The Director of the University of Sydney’s Centre for Peace and Conflict studies, Associate Professor Jake Lynch has been cleared of accusations of anti-Semitism by a University of Sydney investigation, but is still potentially facing dismissal for his role in a March 11 protest.
A group of pro-Palestinian students at the University are also facing a range of disciplinary actions, potentially including expulsion, after interrupting a lecture by Colonel Richard Kemp, a retired member of the British Army and staunch defender of Israeli offensives against Gaza.
In a letter to members, the National Tertiary Education Union said the other allegations facing Lynch were “without substance”, but specifically pointed out those pertaining to anti-Semitism had now been dropped.
“The University received complaints that our member’s conduct was anti-Semitic during the protest. The investigator considered these complaints and has advised our member: “….. I am not satisfied that your conduct in this regard constituted anti-Semitic behaviour or unlawful harassment on the grounds of an individual’s religious belief (or perceived religious belief) and no further action will be taken in respect of those complaints”.
New Matilda has confirmed the member referenced was Lynch. The Associate Professor is overseas and unavailable for comment (for a blow-by-blow breakdown of Lynch’s role in the protest, read Michael Brull’s piece here).
Lynch has been the subject on an ongoing campaign for his dismissal from the university in Jewish and mainstream press, in particular from Murdoch publications.
The issue has even escalated to the national political stage, with Education Minister Christopher Pyne demanding that Opposition leader Bill Shorten rebuke Labor MP Melissa Parke for signing a petition in support of Lynch, and students involved in the protest.
However, despite defeating the charges of anti-Semitism, Lynch still faces an investigation by the University of Sydney over his involvement in the protest action. Lynch has strongly denied any wrongdoing, and extensive video of the incident backs most of Lynch’s assertions.
It shows Lynch seated in the audience when the protest begins, and eventually approaching security guards after struggles ensued with some students.
Lynch can also be seen remonstrating with an elderly female member of the audience, who is seen throwing water at protestors. Lynch alleges the woman twice kicked him in the groin during the incident. The woman, identified as 72-year-old Diane Barkas, denies the allegation.
The University of Sydney investigation into the protest escalated last week, resulting in five students facing serious disciplinary actions. Letters sent to the students seen by New Matilda reveal the accusations against them to be minor.
Letters to three of the five students accuse them of;
• Participating in a protest whereby they prevented Colonel Kemp from delivering his lecture
• Telling an audience member to “fuck off”
• Yelling at an audience member
• Pointing a finger close to the face of an audience member
• Pointing at an audience member and saying “you are supporting genocide”
• Failing to follow instructions form security personnel to leave the lecture theatre
• Physically resisting being removed form the lecture theatre including holding onto the door frame and sitting in the doorway whilst security guards were attempting to close the door
Five students, one staff member, and five others were sent letters last week informing them of the allegations, and requesting they attend interviews to address them. Two security guards were also sent letters, according to reports.
Expulsion is a possible outcome of the investigation, but other lower level punishments are also on the table, and the university can still decide not to pursue further action.
In a release issued last week, the University said the “possible breaches” of its Codes of Conduct were a “serious matter”.
“Any findings of misconduct may result in disciplinary action.”
In the letters, students were told not to publicly discuss the investigation.
“I note that the investigation is confidential, and request that you do not discuss it or the alleged misconduct with anyone other than a close friend or family member, or a personal adviser such as a doctor, counsellor or legal representative,” the letters said.
It is understood that letters have been sent to people supporting the protest as well as some of those attending the lecture.
Australasian Union of Jewish Students Chairperson Dean Sherr said that as far as he was aware, none of the organisation’s members had received a letter. He had not responded to further questions at the time of publication.
Fahad Ali, a medical student and President of Students For Justice in Palestine, was one of the students to attend the protest and receive a letter.
Ali said he did not believe the investigation had been in line with those undertaken after similar protest events, and that the university had not responded to accusations of Islamophobia on campus with equal gusto.
“I think on the whole these are minor allegations and usually these would not hold any serious weight. But I think in the course of this investigation they have been blown up and they will be dealt with as serious, even though they are not,” Ali said.
The fracas that occurred after the Kemp lecture was interrupted by protesters led to frenzy of media coverage, inspiring “34 complaints from people who were present (including some who attended to protest), and 352 complaints from other staff, students and members of the public”, according the University.
The grandson of a Palestinian who was exiled from his homeland in 1948, Ali said he had attended the protest as he believed Kemp was supporting genocide.
“Obviously it would be disappointing if I were to be expelled,” he said.
“I guess that I would have to feel, while disappointed, proud of myself for standing up for what I believe in.”
Video from the incident shows Ali standing by the entrance to the theatre as a man converses with a protester.
“There is no such people [as the]Palestinians,” the man says.
“Yes there is, is that man invisible? That man is a Palestinian,” the protester says, pointing to Ali.
The University of Sydney did not respond to questions about whether previous protests had inspired equally thorough investigations.
New Matilda is aware that at least one student departed the university after Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop visited the campus in May last year, leading to a physical encounter with protesters.
The University also declined to respond to questions about why students had been told not to discuss the investigation publicly.
In correspondence with the University, Ali was told via email that confidentiality was required “to ensure the right to privacy of the student against whom the allegation is made, and secondly, to ensure the integrity of the investigation.”
“I appreciate that, from your perspective, the allegations against you are your personal information however once you publicly disclose the information, you would have no control over how that information becomes used in the public domain – and towards what purpose,” the email said.
He subsequently received independent advice indicating the University did not have legal grounds to enforce his silence.
In a release issued last week, Vice-Chancellor Michael Spence said the university must remain an institution where “discourse is civil, even if opinions are strongly held and sternly expressed.”
“[The Kemp] incident and the public debate which has surrounded it, represent the difficulty, but also the importance, of our commitment to academic freedom, the freedom of speech, and the right to protest,” he said.
“We must be a place in which debate on key issues of public significance can take place, and in which strongly held views can be freely expressed on all sides.”
The National Tertiary Education Union has started its own push-back against the investigation, angry that the ‘independent’ investigator appears to have in fact been an employee of the university.
In his email to members, NTEU Sydney Branch President Michael Thomson said freedom of speech and the right to protest were part of a healthy university culture.
“We note in the Vice-Chancellor’s email his “commitment to academic freedom, the freedom of speech, and the right to protest”,” he wrote.
“We call on the Vice-Chancellor to follow this commitment through, to fully inform the university community and to withdraw the allegations against our member and the students.”
The Executive Council of Australian Jews had not responded to request for comment at the time of publication.
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