AUJS responds to Jake Lynch
Although it is replete with self-serving rationalisations, Associate Professor Jake Lynch’s defence of his conduct at the Richard Kemp lecture on March 11, “BDS and the Kemp affair: clearing up misunderstandings”, represents a significant climb down from the militantly unapologetic support for Lynch’s actions previously proffered by the “Sydney Staff for BDS” group and other prominent figures on Lynch’s behalf.
Although we disagree with Lynch about many things, especially his so-called ‘solution’ to advance Palestinian human rights, this is not the reason we have called for his dismissal. AUJS has condemned Lynch’s conduct, including his treatment of an elderly Jewish woman in the audience, because in our view it was not a fit and proper way for an academic of his seniority to behave.
The defences of Lynch against allegations of misconduct have relied largely on falsehoods about the Jewish community and AUJS; ugly stereotyping and dog-whistling; and misrepresentation of the nature of the complaints made against him.
The most notable aspect of Lynch’s defence of himself is that he finally concedes what his supporters have been unable to face up to – that it was reasonable for people in the Jewish community, and beyond, to interpret his waving of money in the faces of the woman and a Jewish student who was standing between them as an antisemitic gesture, even though the university has accepted his assurance that this was not what he intended.
This is a significant concession by Lynch, as it lays bare the viciousness of the slur that has been put about by some of Lynch’s colleagues who have claimed that the charge of antisemitism against Lynch was cynically manufactured by “Zionists” in order to smear him and discredit his views. Lynch has all but conceded that this claim is nonsense by admitting the imagery exists and thus we see that the only “smear” has been of the Jewish community by Lynch’s colleagues.Lynch claims he was not part of the protest because he was seated in the theatre during the entire lecture. He claims he was taken “by surprise” by the protesters who stormed the lecture theatre, commandeered the lectern and microphone and shut down the lecture for 20 minutes as they shouted down everyone else with a megaphone. He omits to mention that he was observed and photographed with other protesters before the lecture, holding a giant “Sydney Uni Staff for BDS” banner. Also present was with him was Fahad Ali, President of the University of Sydney’s “Students for Justice in Palestine” (SJP) group, who wrote in the aftermath of the lecture that the group’s plan was always to interrupt the lecture, not to challenge it but to attempt to shut it down. These same SJP protesters were handing out flyers on behalf of Lynch’s Sydney Staff for BDS group.
The ugliness of the banknote waving gesture, and its obvious symmetry with traditional antisemitic stereotypes about Jews and money, was indirectly conceded by Fahad, and by Lynch’s colleague, Paul Duffill, both of whom initially denied that any banknotes had been waved – until video footage proved otherwise. Fahad even wrote: “If Jake had waved money on the face of a Jewish student, I would be the first person to call for him to be sacked”.
When this denial could no longer be sustained in the face of the evidence, Lynch’s supporters, from Fahad to Dr Nick Riemer, seemingly the spokesperson for the Sydney Staff for BDS group on this issue, attempted to change the topic of the conversation, by making it about academic freedom and the exercise of free speech. Several rallies to defend such “freedom” at the University were held, with prominent supporters repeating the lie that the complaints against Lynch were not genuine expressions of outrage against reasonably-perceived antisemitism, but were concocted as part of a “witch hunt” by “the pro-Israel lobby” against BDS supporters because of their views.
Now that Lynch himself has conceded that he can understand why his actions were perceived as antisemitic, this calumny will hopefully be put to rest. Conspiracy theories about a sinister, all-powerful pro-Israel lobby closely resemble yet another traditional antisemitic falsehood about the global Jewish conspiracy (just replacing the word Jewish with Zionist). It is designed to caricaturise all Jewish supporters of Israel as morally and ethically deficient, while supporters of Palestinian human rights, superior as they are, can never be wrong. This clear fallacy is accepted by the extreme ‘left’, who do nothing to support genuine progressive peace in the region and prefer to attack and undermine liberal Zionists in their intolerant and ethnocentric manner; dividing our society here in Australia, while ignoring the complex realities of the situation in Israel.
This trope seeks to nullify the rights of Jewish Australians and Jewish community organisations to participate in the processes of democracy and public debate. By portraying this participation as part of a sinister conspiracy, the attempt is made to marginalise the community’s viewpoints and to foment racial hatred by stoking other classical stereotypes about powerful, evil Jews.
Indeed, the email thread Riemer started amongst USyd Arts staff, which demonstrated great division within the faculty, included even more explicit claims by some Sydney University academics about the extent of Jewish power over the media and the University administration. The message was clear: if you don’t like what Jews are saying, the “powerful lobby” defence is an easy way out. Of course, AUJS is not a lobby organisation, but a student volunteer-run, voluntary democratic union of Jewish students across Australia and New Zealand. It is also pluralistic and, if our Israeli election poll of AUJS members told us anything, our membership are far from the uncritical ‘pro-Israeli Government’ automatons that Senator Lee Rhiannon accuses them of being.
The great irony is of course that the pro-Lynch lobby has threatened Jewish students with legal action, abused media outlets for publishing comments by “Zionists”, held public rallies and demonstrations on Lynch’s behalf, co-opted its branch of the NTEU to take sides when its membership is clearly divided on the issue and has voted against BDS, all the while refusing to discuss, let alone concede, that Jewish students and Jewish community organisations have every right to be affronted by the clear image of Lynch waving money in the face of an elderly Jewish woman and the Jewish student standing between them.
This is ultimately the crux of the argument. Despite constant claims that Lynch and his colleagues at the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies are all victims of a wider attempt to suppress pro-Palestinian activism by the Jewish community and the University; Lynch, Riemer and Stuart Rees have been advocating freely for BDS for years without any ‘oppression’ or disciplinary action by the University whatsoever.
The only issue is whether Lynch behaved in accordance with his responsibilities as a senior member of staff at the University. Even without charging him with antisemitism, the video he released through New Matilda speaks volumes about his conduct. He is observed baiting and taunting the elderly woman he claims physically assaulted him (although videos only confirm she splashed him with water), waving his hand as if to say ‘bring it on’, while threatening that if she splashes him again it will cost her thousands. Ironically, this all happened while a much younger Jewish student and AUJS leader attempted to defuse the situation and keep the two apart.
Lynch’s story and the justification for his conduct don’t add up. There are many other aspects of his piece which are just plain wrong which I have not dealt with – his views about Israel and BDS, his tortuous attempt to reconcile the so-called “right of return of Palestinian refugees” with a two-State solution, his ridiculous claim that his supporters include “prominent Jews”.
At a most generous interpretation, Lynch’s behaviour was childish, immature and undignified, bringing his position as a senior academic and the University’s into disrepute. He and his supporters can continue to try to deflect blame to a powerful lobby, and hide behind the excuse that they are pursuing “Palestinian human rights”, but this incident is not about Israel, Palestine or BDS. This is about Lynch’s conduct. To do what’s right, and protect its own reputation and that of its academic community, the University must take serious disciplinary action.
Dean Sherr is National Chairperson of AUJS [The Australasian Union of Jewish Students