AUJS responds to Jake Lynch

May 22, 2015 by Dean Sherr
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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.

Dean Sherr

Dean Sherr

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.

Jake Lynch [2nd rt] with banner    Photo: David Sokol/J-Wire

Jake Lynch [2nd rt] with banner Photo: David Sokol/J-Wire

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


12 Responses to “AUJS responds to Jake Lynch”
  1. Jan Poddebsky says:

    Last night I had the pleasure of attending a lecture on Schiller. It was held in the Law School’s staff room furnished with armchairs and decorated with watercolours of past legal notable, many of whom were women. The lecture was erudite and the questions stimulating and collegiate. But seriously, this was not what I go to uni for. I missed the professor of peace wielding a cut ties with Israel banner, I missed the loud speaker screaming that I was a racist and supporter of genocide. I missed the hatred and the irrationality. The university really should decide what it’s on about.

  2. Jan Poddebsky says:

    Jake Lynch might claim he is not an anti-Semite because some of his best friends are Jews. Some of these friends are Porzolt, Slezak and of course Loewenthal. I rest my case.

  3. Paul Winter says:

    The AUJS posture is as pathetic as that of the professional Jews who occupy leadership positions in our community. All talk, tactics, intellectualising, but no action. Granted the atmosphere on campuses is antisemiticly toxic, but what is to stop a Jewish group from holding placards in from of the Vice-Chancellor’s office? Or in front of Lynch’s lecture room? Or along Parramatta Rd right next to Uni of Syd, warning of Jew-hating and intimidation of Jews on campus?

    If there are too few Jewish students to stage protests in safety, why not call on the Jewish security group, of assistance through the Jewish press for more bodies or Jewish alumni?

    All,all too much like action and action must be debated and professional advice regarding possible repercussions must be considered, the rest of the community must be consulted and the reaction of traditional or prospective friends considered and political parties consulted and… Did I start this paragraph advocating action???

  4. michael Burd says:

    JUlian I agree with your assessment and all the reasons why AUJS have been so unsuccessful dealing with the anti -Israel campaign on Campus.
    Obviously what ever strategy they have been using has been a miserable failure and that is why they are totally ineffective on Campus representing Israels interests. It starts from the Leadership they need stronger more committed leadership , sure it much easier to do nothing and use all the excuses some of which you mention above. Perhaps look at Students for Palestine for some ideas how advocacy really works .

    • Dean Sherr says:

      Michael you don’t seem to have much respect for the hard-work Jewish students have been putting in for years fighting BDS and other anti-Israel activity on campus. I can tell you AUJS has been very successful and the situation on campus has improved drastically in the time I have been involved in AUJS, largely due to that hard-work. Your assessment of the situation on campus is wrong as is your belief that AUJS is doing nothing. In fact, so is your claim that Students for Palestine are running effective advocacy.

      You are judging the situation not on results or effective advocacy but on what you like seeing. I can assure you BDS is a far bigger problem on American campuses than Australian campuses, the reality is far from your belief that other organisations are in control and we are failures.

      All the best Michael but please think before you criticise. It’s a real shame for all these dedicated volunteers who have achieved so much to then be criticised by a small minority of community members who just clearly don’t get it. That said, we are grateful for the strong support we receive from the majority of the community, without which our work would be impossible.

  5. Michael Burd says:

    Phillip with due respect the only Jews that support full or part BDS
    against their fellow Jews in Israel are those on the left and progressives they are part of the problem .

  6. Philip Mendes says:

    Excellent article by Dean Sherr exposing the xenophobia and bigotry of the BDS movement. And so pleasing to see from the AUJS survey that Jewish students these days are adopting progressive views. When I was at uni in the 1980s the great majority of AUJS activists seemed to be card-carrying Liberal Party types that backed Likud to the hilt. As for Michael Burd’s attack on AUJS and also the ACJC, strange indeed. Only progressive and left-wing Jewish students and academics can effectively combat the BDS movement which gains its support from those who identify with the Left. Conservative Jewish groups have no hope of influencing this cohort.

  7. Erica Edelman says:

    Well said, Dean. I feel very proud to read your insightful words.

    You sum up the situation in an intelligent, “right-thinking” way.

    The fact that you are “having” to respond and speak these words is testament to your position and that of many others – that Lynch should be accountable for his actions and words and that the ONLY course of action for him is dismissal.

    If that were to happen the University of Sydney can continue to uphold its grand reputation – a reputation built on a strong foundation of justice and freedom. And a reputation which would thrive through faculty staff who are insightful, non-politically motivated and who care about the students first and foremost.

    If the board chooses to keep Lynch on, future Jewish students must think very carefully about Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions of the University of Sydney!

  8. Michael Burd says:

    Words and More words Dean, we need action on Campus , results and AUJS are just not up to the task.

    Lynch and his Palestinian and socialist mates are very lucky they have no opposition on Campus they have free reign to control the minds of lefty naive students most of them can’t think for themselves, but it’s oh so trendy to be anti- zionist wear those black and white schmatas around their necks.

    What is needed is a dedicated group of Jewish students that are not afraid to stand up and be counted put in the hard yards of real advocacy for Israel and that have not been brainwashed by the likes of the Monash ACJC looney left.

    Standwithus are an example of real Israel advocates but their representative was kicked out of Monash Campus by anti- Zionist Jewish Academics.

    • Julian says:

      Hi Michael. What is difficult for people from outside the university environment to realize is that arguing directly with pro-palestinian protestors does nothing to support a pro-Israel atmosphere on campus.
      Their minds are not going to be changed by trying to argue with them as their views are completely set in stone. The ‘curious bystander’ hearing a debate between an AUJS leader and bds supporter rarely occurs as the debate will almost always turns into personal attacks and abuse.

      Where AUJS devotes our attention is in working with the 80 % of undecided students, specifically with student leaders. The socialist alternative were deregistered at Monash due to their own incompetence being flagged by AUJS to the student Union.

      The context in universities in Australia is very different than the United states, with the student polity being far more progressive and the average student caring very little about Israel. The nature of our political adversary is very different Aswell. Applying the same approach taken on campuses in the usa and transferring it to the australian context runs a strong risk of backfiring, isolating AUJS from the rest of the political landscape and acting as a recruiting incentive for our opposition.

    • Ben Eliajah says:

      AUJS claims presence on most campuses in Australia. How do BDS activists not face opposition ? And Sherr’s response does address any of the points raised by Jake Lynch. Nor does Lynch go back on his support for BDS. By the way, what alternative is there to BDS, merely sit back and watch settlements expand ?

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