IN THE MEDIA

Universities must not allow anti-semitism to stand

May 6, 2022 | Colin Rubenstein

Image: Wikimedia Commons
Image: Wikimedia Commons

Herald Sun – 6 May 2022 

 

On April 29, the University of Melbourne Student Union (UMSU) passed an extreme anti-Israel and antisemitic motion. It employed language that might be expected from Hamas or Hezbollah, as terrorist groups committed to the destruction of Israel, not from the student union of an esteemed centre of learning here in Australia.

Its drafters created a fictitious, one-sided narrative of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with Palestinians as natives and any Jewish connection to the land denied. Based upon that falsehood, they constructed a motion that is antithetical to all that institutions of higher learning are meant to stand for, and will do untold harm to the credibility of UMSU and despite the University’s welcome repudiation of the motion, perhaps even tarnish the University as well.

In deeming Zionism a ‘racist, colonial ideology’ and Israel a ‘settler colonial apartheid state,’ and ‘colonial project’, yet demanding self-determination for Palestinians, this motion is clearly antisemitic. It denies to Jews the right to self-determination in the Jewish homeland, where Jews have lived for thousands of years, yet demands that same right for others. Lip service in the motion to condemning antisemitism does nothing to change that reality. It is in fact ironic, given the antisemitism inherent in the motion itself.

The motion’s narrative claims Israel “continuously denies the native Palestinians of their right to self-determination, freedom, dignity and equality,” ignoring the numerous offers of statehood from Israel that the Palestinian Authority has spurned, and also the fact that all of Israel’s citizens, including its Arabs, have equal, democratic rights.

It asserts that the State of Israel was established through ‘massacres, forced expulsion and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians’, when in fact, as soon as Israel declared independence, it was immediately attacked both by neighbouring Arab states and the local Arab population, determined to destroy it at its birth.

It states Israel recently carried out a police raid at the Al Aqsa Mosque on Palestinians who were “simply congregating and praying” – ignoring ample and widespread video evidence that shows Palestinians stockpiling rocks and fireworks inside the mosque, and violently attacking Jewish worshippers nearby.

The motion condemns Israel’s alleged ‘ongoing ethnic cleansing of Palestinians’, despite the Palestinian population of the West Bank and Gaza increasing more than fourfold since Israel gained control of those areas in 1967.

The motion’s expressed support of the “right’’ of the Palestinians to “engage in self-defence against their occupiers” is effectively code for supporting terrorism against Israelis, mainly civilians.

The motion demands a comprehensive boycott and divestment policy against Israeli institutions and academics, in contravention to the spirit of free enquiry and academic freedom fundamental to universities as institutions, while the wider call to boycott the Jewish nation has disturbing historical parallels.

As a contrived attempt to deny the antisemitism that permeates their motion, the drafters included a clause stating that “Judaism and Zionism are not to be conflated as one.” As if the antisemitic motion wasn’t bad enough, the motion’s drafters had the arrogance to purport to redefine Judaism to suit their own bigoted purposes. In fact, for most Jews, Zionism –  meaning belief in a right to Jewish self-determination in their ancestral homeland – is an integral part of their Judaism.

The vast majority of Jewish students will no doubt feel deeply betrayed that the student union supposed to represent them could pass a motion so appalling and so antithetical to their core values.

This shameful motion should have no place at all in this country, let alone in an institution of higher learning. One can’t help wondering if all those who supported it fully appreciated its insidious meaning and intent. The union should rescind the motion at the first available opportunity.

The University Administration has released a welcome, principled statement distancing itself from the motion and correctly condemning it as antisemitic. It must now do all it can to ensure that this never happens again, as it represents a toxic stain not only upon UMSU, but on the University itself.

One way of doing so is by adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism, which was formulated over several years by a panel of eminent experts on the Holocaust and racism, and has been adopted by nearly 40 countries, including most Western democracies, as well as the European Union, and embraced by Australia’s Government and Opposition.

The definition states that criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic, then gives contemporary examples of antisemitism, which include “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g. by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour.”

Only if Melbourne and other universities take proactive steps, such as adopting the IHRA definition, will they be able to ensure that the type of extremist fringe groups that control UMSU, and potentially other student unions, don’t cross the line into antisemitism in pursuit of their radical anti-Israel agenda.

 Dr. Colin Rubenstein is executive director, Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC)

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