Melbourne University Student Union resolution: The community stands as one

May 4, 2022 by J-Wire Newsdesk
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Zionism Victoria has written to both the Chancellor and Vice-Chancellor of University of Melbourne on theresolution passed by the University of Melbourne Student Union(UMSU) on Friday titled “UMSU stands with Palestine – BDS and Solidarity Policy”.

Although Zionism Victoria represents 56 Jewish organisations within the state, the letter was also written on behalf of national organisations including the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, the Jewish Community Council of Victoria, the Zionist Federation of Australia, the Australasian Union of Jewish Students (AUJS) and the Australian Zionist Youth Council.

The letter in full:

“Despite its pretensions, the resolution is clearly detrimental to the rights and wellbeing of Jewish students at the university and, that being the case, on behalf of the leadership of both the Victorian and Australian Jewish community, we urge you as the senior leadership of the university to condemn the resolution as a matter of urgency.

While we have no issue with the union expressing solidarity with the Palestinian people, much of the content of the resolution is not only factually inaccurate and inflammatory, it is also, unquestionably, antisemitic.

As stated, our primary concern is for the welfare of Jewish students at the university, who are entitled to regard their campus as a safe and secure environment, respectful of their culture, identity and beliefs.

We note that the Annual Report on Antisemitism in Australia published by the Executive Council of Australian Jewry has recorded a steady rise, year by year, in the number of antisemitic incidents, most notably in the number of complaints of harassment and bullying directed at Jewish students on campus.

The overwhelming majority of Jewish students define themselves as Zionist, Zionism simply being a belief in the Jewish people’s right to self-determination in the State of Israel.

This does not preclude the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, and indeed every major Jewish communal organisation and recent Israeli government is committed to a two-state solution with mutually agreed recognisable and secure borders, established through negotiations.

To therefore deem Zionism as  “racist” and “colonial” is not only denying Jewish students a central pillar of their identity, it is also hypocritical if one is insisting, as the resolution does, on the Palestinian people – and, in fact, any people – having the right to self-determination.

Historically, AUJS has been at the forefront of campaigns at universities nationwide promoting inclusivity, combating racism and discrimination, and safeguarding the rights and wellbeing of minorities on campus. But in this instance, the rights and wellbeing of their own members have been cast aside.

As for terminology such as “ethnic cleansing” and “apartheid”, no one is denying that there are inequalities in Israeli society – as there are in any society – but the use of these terms is not only blatantly wrong, it is anti-semitic and likely to incite racial hatred.

In this context it must be noted that Israel’s Declaration of Independence guarantees equality before the law and freedom of worship, Arab citizens are entitled to vote and partake fully in every area of Israeli society. There are Arab/Muslim judges, Arab/Muslim heads of academic faculties, Arab/Muslim heads of medical facilities, Arab/Muslim entertainers and sports starts, and not only are there Arab/Muslim political parties in the Israeli Parliament (the Knesset), as of last year an Arab/Muslim party is a member of Israel’s coalition government.

Terms such as “ethnic cleansing” and “apartheid”, therefore, lack foundation and are highly-loaded and prejudicial, making it nigh on impossible for any student to express support for Israel or to rise to her defence when she is under attack.

Furthermore, the motion passed by the Student Union states that it “condemns any and all forms of antisemitism”.

However, the motion flies in the face of the examples of antisemitism cited by the most widely accepted and recognised definition of antisemitism within the international community, namely the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Working Definition of Antisemitism.

The IHRA Definition has been adopted and/or endorsed by at least 40 countries, including Australia, the US, the UK, France and Germany, as well as countless international institutions and leaders, including the European Union and UN Secretary General, and numerous state/local governments, including the NSW Government, academic institutions and municipal authorities the world over.

The Victorian Opposition has also adopted it, and the Victorian Government is currently considering its adoption.

Just last week, the City of Glen Eira, home to the largest Jewish population in Australia, voted to adopt the IHRA definition.

Examples cited by IHRA that cross the line into antisemitism include, “claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour” and “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination”.

However, the UMSU resolution does both of those things, so for the union to claim in the resolution that it “condemns any and all forms of antisemitism” is clearly preposterous.

Meanwhile, calling for an academic boycott of Israel and expressing solidarity with the Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions (BDS) campaign, which is itself committed to a one-state solution – hence the eradication of the Jewish State – is also antisemitic.

According to the IHRA definition – again the most widely recognised and accepted definition globally – it is antisemitic to apply double standards to Israel, “by requiring of it a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation”.

Given all the above – the threat the resolution poses to Jewish students, the likelihood that it will incite racial hatred, the antisemitic nature of its claims, and the falsehoods on which they are based – a statement from the University’s senior leadership would send a critical signal that the University of Melbourne does not tolerate the marginalisation of minorities on campus and will not condone any manifestation of antisemitism.

Ideally, the statement would note that certain sentiments in the resolution are viewed by the overwhelming majority of Jewish students and the community to be antisemitic, a view which the University considers to be well-founded; and that the University dissociates itself from, and repudiates, the views expressed in the resolution and its call for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel.

We would also urge the University to adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism to signify the leadership condemns a culture that permits antisemitism of the kind contained in the resolution.

Ultimately, a message must be sent that Jewish students can be proud of their identity and should not be forced to conceal it.”



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