Open Letter From The Organisers of The USYD Kemp Lecture


On 7 April 2015 Dr Nick Riemer has written (again) an opinion piece in the media ( on the events that took place during (Ret.) Col. Kemp’s 11 March 2015 invited lecture in the University of Sydney.

As organizers of the event (and Chair) we have accepted the obligation not to discuss any matter relating to the event itself — that is between 11:55am and the end of the event, round 13:00 — until the investigating body concludes its work. We have observed this commitment and will continue to do so.

However, among other arguments, Dr Riemer, from the Department of English, makes the following claim:

“Kemp’s lecture very clearly wasn’t an academic occasion, since the organisers made no effort to attract an audience from the many staff and students whom the issue of Palestine justice interests. The organisers of Kemp’s talk did not encourage any free and open debate of his highly controversial views. The lecture was only advertised on J-Wire, the online Jewish community news site, and it was only by chance that my colleagues and I learned that it was taking place. Most people who would have liked the opportunity to debate Kemp didn’t even know the talk was happening…. Kemp’s talk, then, was clearly not an academic lecture mounted in a context that encouraged free and open debate.”

This claim touches upon issues that are outside the timeframe of the event and are leveled against us, “the organisers”.

We find Dr Riemer’s claim offensive, uncollegial, and defamatory. Regrettably, it casts doubt over our professional judgment and conduct, as well as on those of our peers and supervisors who approved the event.

1. Mr. Kemp was invited by both of us, because we found the topic suitable for our departments’ students and staff. Mr Kemp’s lecture was dealing with international conflict (Dr Merom’s field of expertise) and the Middle East (relating to Prof Rutland’s field of expertise and Dr Merom’s empirical interest).

2. We sought and received academic consent to organize the event through the university regular process, involving our heads of departments and the VC office.

3. In light of the size of the venue, we decided to circulate the event to our students and departmental peers, which we did. The event was thus circulated to a minimum of 700 students, and perhaps a larger audience, if our department peers advertised it also to their students (as they were encouraged).

4. Everyone who wished could attend, as indeed Dr Riemer had, by his own admission.

5. Everyone who wished could and did ask questions, as indeed BDS supporter/s admitted in written publications.

6. This being the case, the claim that the event “was clearly not an academic lecture mounted in a context that encouraged free and open debate,” rings exceptionally disingenuous.

7. The lecture was not about the Israeli-Gaza war, nor advertised as such.

8. As it was not a political event, nor about Israel and Gaza, Dr Riemer’s suggestion that there should have been an “effort to attract… staff and students whom the issue of Palestine justice interests” is perplexing.


Dr Gil Merom and Professor Suzanne Rutland

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.