Sydney University has issued letters threatening disciplinary action against associate professor Jake Lynch and five students for their involvement in a pro-Palestine protest on campus in March.
It’s a disgraceful attack – one that could have consequences for campus activism in the future. The students interrupted a public lecture given by colonel Richard Kemp, who is well-known for his strident support of Israeli war crimes and commanded British forces in Afghanistan in 2003.
Although Lynch did not organise the protest, a petition was drafted by the Australasian Union of Jewish Students (AUJS) calling for him to be sacked for anti-Semitism. Vice chancellor Michael Spence went along with the version of events put forward by AUJS and the event organisers. The claim has since been disproven by video footage and witness reports, and the charges dropped. However, an investigation commissioned by the university is still under way, carried out by legal firm WorkDynamic.
The investigation has been dodgy from the start. While the university claimed it would be independent, a key investigator, and director of WorkDynamic, Jane Wright, is also an employee of the university. Witnesses had been asked to attend interviews with the investigator, but transparent terms of reference of the investigation were not provided.
The university declined to meet with representatives of the staff union (the NTEU) to discuss the matter. But it did meet with supporters of Israel. The university sought out “facts” to support the investigation – calling certain witnesses to participate while ignoring others who were present at the event. Some of the students who received letters this week had been contacted via Facebook. The letters were addressed to their Facebook profile, rather than their real names.
The letters, which were seen by independent media outlet New Matilda, include such allegations as: “Pointing at an audience member and saying ‘you are supporting genocide’”, “failing to follow instructions from security personnel to leave the lecture theatre” and “physically resisting being removed from the lecture theatre including holding onto the door frame and sitting in the doorway whilst security guards were attempting to close the door”.
However ludicrous the investigation seems, the political implications are extremely serious.
If Lynch is found guilty of breaching the university’s code of conduct, he could be sacked. Students who disrupted the lecture could be expelled.
The campaign against Lynch is part of a long history of Palestine supporters being targeted for speaking against Israel’s crimes. Lynch’s public support for the Palestinians presents an obstacle to the university’s wider corporate agenda. He has criticised links between Sydney University and Israeli institutions that whitewash Israeli apartheid.
Due to his support of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel, Lynch has become a central target of the Zionist lobby both in Australia and Israel. In 2014, Lynch won a court case after Israeli Zionist lawfare group Shurat HaDin unsuccessfully targeted him.
As Israel faces growing international criticism over its treatment of the Palestinians, the Israeli government and its supporters are placing more resources into silencing critics.
The problem for them is that there is a serious limit to how much propaganda people will buy.