Paying a price for supporting Palestine

The following letter is written by Omar Hassan, the Education Officer of Monash University’s Students Association. I spoke on Wednesday for Palestine Solidarity Week at La Trobe University, Monash University and Melbourne University to packed houses (one blogger’s thoughts here). A number of Zionist students even protested outside my Monash event (though remained remarkably mute during my presentation, perhaps wondering why they hadn’t heard the facts about the occupation during their insulated visits to Israel):

As the Education (Public Affairs) officer in the student union, I have been able to play an important role in Students for Palestine group here at Monash, providing it with much-needed resources and support as a paid student representative.

After receiving complaints from the university administration, the president of the Student Union, Julian Campbell, has decided that this has to stop. Far from supporting the largest and most vibrant campaign on campus, Mr. Campbell has decided that it is “unconstitutional” for me to publicly associate myself with Students for Palestine. Not content with undermining my involvement in the campaign in this way, Mr. Campbell and his allies in the Labor Party have voted to suspend my pay for 2 weeks.

So then, why have they done this? Because I committed the crime of condemning the slaughter of over 1500 Palestinians in just 3 weeks. Because we dare to fight for a just end to the occupation of Palestinian territory. Because I had the temerity to believe that my student union can and should take a stand on this issue, even when it faces opposition from reactionary organisations.

As pointed out by a law student involved in the group, the constitutional argument presented by Mr. Campbell is a complete furphy – nobody was able to articulate a legal case against me in the meeting. Anyway it has always been the role of the education department to run these sorts of political campaigns. In recent history the department has run the Refugee Action Collective and in 2006 printed stickers with the slogan “support the war on terror, bomb the white house” – clearly the union has no issue with controversy.

What is actually behind this decision is the fact that the student union is led by members of the Labor party, an organisation that prides itself on unswerving support for the state of Israel. They plead neutrality, but in attempting to silence me they are taking a clear side – they side with the oppressor. They also hinted at their racism when one of their caucus argued that this issue does not interest or affect “Australian students”.

As the international movement against Israel continues to grow in the coming years, we should remember this incident, a moment when the Labor Students decided that fighting against injustice should be punished, that campaigning against war and oppression somehow contravenes the constitution – and is worthy of a 340 dollar fine.

In the meantime neither Students for Palestine nor I will be silenced. The campaign at Monash has already had tremendous success with a massive opening ceremony attracting over 200 students, and this is just the beginning.

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