The renewed witch hunt against Australian champion of Palestinian rights

Screenshot of YouTube video showing disruption of Richard Kemp talk at Sydney University.

After his victory last year in a drawn-out lawsuit over his support for a boycott of Israel, University of Sydney academic Jake Lynch might have been anticipating a relatively quiet 2015.

Instead, the witch hunt against him has been renewed. The difference this time is that he is not being pursued by Israeli law firm Shurat HaDin, but by his own university.

Lynch, an associate professor and director of the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies in the university, is a prominent figure in the campaign for Palestinian rights in Australia. To this day, he is the most well-known scholar in Australia to have used tactics of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel.

That was sufficient to make him a hate figure for the Zionist lobby in this country.

The latest case against Lynch started with accusations of anti-Semitism, which were hastily concocted following a visit by Richard Kemp, a former colonel in the British Army to Sydney University, in early March.

Kemp, an apologist for Israeli war crimes, was in Australia on a speaking tour funded by the lobby group United Israel Appeal.

Jake Lynch, I, and fellow members of Sydney Staff for BDS, a group campaigning for the University of Sydney to sever its ties with Israeli institutions, were present at the event to hand out leaflets and ask questions of the speaker at the conclusion of the talk (as Lynch eventually did).


Midway through, Kemp’s talk was disrupted by students, protesting the presence on campus of a defender of the Israeli military. As ample video evidence shows, Lynch was not part of the disruption. But when security guards tried to evict the students, he intervened to prevent excessive force being used against them.

While doing so, Lynch met with verbal and physical assaults from angry Zionist audience members. In response to these provocations, Lynch threatened to sue one of his most aggressive interlocutors, at one point brandishing a $5 note to make his point.

This simple act was immediately seized upon to make accusations of anti-Semitism against Lynch. Kemp himself claimed that holding a $5 note was an invocation of “the stereotype of the ‘greedy Jew.’”

Groups, such as the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ), the Australasian Union of Jewish Students (AUJS), the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council, along with the Zionist press, all leapt at the opportunity to sling mud at Lynch and lobbied the university behind the scenes to prosecute him for what they described as a grievous insult to the Jewish community.

Meanwhile, our colleague Nick Riemer, a senior lecturer in English and a fellow member of Sydney Staff for BDS, has been pilloried in the conservative press for defending disruptive protest as a means of upholding free speech in a democratic society. Writing in The Australian, Peter Baldwin, a former politician, has called on the university to “act decisively” to punish Riemer for his essay.

An independent probe?

Within a few days, there was more than enough evidence in the public domain to thoroughly discredit the accusations of anti-Semitism arising from the Kemp talk. Nevertheless, the university saw fit to launch an investigation into the day’s events, summoning participants to meetings with lawyers.

The university misleadingly describes this as an “independent” investigation, but it has emerged that the chief investigator is in fact a lawyer on the university payroll. Equally troubling is the fact that AUJS has claimed to be “liaising closely with the vice-chancellor” of the university, something that would surely compromise the independence of the vice-chancellor’s position in the affair.

Michael Spence, the vice-chancellor, professes to be equally concerned with all forms of racism and discrimination on campus. But his willingness to side with debunked accusations of anti-Semitism against those challenging the whitewashing of Israel’s crimes against the Palestinians casts doubt on this claim.

The University of Sydney has a series of official partnerships with Israel. The Sir Zelman Cowen Universities Fund was established in 1978 to foster collaboration between the University of Sydney and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

The University of Sydney also participates in high-profile research collaboration with the Haifa-based Technion — Israel Institute of Technology and student exchange agreements with the Hebrew University, Tel Aviv University and the Technion.

These are all reasons why the university might be interested in silencing staff who advocate publicly for BDS.

Bastion of tolerance?

Spence maintains the view that a university should not censor its “wayward academics” on political grounds. Even so, the university has means at its disposal other than direct censorship.

Opaque “security assessments,” for example, have been used to ban speakers critical of Australian foreign policy invited by the Muslim Student Association.

In the case of staff, the weapon of choice is the university’s code of conduct.

In a follow-up email message to staff, Spence dropped his earlier references to anti-Semitism and crafted his message in terms of the liberal self-image of the university. He wished to remind the university community that “a core value of the university is tolerance of different points of view as well as nurturing an environment in which those points of view can be articulated and explored without the exponents of those views being subjected to any type of bullying, harassment or discrimination.”

Lynch’s off-the-cuff threat to sue for damages, in self-defense against a well-documented physical assault, evidently constitutes the “bullying, harassment or discrimination” with which the university is concerned.

The constant harassment that Lynch suffers at the hands of Zionists, on and off campus, for campaigning for freedom and equality in Palestine is clearly of no interest to it. On the contrary, the university has by its actions validated the relentless Zionist harassment of BDS activists.

Regardless of one’s views on Palestine, all those concerned with free speech and civil liberties must defend pro-BDS university staff from these attacks. For the university to take action against Lynch, and possibly others present at the Kemp talk, would not only be damaging for the cause of justice in Palestine, but for all freedom of expression on campus beyond the narrow disciplinary confines to which academics are increasingly expected to limit themselves.

The university’s decision on whether to lay disciplinary charges against staff is currently pending.

Zionist organizations in Australia have put out calls for submissions to Spence, hoping thereby to amplify the accusations against BDS activists at the University of Sydney.

In response, we are collecting signatures to an open letter to Spence. The letter calls on him to reject calls to punish staff members involved in the campaign for Palestinian rights. We welcome support from academics and non-academics in Australia and abroad.

It is imperative that voices be raised in opposition to this renewed witch hunt.

David Brophy is a lecturer at the University of Sydney. He is a member of Sydney Staff for BDS and National Tertiary Education Union Members for BDS.




If academics aren't permitted to engage in debate on issues and to teach the community about the terrible realities of our world, you may as well roll up the banners and be a TAFE and churn out useful workers, at least.


we need to stop discrimination, and give people the chance to publicly oppose depression