Jewish Students Confront Pro-Palestine Rally at Melbourne University

Hundreds of pro-Israel supporters, many draped in Israeli and Australian flags, gathered at The University of Melbourne. The group called on educational institutions to make its campuses a safe place to be for Jewish students. Zionist Federation of Australia chief executive officer Alon Cassuto opened the rally. “We know that students don’t feel safe to be who they are and celebrate who they are,” he told the crowd. “And since October 7 … anti-Semitism around the world has been on the rise. “We’re here to say that the past seven months are not something we’re prepared to tolerate any longer. Our campuses have to be free of hate.” A group of Israel supporters walked to the south lawn of the university where the Gaza encampment is situated. A woman was seen waving giant Israeli flags and shouted, “Get Hamas out of our universities”. Pro-Palestinian supporters formed a line in front of their encampment. They were mostly silent but shouted “Free, Free Palestine” a few times.

Israeli and Palestine supporters stared down at each other and chanted slogans from their respective sides. Police were seen standing in between the two rallies, with some officers trying to move off the Jewish supporters from the Gaza encampment. The pro-Palestine activists shouted, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”. Some Israeli supporters called for members of the Palestinian side to remove their face coverings. The situation escalated after the Pro-Israel supporters confronted the encampment. The Australasian Union of Jewish Students president Noah Loven said he would not give the pro-Palestinian encampment any oxygen. “We don’t want to lean into what they want. So, we’re here to stand proud as your students and to stand together for peace,” Mr. Loven said. “In response to the troubling trend that has taken root in our academic institutions across Australia and New Zealand … Jewish students, my peers, have increasingly become targets of fear intimidation, and harassment.” Protesters held signs that read “keep hate off campus” and “stand together against antisemitism”.

Groups of police officers were stationed around the parameter of the event. Jewish students say they are in fear of being intimidated and harassed on campus. The Australasian Union of Jewish Students has voiced concerns and decided to take action after hearing reports of Jewish students avoiding their universities. The union is calling for a roundtable with Education Minister Jason Clare, state education ministers and vice chancellors, and are also demanding that universities implement policies that prohibit hate speech on campus. It also demands that universities require students to show their student identification “to ensure that external extremist actors do not hijack our campuses”. The union’s Victorian branch president Holly Feldman said she had friends at Columbia University in the US who have been harassed for being involved in Jewish life. “The situation continues to escalate, and Jewish students are distressed,” Ms. Feldman said. “It’s simply not safe for many Jewish students on campus at the moment, and it’s unacceptable that many feel they cannot attend their lectures and classes in person without fear of intimidation, harassment and violence,” Mr. Loven said.

“This is not an issue of free speech – it is of vilification and the endorsement of terror. “Some of these extreme groups are crossing the line.” The protest, was in response to student activists camping out at Australian campuses, including at the University of Melbourne. The protest marked the eighth day members of University of Melbourne for Palestine students have camped out on the campus’ south lawn. Students at the University of Sydney, University of Queensland and Australian National University are also holding their own camps. Australian Palestine Advocacy Network president Nasser Mashni has shown his support for the Melbourne outfit by attending and giving a speech, and in Sydney, Greens Deputy Leader Mehreen Faruqi also addressed students camped out. The new wave of protests take inspiration from university encampments across the United States, which have seen a heavy police presence descend on Columbia University to forcibly clear protesters out.

University of Melbourne for Palestine issued a warning to students ahead of the Jewish student-led protest to “not engage with agitators or Zionists at all” and to “not divulge information/details of comrades to cops or security”. The group are hosting a “teach in” event which will include speeches from Melbourne Law School senior research fellow Dr Jordana Silverstein and a Jewish anti-Zionist student who will discuss “Palestinian liberation from an anti-Zionist Jewish perspective”. Zionist Federation of Australia chief executive officer Alon Cassuto said he was concerned about the welfare of Jewish students on campus and voiced his support for the demonstration. “We warned universities last year about the manifestations of antisemitism on campuses, but the situation has gotten worse since that time,” Mr. Cassuto said. “There has been a collective absence of leadership, with appalling and intimidatory behaviour being ignored in the hope that it will go away. Instead, in the face of inaction, it’s gotten worse.”

He claimed that Jewish students are scared to complain “for fear their marks will be affected” which has resulted them in staying away from campus. “Societal cohesion requires community and political leaders to publicly and strongly call out and push back on those seeking to undermine that cohesion,” the ZFA leader said. “Anti-Semitism under the guise of political discourse is still antisemitism. We must be vigilant and clear in our opposition to any form of hate on our campuses.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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