ANU Students' Association mass meeting defeats Zionists

10 May 2024
Carter Chryse

On Wednesday night, hundreds of students attended an online meeting of the Australian National University Students’ Association (ANUSA) to vote in defence of pro-Palestine activism.

A week prior, ANU students joined the international Gaza solidarity encampment movement. Hundreds have since stopped by the camp to show their support and to demand that ANU halt investments in weapons companies.

The camp has not been without controversy. Peaceful protest against Israeli genocide has attracted the ire of Zionist students who counter-protest the camp’s regular rallies. But supporters of Palestine have outnumbered them every time. This week, during a snap rally for Rafah of nearly a hundred, only four Zionists appeared.

Every year, ANUSA is required to hold an Annual General Meeting where all students can move motions and vote. Frustrated at their failure to intimidate Palestine supporters, Zionist students and members of the ACT Young Liberals tried to use the meeting to condemn the encampment.

They put up two motions, slandering the encampment as “echo[ing] policies of the Nazi regime”, and claiming there was a “culture within ANUSA activist circles whereby anti-Semitism is normalised”.

This is outrageous slander against an anti-racist movement that includes people from all backgrounds, including anti-Zionist Jews.

The right sensed weakness on the part of the ANUSA executive. ANUSA officially withdrew from the camp on Wednesday 1 May, claiming it received legal advice to do so.

But we weren’t bound to the spinelessness of our elected bureaucrats. We moved our own motion to endorse the global encampment movement.

When we put the call out for Palestine supporters to attend the meeting, hundreds of students rallied in support.

Though the meeting was forced online—ANUSA couldn’t find a room big enough for us—the atmosphere on campus was electric. In tents, lecture halls, study rooms, even just gathered in small groups in the centre of campus, we watched as the number of people in the meeting climbed higher. As Palestinian flag emojis began to appear in participant’s names, we knew we had the room.

The meeting ended up going for five hours. At one point, the zoom crashed because of our sheer numbers. The Zionists and Young Liberals became increasingly desperate as they lost vote after vote. Our side romped to victory—although exact numbers weren’t disclosed, we easily and repeatedly carried motions requiring a two-thirds majority.

Hundreds of students voted to endorse the encampment movement, then against the Zionists’ motions to shut us down. One of the Zionist students wailed: “This is the downfall of the democratic system”. In fact, it was one of the most democratic acts of ANU students ever.

Their arguments mainly focused on the “safety of Jewish students”. One Zionist cited a survey she had conducted (of 20 of her friends) that said the camp was terrifying. This was somewhat contradicted by the fact that the Zionists had been running stalls just a few metres away from the camp with the sign: “I am a Zionist, ask me anything”.

But as anti-Zionist Jewish student, Anna D, said while seconding the pro-Palestine motion:

“I have never felt more supported and welcomed in a community than I have within the pro-Palestine movement. Encampments and the pro-Palestine movement have been accepting of anti-Zionist Jews and are free from anti-Semitism. Anti-Zionism has been conflated with anti-Semitism too many times, and Israel is using this as a justification to commit war crimes, ethnic cleansing and colonisation.”

The victory is a massive boost of confidence for pro-Palestine activists on campus.

One of the movers of the pro-Palestine motion, Palestinian PhD student Khalid Al Bostanji, told Red Flag:

“We had the strongest possible response we could have presented to the targeted campaign against the encampment movement, across Australia and worldwide. We affirmed that our encampments are fighting against genocide in Gaza, and that they are anti-racist, not a danger to any member of the student body.”

The ANUSA executive may have withdrawn their support for the encampment, but this is rank cowardice and not reflective of the sentiment amongst pro-Palestine students. Many past student movements involved elements that ran afoul of the law—from hiding draft dodgers during the anti-Vietnam War movement to supporting students arrested for protesting South African apartheid.

“Student unions have a long and proud tradition of standing up against oppression”, said Wren Somerville, ANUSA Environment Officer and socialist activist, to Red Flag. “When the right mobilises against us, we need to fight back, not back down.”

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