Academic boycott of Israel now “fireproof” as Australian court challenge fails

Jake Lynch (screenshot)

Over the last week or so, The Electronic Intifada’s traffic has been at record levels. People from around the world are wanting to know about events in Palestine, as Israel’s latest onslaught on the people of the Gaza Strip claims yet more victims (one hundred at the last count, twenty-four of whom are children).

Many of these visitors are new readers. One reoccurring question from readers goes along the lines: “What can we do?” Since 2005, Palestinian civil society has uniformly called for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel. The BDS movement has steadily grown since then. For concerned citizens the world over: this is what you can do.

On Wednesday, an important milestone in the growth of the movement in Australia was reached, as a perceived legal obstacle was overcome.

Fireproof strategy

An anti-BDS lawsuit brought to an Australian court in October by an Israeli group has come to an abrupt end and the academic it targeted yesterday declared victory. Shurat HaDin, the so-called Israel Law Center, has thrown in the towel.

Jake Lynch, an associate professor at the University of Sydney, told The Electronic Intifada over the phone from Australia that this now meant that “the [BDS] policy we adopted in the first place is effectively fireproof in a court of law.”

He explained the academic boycott strategy: “to withhold cooperation from fellowship schemes which represent institutional links between our university and these two Israeli universities which therefore make us [in Sydney university] indirectly complicit in the occupation.”

As detailed in an extensive recent feature on the case for The Electronic Intifada by Kim Bullimore, Lynch had refused to endorse a fellowship application from Dan Avnon of Hebrew University, citing the latter’s ongoing links to the Israeli arms industry.

Shurat HaDin took him to the Australian federal court, claiming this stance was motivated by racism against Jews. But in April, the court struck out most of the case.

Shuarat HaDin: Mossad’s “lawfare” proxy

As I wrote for The Electronic Intifada last year, there is more to Shurat HaDin than may immediately meet the eye.

Despite its self-portrayal as a plucky group of independent lawyers who are “bankrupting terror – one lawsuit at a time,” the group in fact has deep links to the Israeli military and intelligence establishments.

A US State Department memo published by WikiLeaks shows the group’s leader Nitsana Darshan-Leitner admitting to taking a lead from Mossad, Israel’s international spy agency, notorious for dirty tricks campaigns and for assassinations of Palestinian activists, political leaders and fighters.

Shurat HaDin has been been heavily involved in Israel’s strategy of using global courts to attack critics of Israel – dubbed “lawfare.”

Lynch said that the case had “completely backfired” on Shurat HaDin, which had even gone against the wishes of the pro-Israel establishment in Australia. “What had happened just before this cropped up is that they had gone around promoting this London Declaration Against Anti-Semitism,” Lynch explained.

The declaration “does equate BDS activism with anti-Semitism,” said Lynch. “They had a kind of McCarthyite campaign where they got leading politicians of all the main parties that can press government to sign up to it … they regarded that as a strong result for them.”

“But we have effectively undone that work and we’ve put BDS back into the bracket of where it merits serious discussion,” he said. “People who advocate it [now] have a right to be heard from and not just kind of demonized or dismissed.”

In a statement to the press, Lynch said the final collapse of the case against him represents a “complete vindication for the principled stance I have taken in fighting off a despicable attack on political freedom in Australia.”

More BDS on the way

Speaking to The Electronic Intifada, Lynch said that as the legal obstacles have now been overcome, support for the academic boycott of Israel would increase in Australia: “One of the concerns that people have had within the Sydney Uni branch of the union, the National Tertiary Education Union, has been about the prospect of facing legal action.”

Our “policy should be simply to withhold cooperation from those [cooperation] schemes [with Israeli universities] and to support any union member who decides to do that,” he said. “I will be going around suggesting to people that’s what we do. And once we get it established, as we hopefully will within Sydney Uni, it can then be spread through union branches around Australian campuses.”

He said he had been put out of pocket due to the legal and court fees incurred. “The situation at the moment is that I am probably about 60,000 Australian dollars [$56,415] behind in meeting my legal bills.”

The judge is expected to make orders next week on how to go about recovering some of these costs from Shurat HaDin. Lynch said on the phone that it was uncertain how much he could recover. However, the group was previously forced by the court to put up 100,000 Australian dollars [$94,043] in security for costs. Lynch said he was hoping to get back the money he had put into the case, but would have to wait and see.

Full Jake Lynch statement

VICTORY! Shurat HaDin drops discrimination case

Thursday July 10th, 2014

My lawyer and the lawyer for Shurat HaDin have agreed that the proceeding by Shurat HaDin be dismissed for lack of standing. And they have agreed for the court to make orders that Shurat HaDin pay my costs of the application for dismissal of the case, and my costs of the proceedings that are not otherwise subject to earlier cost orders.

Judge Alan Robertson will make the orders in the Federal Court in Sydney, on Wednesday July 16th at 9.30am.

This comprehensive legal victory represents complete vindication for the principled stance I have taken in fighting off a despicable attack on political freedom in Australia.

It gives the green light for many more Australians to take their own action in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle for rights and freedoms we are lucky enough to be able to take for granted.

Shurat HaDin is a foreign agency, with admitted past links with the Israeli state, which wanted to use the Australian courts to stifle the growing movement of worldwide political activism for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions.

The case began with the smear that BDS advocates are motivated by racism. That was accepted by many of Australia’s leading politicians, to their discredit, when they signed up to the so-called “London Declaration on Anti-Semitism.”

But the attempt to make it stick in court proved a bridge too far. Legal process requires evidence, and logical argument. Once exposed to that test, a claim that passed muster in the corridors of Canberra immediately began to crumble.

I have faced claims that I should be held responsible for decisions by performing artists, such as Elvis Costello and Snoop Dogg, not to tour Israel. There was never a shred of proof to back up any of these allegations.

On the narrower issue of the request I received from Professor Dan Avnon, to endorse his application for a Sir Zelman Cowen fellowship, Shurat HaDin managed to persuade neither Avnon himself, nor any other academic, to join their ill-conceived action.

This week’s violence

This week’s renewed wave of indiscriminate Israeli violence against Palestinian civilians shows the urgency of taking political action to promote peace with justice. Israel will not change its routine recourse to militarism and lawlessness without coming under pressure.

The disavowal by the Australian government of the international legal consensus on the occupation of Palestinian territory shows this pressure must come from civil society. That is the rationale for BDS, as a symbolic gesture of solidarity.

This legal victory for me, and thousands of supporters who have stood by me and contributed to my cause, represents both an opportunity and a challenge. Someone has to make a change. If not us, who? If not now, when?

The case has given rise to the creation of two important groups to take up this cause: Australians for BDS: http://australiansforbds.wordpress.com/

And within the University of Sydney, Sydney Staff for BDS: http://sydneystaff4bds.org/

Thanks

I would like to thank my lawyer, Yves Hazan of Hazan Hollander, for the brilliance with which he conceptualized, developed and argued my case – and also for his patience and consideration in explaining legal principles in our discussions of the issues.

Thanks also to His Honour, Judge Alan Robertson, for the fairness and rigor with which he conducted these proceedings. The Australian public can be proud of its Federal Court.

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Comments

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The court's decision and Shurat HaDin's withdrawal from the case do not vindicate the principle that BDS is a valid tactic. If the court had come down on the wrong side, it would still be the wrong side and the principle would remain intact. All they have done is make it harder for the enemies of BDS to use the lawfare tactic against it in Australia for the time being. A tweak to legislation could readily undermine Jake's victory and open the door to further legal harrassment of those implementing BDS. Would that vindicate the racists' position?

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Asa Winstanley

Asa Winstanley's picture

Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London. He is an associate editor with The Electronic Intifada. He first visited Palestine in 2004.