28 Oct 2013

Two Thousand Defendants For Human Rights

By Stuart Rees

Jake Lynch and Stuart Rees were threatened earlier this year by an Israeli law centre for their support of an Israeli boycott. The support they got shows many will defend the right to dissent

In early June 2013, Associate Professor Jake Lynch and I, both from Sydney University, received a five page letter from an Israeli law centre, Shurat HaDin. The letter’s author, Sydney solicitor Andrew Hamilton, alleged that by supporting the Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement to promote Palestinian rights to self determination, Lynch and I were racist, anti-semitic and acting contrary to the Federal Racial Discrimination Act of 1975.

The final paragraph of Hamilton’s letter said that if we did not agree within 14 days that we would cease our support for the BDS movement, legal action could be brought against us. At the end of June, Lynch and I rejected all the claims in the Hamilton letter and said we would welcome a forum in which to air the issues.

On 1 August the Israeli law centre sent an official complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission, albeit this time only naming Lynch. The complaint alleged that Lynch’s actions in support of the BDS movement constituted unlawful behaviour under the Racial Discrimination Act. The matter could not be resolved by conciliation, and Hamilton was informed that the complaint was terminated and that if Shurat HaDin wanted to pursue the matter in the Federal Court, they would have 60 days to do so.

What provoked Shurat HaDin was Lynch’s rejection of a request from a Professor Don Avnon from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Avnon wanted to name Lynch on an application for a Sir Zelman Cowan fellowship to visit the University of Sydney. This funded fellowship is not an open scheme — it is only available to academics from one Israeli university. By rejecting the request, Lynch was not in a position to exclude Avnon, who had approached several other Sydney academics and – by his own account – obtained enough invitations to satisfy the scheme’s criteria and make his visit.

Lynch replied to Avnon that his research sounded interesting and worthwhile, but his refusal to support the Israeli academic’s request was consistent with BDS opposition to institutions which support illegal and oppressive policies towards Palestinians. Avnon’s employer, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, had expanded its Mt. Scopus campus onto illegally occupied and confiscated land.

The same university supports students who served in the 2008/09 Gaza invasion. Through the Israeli Command and Staff College, which trains officers, it promotes military occupation of Palestinian land and has extensive connections with Israeli weapons manufacturing companies.

Shurat HaDin, which takes direction from the Israeli Government, and similar law firms in other parts of the world, uses litigation to bully supporters of the BDS movement. It encourages politicians and journalists to stifle support for the major moral, political and international law issue: the Palestinian people’s rights to self determination as identified in the UN Charter and in UN resolutions.

In Australia the supporters of BDS are frequently derided by journalists from The Australian newspaper and from Jewish News who ignore the principles on which the BDS movement is based: respect for human rights, for international law and for nonviolence. Instead the movement is demonised as racist, anti-semitic, hindering the peace process and aiming to abolish the state of Israel.

In fact, the Centre for Peace & Conflict Studies at Sydney University has no truck with anti-semitism or racism. Over the years it has invited many Israeli and other Jewish thinkers to speak at meetings it has organised.

The threats by a law firm in another country to prosecute citizens in Australia indicate the significance of the efforts to portray Israel as besieged by the Palestinians, who are always perpetrators of anti-semitism and terrorism.

Australians for BDS recognised that the threats of prosecution by Shurat HaDin raised political questions, not just legal ones. Legal action initiated in one country to charge citizens in another stifles free speech, and runs roughshod over civil liberties. It also fortuitously provides a chance to explain the real nature of the BDS movement.

To seek support for Lynch and I and to educate about the movement, Australians for BDS wrote a pledge which invited individuals from around the world to be named as co-defendants if the proposed legal action by the Israel Law Centre materialised.

Within two months over 2000 courageous citizens from 58 countries signed the pledge. Most were academics, NGO staff, actors, teachers and researchers from Australia, the UK, USA, Canada, France and Belgium.

Smaller numbers came from South American countries, from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela. There was support from Scandinavia too — Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland — and from academics in Israel, Egypt, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Well known signatories to this international pledge included Indian novelist Arundhati Roy, British screen actress Miriam Margolyes, the Australian author Randa Abdel Fattah and the Israeli scholar and activist Professor Jeff Halper. Distinguished academics from the USA, from Canada, the UK, Israel and Lebanon not only signed the pledge but also expressed their feelings that such a campaign to resist and educate was long overdue. Several scholars of Judaism argued that BDS is a viable non-violent response to the horrific policies used by the state of Israel against Palestinians and could save Israel from itself.

This pledge by 2000 co-defendants implies enough is enough: no more bullying by an Israeli law centre; no more derision and unsubstantiated claims by representatives of News Ltd; and an end to the cowardice of politicians too scared to deviate from the USA/Israel dictated opposition to Palestinians’ rights to self determination.

The 2000 co-defendants share a commitment to the principles of international law and to a movement inspired by the language and practice of non-violence. They also support academic freedom, provided, in Professor Judith Butler’s words, such freedom works "in concert with the opposition to state violence, ideological surveillance, and the systematic devastation of everyday life."

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Posted Monday, October 28, 2013 - 13:03

If this is presented as some sort of new hight in Jewish/Zionist unwanted and unwarranted influence; I don't see it.

America and UK and Australia have previously been taken to war with what started as public boycotts of Jewish Interests in response to [certain influential] Jewish manipulations of international affairs.


Posted Monday, October 28, 2013 - 23:58

I was a signatory. 

However the extreme right wing, pro-war, pro-Zionist, US lackey  Coalition Government now represents a much  greater threat to academic freedom and to anti-racist Jewish Australian academics  in particular. Thus the new anti-environment, climate criminal, effective climate change denialist, and extreme right wing Coalition Government of Australia is threatening to ban  boycotts by environmentalists against companies involved in environmental devastation. However it has also foreshadowed cutting off any Federal funding for any academic who supports Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Apartheid Israel . Since some of the leading Australian proponents  of BDS are anti-racist  Jewish Australian scholars (inescapably impelled by "Never again to anyone") , this Coalition repugnant policy threatens  termination of the professional careers and university employment of anti-racist Jewish academics (see Gideon Polya, “New pro-Zionist Australian Coalition Government threatens anti-racist Jewish academics who support Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Apartheid Israel”, Countercurrents, 23 October 2013: http://www.countercurrents.org/polya231013.htm ).

The Australian Right has an awful racist history including  the ongoing Aboriginal Genocide, support for genocidal British colonial atrocities, support for the White Australia Policy,  support for all post-1950 US Asian Wars (38 million  Asian dead from violence or  war-imposed deprivation), and support for the New White Australia Policy (the Coalition Government wants Israelis to  join the Whites and honorary  Whites for fast-track electronic visas whereas African, Asian and Latin American  non-Whites and some poor Whites will continue to be  actively discouraged and discriminated against). The Australian Right has a history of  determined attempts to ban socialism and a remorseless and endless campaign to emasculate  trade unions. Socialism is now a dirty word in Australia even in the Labor Party, only  about 15% of workers belong to trade unions, and the trade union movement and the Labor Party are both now dominated by neoliberal, rightwing trade unions.  

Now the Australian Right is set to cut off research funds from  anti-racist  Jewish academics,  falsely defame them as "anti-Semites", stifle their research and see their jobs terminated and careers ruined. The words of anti-Nazi German hero Pastor  Martin Niemöller re the Nazi era now have a new meaning for politically correct racist (PC racist), neoliberal-dominated Australia in the 21st century:   

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me--and there was no one left to speak for me.”

Speak out and take action in defence of  anti-racist Jewish Australian academics and indeed in defence of all anti-racist scholars and environmental activists threatened by foreshadowed  Australian anti-boycott laws and administrative regulations..


This user is a New Matilda supporter. Tokujiro
Posted Tuesday, October 29, 2013 - 17:03

Bravo to Stuart & Jake - and to the 2,000 prepared to stand up to the bullies within/behind the Israeli agencies opposed to fair dinkum truth and justice!

Posted Wednesday, October 30, 2013 - 23:15

Stuart Rees makes the statement "the Centre for Peace & Conflict Studies at Sydney University has no truck with anti-semitism or racism", but if you watch the Big Ideas program 'Richard Falk on the Palestinian Struggle' at http://www.abc.net.au/tv/bigideas/stories/2013/10/14/3866503.htm and go to the 45min29sec mark from the beginning you will hear the rantings of a proverbial anti-semite. The thing to note is that Stuart Rees was chairing the meeting at the time and was not perturbed at all by the rant that was delivered by Brian Concannen, a man who has left his foul anti-semitic trail all over the internet.

Here I have transcribed what the speaker Brian Concannon said at this point in the proceedings:

<blockquote>Yeh Brian Concannon, anti-Zionist, anti-bankster, activist.
My question - you're a human rights lawyer, I'd like to know your thoughts about a great Australian pro-Palestinian protestor, Brendan O'Neill, a Christian activist who was jailed for 3 years in WA for posting an online video vilifying Jews. In the video he called a Jew a racist, homicidal maniac. You have a religion of racism, hate, homicide and ethnic cleansing. Something I fully agree with. I'd just like to know whether you agree that a 3 year prison term for saying something like that is right?

As I have said Stuart Rees, the event moderator did nothing to redress this bigoted remark that is brimful of blatant anti-semitism. The audience sat in silence and listened receptively to this abusive, racial tirade from Concannon.

Falk accepted the question (one of three) without a qualm and suggested these questions raised important issues. In Falk’s flatulent response down the line he responded in a fashion by making some platitudinous remarks about being careful to distinguish anti-semitism from criticism of Israel, claimed indemnity for his poisonous attitude towards Jews by saying he is a Jew himself and trumpeted the self-righteous message that hateful attitudes toward a particular religion or people are wrong and such attitudes in a globalized world cannot long endure and should be repudiated everywhere.

By allowing this event to proceed without his intervention Rees has shown that his statement above that he "has no truck with anti-semitism or racism" is rank hypocrisy. At a later stage when a pro-Israeli speaker got up to ask a lengthy question he saw fit then to interrupt. The malevolent intentions behind his support of BDS can now only be viewed with utter contempt.

As for the ABC I understand that it has received a formal complaint about this abhorrent episode. For the ABC to allow clearly racist statements to be aired publicly, and not to moderate or remove the racist segment from the recording before it went public, and to maintain it on the ABC website, is of great concern. The ABC is being asked to ensure that the segment by Concannon be removed from the publicly available video and audio forthwith.

Posted Thursday, October 31, 2013 - 17:01

More evidence of double standards, and worse.

And the Media back it all the way.


Good luck in the courts defendants , but I wouldn't be optimistic.

Posted Friday, November 1, 2013 - 18:07

@phoneyid, no double standards. In the case of the Jew he is entitled to go and defend his country. The Muslim however is getting involved in an internecine conflict in which neither side is really any more worthy than the other.

Also ASIO is concerned that radicalised Australians may return home from Syria with the intention of carrying out violent acts on domestic soil - read http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-11-01/asio-spies-spying-espionage-threat-terrorism-syria/5062780

At  the moment the government cannot legally block Australian citizens from returning home after fighting in Syria.