University Bosses Urged to Quash Campus Anti-Semitism

University chancellors will address an “alarming” rise in anti-Semitism on campuses across the nation amid a wave of pro-­Palestine protests, following a warning from an alliance of academics that the demonstrations are curtailing academic freedom. The Australian Academic Alliance Against Antisemitism has called on the peak body representing chancellors to take urgent action, cautioning that elite universities are putting their funding and reputations at risk if the threat is not addressed. The alliance wrote to members of the University Chancellors Council to warn the situation was “rapidly spiraling out of control”, and urge it be discussed as a late agenda item at a meeting in Brisbane next week. The call comes after months of pro-Palestine activism on university campuses against the backdrop of the Israel-Hamas conflict, resulting in the targeting of Jewish students, lectures by Israeli academics being cancelled and the disruption of information events. The protests have culminated in the establishment of encampments at the universities of Sydney and Melbourne, and follow similar protests in the US, including at Ivy League universities Columbia, Harvard and Yale.

Deakin University chancellor John Stanhope, convener of the Chancellors Council, said the letter would be tabled and discussed when university heads meet at the University of Queensland on Thursday. Current University Chancellors Council committee members include former Chief of the Defence Force Angus Houston (University of Sunshine Coast), former Business Council of Australia chief executive Jennifer Westacott (Western Sydney University), former DFAT secretary Peter Varghese (University of Queensland), and former High Court chief justice Robert French (University of Western Australia). “We urge you to consider the attached protocol and to take action immediately because the situation on our campuses is rapidly spiraling out of control,” the letter said. “The vetoing of education and research in accordance with noisy protests or threats may start with the targeting of Israeli and Jewish academics but will doubtless not end there.”

The letter pointed to a decision at the University of Melbourne to cancel a lecture by an Israeli engineering academic following warnings the event would be disrupted as an example of protesters targeting individuals “because of who they were and which country they were associated with”. The alliance said another guest lecture by an engineer from Amazon was also shelved because of pressure stemming from the company’s supposed collaboration with Israel. It also referenced an incident at the University of Sydney last month where protesters stormed an exchange program event attended by Israeli university representatives in a bid to repel them from the campus. The incident denied students the chance to learn about educational opportunities at Tel Aviv University, it said. “The implications of racial hatred and religious bigotry are plain and dire,” the letter said. “It is crucial to appreciate, that across the world, most Jews live in Israel and that the vast majority of all Jews support Israel. One could hardly imagine a more egregious example of the attempt to curtail academic freedom than the silencing of academic voices merely because of their country of origin.”

The letter said university chancellors had a responsibility to take action to remedy breaches of the institutions’ “statutory and fiduciary duties” including threats to academic freedom. The alliance also challenged the justification that universities had been “forced to choose between campus safety and academic freedom”. Action endorsed by the alliance included universities formulating policies to protect academic freedom from obstruction by protests, extra training of security and academic staff and launching disciplinary action against staff and students who breach codes of conduct.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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