Anti-BDS crowd smear Australian boycott professor as “nut job”

The University of Sydney

The University of Sydney


Australian professor Jake Lynch, director of the Center for Peace and Conflict Studies at Sydney University, recently turned down an approach from Hebrew University academic Dan Avnon in light of the campaign for the academic boycott of Israel.

As originally reported in the Murdoch-owned The Australian, the rationale for the decision was clear. Avnon had proposed “a fellowship agreement between the two institutions,” and thus Lynch declined in accordance with the Palestinian call to refrain from participation in “collaboration or joint projects with Israeli institutions.” Lynch subsequently confirmed that his support is for “a boycott of institutional links with Israeli universities,” and he has also penned a piece on why he supports “[Palestinian civil society’s] call for international solidarity in the form of BDS” — boycott divestment and sanctions.

Yet even though Lynch’s stance is clearly based on a rejection of institutional ties, opponents of BDS are — presumably deliberately — misrepresenting the boycott as being on the grounds that Avnon is Israeli, as well as smearing Lynch personally.

So for example, Monash University professor Philip Mendes – who describes himself as a “left-wing” supporter of the two-state solution — claimed that Lynch’s opposition to a fellowship agreement with Hebrew University shows BDS is about “the ethnic stereotyping and demonization of all Israel Jews.” Mendes also described Lynch as “a nut job,” and made a bizarre comparison to what he says is the targeting of Jews, Greeks and Copts in Egypt over the last 60 years.

Then yesterday, Peter Beinart’s Open Zion blog dealt with the issue twice. In a post titled “Nothing Against You Personally, But We Boycott You,” writer of Americans for Peace Now’s daily news summary Orly Halpern linked to an article in Hebrew where Avnon says Lynch “promotes hatred” and is “boycotting people just for being Israeli.”

Later, Open Zion’s Assistant Editor Sigal Samuel published a post on the story, claiming that “Sydney University’s Center for Peace and Conflict Studies refused [Avnon’s] request to work together, simply on the grounds that he’s Israeli.” Though criticizing academic boycott, Samuel does not refer once to The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel’s (PACBI) guidelines.

The case for academic boycott

Since 2004, PACBI “has advocated a boycott of Israeli academic and cultural institutions, based on the premise that these institutions are complicit in the system of oppression that has denied Palestinians their basic rights guaranteed by international law.” The guidelines note how “mere institutional affiliation to the Israeli academy” is “not a sufficient condition for applying the boycott.”

The case for academic boycott (which I elaborate on here and here, and in a recent talk seen in the video above), like the BDS movement in general, emerges from the complicity of institutions with the ongoing violations of basic Palestinian rights and grave breaches of international law.  Hebrew University is no exception. Examples include:

  • a joint program with Israel’s Ministry of Defense for science students who will later be integrated into the army’s research and development units — and who live in a special army base located on the university’s campus.
  • providing “special assistance to students who served in Israel’s 2008 military attack on the Gaza Strip,” as well as scholarships “to veterans of the 2002 “Defensive Shield” operation” in the West Bank.
  • working with the settlers’ “City of David” dig in occupied East Jerusalem’s Silwan neighborhood to enable students to gain credit for participation.
  • helping promote a foreign ministry-endorsed propaganda initiative.

These are some of the ways in which an institution like the Hebrew University serves Israeli state policies of occupation — a reality that the opponents of academic boycott are hoping no one will notice.




Classic display of the dominant double standards and striking bias pertaining to this conflict. A grassroots boycott is unacceptable when applied Israel because innocent Israelis will suffer by virtue if their nationality/race, but economic sanctions against Iran are okay ...because there is such thing as innocent Iranians..especially if they have the audacity to be scientists, then they should just be murdered. Mendes is proof that people identify themselves as "leftists" are often the worst kind if hypocrites.
At least the freak-shows on the Right are forthcoming about their narrow worldview, leftists talk equality but really only care if its applied in some cases, and worse, they think themselves to be the rational ones. They're a joke.


What criticisms of the BDS never points out is that Israel's illegal occupation is established legal fact. On topics such as Israel-Palestine, which for a number of reasons often come across as so emotive, it is important to be clear on some basic, established facts. There must be a foundation of fact for useful discussion of these topics.

Israel's illegal occupation is established legal fact: the world highest authority on international law, the International Court of Justice (otherwise known as the World Court) ruled in July 2004 ( Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory) that Israel is illegally occupying this territory in violation of international law.These violations are numerous: articles of the 4th Geneva Convention; the 4th Hague Convention 1907; UN Security Council Resolutions 446, 452 & 465; and articles of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child ( for details see pages 189, 191-192, and 183, paragraphs 120, 132, and 134 of the legal opinion).

Israel has fully ratified all of these international standards (except for the Fourth Hague Convention which the ICJ has ruled is legally binding customary law). This means Israel has committed (along with most other countries) and is legally bound to fully respect these international standards. Any discussion of this emotive topic which ignores these clearly established legal facts risks shedding more heat than light.


The Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies has never boycotted anyone simply because they are Israeli or Jewish. Such accusations ignore the basic mode of operation of the Centre. CPACS regularly hosts Israeli and Jewish speakers and academics such as Ilan Pappe, Antony Loewenstein, Sydney based Palestinian - Jewish Dialogue Group (for these three see:, Jeff Halper (, Naom Chomsky (, Anna Baltzer (, and hosted seminars promoted by Independent Australian Jewish Voices (

CPACS is a peace centre and support voices for peace regardless of the race, ethnicity or religion. The fact that in the Israel-Palestine conflict these pro-peace voices often criticise Israel's occupation of Palestine is not surprising: Israel's occupation of Palestine is illegal under international law as determined by the world's highest authority on international law, the International Court of Justice's (sometimes called the World Court). See its 2004 ruling: Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (, see p.5). Confusing opposition to Israeli government's violation of international law with being "anti-Israel" is just as misguided and dangerous as calling critics of Australian government policies "anti-Australian". This "anti-Israeli" smear helps to hide (and so support) the state of Israel's violations of international law. In conflicts such as Israel-Palestine governments don't always have all the answers. Free speech and open criticism of government policy are key for the promotion of peace.

Ben White

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Ben White is a freelance journalist, writer and activist, specialising in Palestine/Israel. His articles have been widely published in the likes of The Guardian‘s Comment is free, Al Jazeera, Electronic Intifada, New Statesman, and many others. He is the author of ‘Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide’ (2009, Pluto Press) and ‘Palestinians in Israel: Segregation, Discrimination & Democracy’ (2012, Pluto Press). Ben is a researcher/writer for the Journal of Palestine Studies.