On ABC Religion and Ethics (17 March 2015) – http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2015/03/17/4199255.htm
Suppose a person jumps up in a lecture theatre, stands on his chair, waves money at an old Jewish woman and yells in the faces of students – would such a person be permitted to remain in the room? Now imagine it was a professor that did these things – should such a person be allowed to remain at the University?
Associate Professor Jake Lynch, Director of the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, is under investigation by the University of Sydney for allegedly intimidating attendees at a lecture and reportedly thrusting money in the face of more than one Jewish person.
Retired British military officer Colonel Richard Kemp had been invited by the University to speak on “Ethical Dilemmas of Military Tactics” and the complexities in dealing with non-state armed groups, in light of Australia’s military engagement with non-state actors – including Islamic State.
Kemp began his talk with a brief explanation of his career and a joke about England’s recent loss to Bangladesh in cricket. He went on to discuss non-state militant groups in Ireland and Afghanistan and the obligations of soldiers when engaging with civilians and civilian groups.
Before he could go into any detail or discuss any other issues, he was interrupted by over a dozen students bursting into the lecture hall chanting: “Richard Kemp, you can’t hide. You support genocide.”
The protesters refused to leave and began to struggle with security guards.
A demonstrator with a megaphone drowned out every attempt by the moderator to get the lecture back on track. Protestors stood on chairs, began to push students and shout loudly at those who objected to their behaviour. Lynch soon joined in, at first standing on furniture, shouting that attempts to remove the protesters were an attack on freedom of speech, and then allegedly obstructing campus security.
I was present at the lecture. A student I spoke to at the event pointed out that Colonel Kemp “hadn’t even mentioned Israel or Palestine” in his lecture; he had been talking about his service in Ireland and Afghanistan. Another student told me that she did not have strong views either way on the issue, but was studying international relations and had come expecting a talk, not an ambush.
I spoke with a number of Jewish students after the protest; they were clearly shaken. They told me that Associate Professor Lynch had shouted in their faces. A photo has been posted online seeming to show Lynch holding money in the face of a Jewish student, with reports of another photo showing him thrusting a five dollar note in the face of what he termed an “older lady,” believed to be 75 year old Jewish woman.
After about 20 minutes of shouting, the protestors were finally removed from the hall, having objected loudly to their treatment by the security guards and some others present. Colonel Kemp, resuming as if nothing had happened, continued to speak on engagement with non-civilian groups in armed conflict. Concluding his talk, Kemp briefly addressed what he termed a “commercial break”:
“This protest was about my perspective on the IDF … I was in Israel during the 2014 summer conflict and I do believe that the IDF in their attack on Hamas in Gaza … were doing everything they could to protect civilians … People have told me I am wrong, but no one has told me what more steps Israel could take to minimize civilian casualties.”
The former Federal Labor MP Peter Baldwin was present at the lecture. He wrote to the Vice-Chancellor of the University, stating: “this was a truly frightening episode … [Sydney University is] becoming increasingly poisonous and fearful for identifiably Jewish students.”
I have written previously on some of the disturbing antisemitic trends in Australia, and I remain deeply concerned that students who identify as Jewish risk intimidation and harassment in certain university environments.
Last year, for example, a Jewish student at La Trobe University was too scared to go to class after her name and photograph were put on posters around campus, accusing her of voting against an anti-Israel motion. At a La Trobe anti-Israel rally, protesters were allegedly instructed to approach Jewish students and abuse them.
There is, of course, legitimate criticism of Israel, but there is also anti-Zionism which through its manifestations and rhetoric clearly can serve as a mask for blatant antisemitism. For instance, anti-Israel protesters outside an Israel trade show in Johannesburg this month chanted, “You think this is Israel, we are going to kill you!” and “You Jews do not belong here in South Africa!”
Needless to say, an adult waving money in a Jewish person’s face, regardless of their motivation, would be a confronting and alienating situation. Associate Professor Lynch responded to the allegations by claiming he waved the money in the woman’s face to warn her that he “would have no option but to sue her for assault if she carried on – which would cost her a lot of money.”
The guest lecturer himself, Colonel Richard Kemp, said that in his opinion Lynch’s actions suggested an anti-Jewish prejudice. Following the lecture, he wrote the following in a letter to the Vice-Chancellor of the University:
“Associate Professor Jake Lynch, the Director of your Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, and Dr Nicholas Riemer, one of your senior lecturers, who were both apparently leading and encouraging the protesters, screamed at the security officers to desist. This seemed to be a clear attempt to impose their own authority as faculty members, thereby hoping to intimidate the security officers into allowing the abusive demonstration to continue. At one point I observed Associate Professor Lynch waving money in the face of a Jewish student, a clearly aggressive and insulting act that seemed to invoke the stereotype of the ‘greedy Jew’. Although not Jewish myself, I found Associate Professor Lynch’s behavior deeply shocking and offensive.”
“Many members of the audience were Jewish and I am sure the demonstrators knew this and set out with the intention of intimidating Jews at the University of Sydney. This of course is nothing other than anti]Semitism and it compounds the acts of intimidation by the protesters.”
“I would add that you have a particular responsibility in respect of the racist, anti]Semitic nature of this protest. As you know anti]Semitism is a rising phenomenon in the world. Jews in many places live in increasing fear and concern that they will be singled out and discriminated against. Only by taking firm action against anti]Semitic abuse and hatred whenever and wherever it occurs can this situation be reversed. Sydney University has the opportunity here to set an example to other academic institutions that lack the moral courage to face up to the modern scourge of anti]Semitism.”
Sydney University academic Professor Suzanne Rutland was also present at the event, and I spoke to her shortly after it concluded:
“I feel that the demonstration really showed clearly that the anti-Israel group speaks in slogans without any sort of understanding of the intricacies of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians and without any sort of acknowledgement that when they stand there chanting, ‘Free Palestine’, what they mean is the dismantling of the Zionist entity which means genocide against Israel’s Jewish population.”
A petition started by the Jewish student union calling for Associate Professor Jake Lynch to be sacked has already attracted over 5,000 signatures. It alleges he breached the University’s code of conduct, which requires that staff treat students with “respect, impartiality, courtesy and sensitivity” and that “Lynch has a history of supporting harassment and discrimination against Jewish students.” A Sydney University spokesperson commented: “The University is deeply concerned about events surrounding a protest on campus and has commenced an investigation into the incidents.”
The protesters, accused of disrupting a lecture, intimidating Jewish students, filming them without their permission and shouting at them could face expulsion from the University. A professor accused of the same, and of thrusting money in the faces of a Jewish student and an elderly Jewish woman, needs to be taken just as seriously. If the professor and the other demonstrators acted so disgracefully, the University has a responsibility to protect the welfare of its students and its own reputation.
Glen Falkenstein is a Policy Analyst at the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council.