 28-29 July
27th Apr, 2017
'BDS – Driving Global Justice for Palestine'
University of Sydney - 28-29 July, 2017.
The Department of Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Sydney, Sydney University Staff for BDS, and a range of pro-Palestinian organisations including the Australia Palestine Advocacy network (APAN) are calling on supporters of Palestine justice, both activists and researchers, to participate in a two-day conference, 'BDS – Driving Global Justice for Palestine', which will be held at the University of Sydney on 28-29 July, 2017.
The recent UN Security Council resolution declaring Israeli settlements in 'flagrant violation' of international law and calling for a halt to all settlement activity, followed by Israel's retrospective legalisation of thousands of settlements on stolen Palestinian land, acutely raises the question of what steps can be taken to promote justice, along with genuine peace, in the region.
In line with the call from Palestinian civil society for boycott, divestment and sanctions, this conference, held to mark the centenary of the Balfour declaration and the 50th anniversary of Israel's 1967 occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, will analyse the current politics of BDS in Australia and abroad, reflect on previous BDS activity, and contribute to greater public understanding of the BDS campaign.
Contributions are invited from activists and researchers on any topic related to these themes, including but not limited to
- reflections on BDS campaigning in the Asia-Pacific and elsewhere so far: lessons learnt and analysis of current prospects;
- successes in BDS campaigning internationally;
- planning for BDS campaigning into the future: ideas and possibilities, proposals for action;
- sources of BDS solidarity: unions, churches, etc.;
- responding to issues around BDS : anti-Semitism, freedom of speech, peace, etc.;
- legal attacks on BDS.
Proposals for twenty-minute presentations (maximum 200 words) should be sent to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org by June 1, 2017. Academic proposals will be peer-reviewed. See here for the conference announcement from the Department of Peace and Conflict Studies.
Download the conference poster here.