I clearly remember my very first assignment in the honours stream in the School of Government and Public Administration at the University of Sydney.
Students were given the task of reviewing a particular academic work – to assess whether we could and would identify logical inconsistencies, factual errors, misrepresentation or manipulation of statistics, and other reasons to question a writer’s scholarship.
Although we were not told that this was the purpose of the assignment, I had little choice but to ridicule a book, by a widely published author, which was almost laughable in its argumentation and ridiculous in its conclusion.
The author was Richard Falk, a man who, from all reports, has actually been on a downhill trajectory from that low intellectual point.
He has been condemned widely for promoting antisemitic literature, republishing an anti-Jewish cartoon and promoting offensive conspiracy theories, while also glorifying Hamas.
His critics have included Western governments, anti-racism experts, a UN Secretary General and the Palestinian Authority.
Yet one of the United Nations’ least known, yet most unsavoury units, the “Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia”, published a pathetic piece of anti-Israel malevolence from him, which embarrassed even the seemingly unembarrassable United Nations.
The report was subsequently withdrawn – a failure for Falk.
Why was I in that honours class?
In my very first tutorial at university, the tutor made a comment accusing Israel of behaviour which was clearly unsavoury, likely immoral and possibly illegal.
I expressed curiosity as it was something about which I was interested, but with which I was quite unfamiliar. The tutor told me that, at the next tutorial, I should present the results of my research on the subject.
In the university library, I was assisted by staff to locate voluminous primary source material which demonstrated that Israel had been falsely accused, and that there was plenty of hard evidence available to show the trail of deceit and misrepresentation leading to my tutor’s comments.
At the next class, I arrived with a large bundle of printouts, and showed them to my fellow students while we waited for the tutor to arrive.
He came into the room and showed us a clipping from the Trotskyite newspaper Direct Action, to which I responded with chapter and verse from authoritative, politically neutral documents.
The matter was not discussed again, until I was informed, months later, that I had failed the subject. I appealed, and was not only given a pass, but invited to do honours – which I heard represented an unprecedented level of “no confidence” in a teacher.
This is not something which happened recently. Despite much discussion as to how campuses have become such unpleasant places for Jewish students – and although that teacher was not in his job too much longer – there have been generations of misled, misinformed students going through our academic institutions.
One final observation:
The newspaper which was the source of the item about Israel, Direct Action, was later reinvented as Green Left Weekly.
When I served on the national executive of the Australian Union of Students, we decided to endorse particular political protests in a number of locations.
I was surprised to read later about a protest event in one of the places where we had specifically decided not to try to organise anything, due to a view that the timing would not work.
I asked at the subsequent executive meeting whether there had been a last-minute revision, and was told quite unashamedly that no event had taken place but a decision had been taken to publish a story which claimed it had happened, to help students in that city “feel included”.
For some time, that incredible cynicism and dishonesty shocked me. I wish it still did.
But in an era when “false news” and “alternative facts” are touted as mere unpleasant realities, it is hard to be shocked, but natural to be repulsed, by outrageous dishonesty, such as reports by Richard Falk.