On 24 April, Sydney University Professor Jake Lynch and his legal team claimed victory in the first round of a legal case brought against him for supporting the Palestinian boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign.
The BDS campaign, which was launched by Palestinian civil society in 2005, promotes boycotts of businesses and institutions that either directly or indirectly contribute to human rights abuses against Palestinians, violate international law or participate in “rebranding” campaigns that whitewash Israel’s human rights and war crimes record.
The campaign is inspired by the South African anti-apartheid struggle. It is conducted in the framework of international solidarity and calls for non-violent punitive measures to be maintained against Israel until it meets its obligations under international law.
Israeli “lawfare” group Shurat HaDin filed the case against Lynch, who is the director of the University of Sydney’s Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, last October. It claimed that he had breached the Racial Discrimination Act.
The claim against Lynch centres on his refusal to sponsor a fellowship application by Israeli academic Dan Avnon. However, as Lynch previously explained to Red Flag, he declined to support Avnon’s application not because he was Israeli or Jewish but because the fellowship which Avnon was applying for was a bilateral, funded fellowship between Sydney University and the Hebrew University in Israel.
“It [the Hebrew University] runs training courses for the military; its Mount Scopus campus is partly built on land seized from its rightful Palestinian owners, and the chairman (sic) of its Board of Governors is Michael Federmann, who is also chairman of Elbit Systems, one of Israel’s biggest arms dealers”, said Lynch.
“Through this collaboration at an institutional level, we effectively internalise the Hebrew University’s complicity in the occupation [of Palestine]. I reserve my right not to participate in, or cooperate with, a scheme to which I object in principle.”
According a media release from Lynch's legal team on 24 April, Judge Alan Robertson “struck out those parts of the claim that seek to underpin the factual basis of the allegations that Prof Jake Lynch has breached the Racial Discrimination Act”.
On 14 March, Robertson provisionally ruled as inadmissible large sections of Shurat HaDin’s statements and affidavits because they did not establish any facts pertinent to the case. At the time, Robertson noted that Shurat HaDin had failed to include clear facts linking Lynch’s support for BDS with specific acts of racial discrimination.
The striking out of sections of the claim vindicates the argument made by Lynch's lawyers that Shurat HaDin's case is politically motivated and part of the broader offensive by the Israeli state against BDS.
The political nature of Shurat HaDin’s complaint is evident: Avnon has not been approached by Shurat HaDin to join the suit, be a witness or even submit an affidavit. The Israeli lawfare group also is not seeking any financial penalties against Lynch should it win the case, instead demanding that he publicly renounce the boycott campaign and apologise for supporting it.
Robertson has now given Shurat HaDin permission to recast the struck out sections and any other paragraphs of the claim to rectify the defects of its case.
Robertson also “ordered the applicants to pay Prof Lynch’s costs of the application brought to Strike Out the Claim and has given permission for those costs to be recovered now rather than at the conclusion of the proceedings”. In addition, Robertson ordered that Shurat HaDin's lawyer Andrew Hamilton (who is also an applicant) not dispose of any Australian assets without notifying Lynch. Robertson set the maximum cost payable to the successful party at the outcome of the lawsuit at $300,000.
Lynch welcomed the ruling, saying, “Today’s judgments are a blow to Shurat HaDin’s stated aim of outlawing BDS in Australia.”