Speaking at a Sydney University Student Representative Council meeting poised to condemn Israel’s atrocities in Gaza, a well-dressed young member of the Australasian Union of Jewish Students (AUJS) fervently endorsed the assault on Gaza as an act of “self-defence”.
Another AUJS speaker declared her warm sympathy for the Palestinian people while affirming the necessity of freeing them from the tyranny of Hamas – their democratically elected government – by any means necessary.
As it was, the motion was carried with overwhelming support. With its support for both the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign and Palestinian resistance, it has helped set a new political benchmark for Palestine solidarity in the student movement.
While finding excuses for Israel’s war crimes is the bread and butter of the corporate media, being confronted in person with such callous disregard for human life is a disturbing experience. Unfortunately, it is one that is becoming all too common on campuses across Australia, as Zionist student organisations such as AUJS come out swinging in defence of Israel’s crimes.
Most prominent has been their poorly photoshopped poster campaign depicting rockets falling on Australian universities, with the subtitle, “What would you do?”. As farcical as they are offensive, the posters were banned at Sydney University and mocked across the country, partly due to the fact that the night before the campaign was set to launch, a university in Gaza was blown apart by the IDF.
Zionists have also systematically engaged in screaming rows with pro-Palestine stalls at most campuses, refusing to leave after being asked to do so. In one incident, two Zionists spent two hours abusing Socialist Alternative members at the University of NSW, as well as verbally assaulting other students attempting to speak to us about the situation in Gaza.
They yelled that we were “collecting signatures for the Fourth Reich”, and when one German international student came up to argue with them, they dismissed her as a “blonde hair, blue eyes, typical German anti-Semite”. At RMIT in Melbourne, a Zionist articulated a desire to punch a solidarity activist “in the fucking face you fucking c*nt”, while at Macquarie University in Sydney, a student was obstructed and physically assaulted after giving a lecture announcement about a solidarity rally that weekend.
There is evidence to indicate that this behaviour is a conscious strategy to undermine solidarity activism on campuses.
It is common knowledge that the Israeli government pays students significant amounts of money to act as shills for Zionism both online and in the real world. In addition, they recruit large numbers of volunteers to manipulate social media discussion in Israel’s favour. For instance, the US feminist Naomi Wolf has been subject to Facebook censorship for posting images taken in Gaza, the result of a strategic campaign of fake “complaints”.
Then there is the letter sent by AUJS to vice-chancellors across Australia titled “Escalation of tensions on campus against Jewish students”. The letter complains about Jewish students feeling “alienated, uncomfortable and threatened” due to the rise of anti-Semitism on campus. This would be of concern if it were true. But the letter fails to identify a single instance of anti-Semitism on campuses. Instead, it cynically identifies the passing of pro-Palestine motions at two universities in Melbourne as the source of these alleged new tensions.
Far from expressing concern about genuine racism on campus (most of which is suffered by Muslims and international students), the real purpose of the letter is twofold.
First, it sought to apply pressure on the broader university community to assist AUJS in its attempt to clamp down on pro-Palestine activism. Shamefully, this tactic has had some success. For instance, at UNSW the university forbade members of Socialist Alternative to display a banner with the slogan “Israel: terrorist state”. The university claimed that it had potentially defamatory and anti-Semitic content.
This followed a directive from the AUJS Facebook page encouraging its members to lodge complaints against the banner. At the University of Western Australia, the student guild president attempted to censor a meeting titled “Why Israel is a terrorist state” and denounced the poster as “offensive”. At both La Trobe and Monash universities in Melbourne, the vice-chancellor sent an all-student email warning against the importing of issues from “countries which are currently experiencing conflict”, with the veiled implication that solidarity activists were acting in inappropriate ways.
Second, the AUJS letter seeks to continue an age-old tradition of slandering opponents of Israel as anti-Semites. In this vein, Socialist Alternative activists have faced many accusations of anti-Semitism for our leading role in the Palestine solidarity movement in Australia. What makes it difficult to refute these absurd allegations is that they are rarely backed up with evidence or specific allegations against individuals.
In a rare exception, two members of the UNSW Socialist Alternative club were accused of harassing two members of AUJS earlier this year. Yet when details were provided, it turned out that members of Socialist Alternative were hundreds of metres away at the time. At ANU the Socialist Alternative club was accused of a range of things, including calling a Jewish woman an “Israeli bitch” and a “filthy Jew”.
Anyone the slightest bit familiar with the socialist left would understand the ludicrous nature of such a charge – such language is completely unacceptable in left circles. And yet, while the charges in this instance were dismissed for lack of evidence, the accusation was reported in numerous mainstream press outlets and has not been retracted. Predictably, the Australian, which published several major articles that implied that the accusations were well founded, has not even reported that the university inquiry dismissed the case.
But the AUJS campaign is also meeting with opposition, including from Jewish students. Students from Jews Against Israeli Apartheid put out a strong statement condemning AUJS for conflating anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic positions, pointing out that “[Jewish] speakers are cheered loudly at Palestine rallies and are made to feel welcome amongst a broad cross section of the community”.
When asked to comment on these attacks, April Holcombe, global solidarity officer at Sydney University and member of Socialist Alternative, said, “Far from being cowed, students should take heart. It shows that we’re winning. The defenders of Zionism are discrediting themselves in their increasingly ridiculous attempts to defend Israel’s actions.”