Sydney university students take important step against Israeli crimes

This week a victory for countless courageous activists and students at Sydney University. I know some of them and I’m proud to call them colleagues and friends. It’s a brave stand against Israeli illegality and official silence. Here’s the statement:

The Student Representative Council at the University of Sydney passed a motion endorsing Associate Professor Jake Lynch’s academic boycott of Israel this week.
The motion was brought forth in response to attacks against Associate Professor Jake Lynch for refusing to assist Dan Avnon – a visiting academic from Hebrew University in Israel – in December.
The Student Representative Council (SRC) also voted to support an end to all university ties with Technion University in Haifa, Israel.
Dr Lynch, who is the director of Sydney University’s Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies said: “By continuing institutional links to Israeli high education, universities here risk unwittingly becoming indirectly complicit in violations of international laws and abuses of human rights.”
Erima Dall, the SRC member who put the motion forward, said boycotting institutional links with Israel is a necessary action.

“We cannot normalise relations with Israeli institutions complicit in the occupation of Palestine. Students at the University of Sydney should not, and do not, want to be endorsing these crimes. A clear message needs to be sent – Israel needs to end the occupation and its colonisation of Palestinian land, end apartheid, stop building its settler-colonies, and allow the right of return to Palestinians,” she said.

Suzanne Asad, the president of Students for Justice in Palestine at USYD, echoed these sentiments and said students and citizens of conscience should stand up for justice and human rights in Palestine, and support boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel.

“If we don’t end Sydney University’s links with the Technion and other Israeli institutions, then we are implicated in the crimes committed against Palestine,” she said.

The statement, which the SRC voted to sign and publish, states:
“Israel is a state that systematically defies international law. It has occupied Palestinian territories in defiance of the UN Security Council for over 40 years, expanding settlements which are regarded as illegal by the international community.
“Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) is a non-violent and effective strategy to help end Israeli impunity and move towards the realisation of the Palestinians’ rights. The Hebrew University is clearly implicated in the illegal occupation as its Mount Scopus campus occupies land in East Jerusalem which is internationally recognised as being on the Palestinian side of the Green Line.”
Technion University is involved in manufacturing unmanned aerial vehicles and the building of illegal separation wall annexing Palestinian land in the West Bank. The statement states: “Technion…is an Israeli university uniquely and directly implicated in war crimes. (Its) research history includes the development of the remote control D9 bulldozer used to demolish Palestinian homes in violation of the Geneva Conventions and it has strong links to Elbit Systems – the company that produces technology for the apartheid wall declared illegal by the International Court of Justice.”

State Labor MP, Lynda Voltz, said it is appropriate for the SRC, given its strong tradition of supporting oppressed people and injustice, to support their academic staff in calling for an end to ties with Technion.

“Israel continues to ignore the United Nations. It builds illegal settlements on the land of the Palestinian people, destroys their houses, builds a wall around their homes and blockades the Port of Gaza to punish the 1.6million men, women and children who live there,” she said.

“Israel does not listen to words or motions and continues to abuse human rights and to act in violation of international laws.…  As in South Africa, it is only through the peaceful actions of campaigns such as the BDS that any change will happen,” Voltz said.

The statement has been endorsed by Mary Kostakidis, the Convener of the Peace Prize jury and co-winner of the University of Sydney Alumni Award for Community Achievement, and Emeritus Professor Stuart Rees who is the Chair of the Sydney Peace Foundation.

Jennine Abdul Khalik, Australian Students for Justice in Palestine executive, said she commended the SRC for choosing to stand on the right side of history.

“Australian universities, including the University of Sydney, need to condemn Israeli apartheid and follow the example of academic institutions and student unions throughout North America, Europe, and South Africa that have endorsed BDS and boycotted and divested from Israel,” she said.

Here’s the piece in today’s Australian:

Sydney University’s student representative council has called for the academic institution to cut ties with at least one Israeli university, in a move likely to reignite fierce debate over proposed academic boycotts of the Jewish state.

At what one SRC member, Patrick Massarani, described as a sometimes ugly debate on Wednesday night, the council passed resolutions that among other things called for all academic co-operation to be cut with Technion University in Haifa.

Mr Massarani, a fellow on the university Senate who also sits on the SRC, said the meeting degenerated into name-calling and vilification, and that he had spoken against the motion. “I said it was our duty to cherish academic freedom,” Mr Massarani said.

The Sydney University SRC motion against Technion, a university established in 1912, which specialises in the sciences, medicine, engineering and technology, follows similar campaigns at universities overseas including Cornell in the US and McGill in Canada.

Campaigners claim Technion works closely with the Israeli government and military, and weapons manufacturers in Israel. They claim that drones, tanks and other military hardware have been built using research from Technion and used against Palestinians.

The SRC’s move is a boost for Jake Lynch, the director of the university’s Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, and his promotion of the international Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions campaign against Israel.

Professor Lynch last night hailed the move by the SRC, claiming that Technion University, apart from assisting Israeli weapons production, had done work for the Israeli department of foreign affairs on public diplomacy to develop strategies to deflect attention from Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.

Professor Lynch said that if Sydney University academics co-operated with Technion, “they risk condoning and in a sense internalising” such alleged anti-Palestinian practices.

Government and Coalition frontbenchers have opposed Professor Lynch’s BDS campaign, with opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman Julie Bishop saying academic units that support BDS should not be given federal research grants.

But Professor Lynch last night said this would be a mockery of free speech, noting Tony Abbott had recently said the role of academic institutions was to “speak truth to power.”

The chief executive officer of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, Vic Alhadeff, described the passing of the SRC motion as “an exercise in empty symbolism and immature spite”.

“It will do nothing to advance Palestinian statehood,” he said. “Trying to shut down collaborative research between universities in the areas of science and medicine is immoral. It can only exacerbate the conflict.”

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