Two articles have appeared in The Age recently alleging an increase in anti-Semitic incidents on campus, and accusing the ‘far left’ — Socialist Alternative in particular — of engaging in intimidating tactics. The first recapitulates a press release from the Australasian Union of Jewish Students:
‘Jews in fear of hardline uni groups’
Barney Zwartz and Adam Morton
September 4, 2006
RADICAL left-wing groups at Melbourne universities are exploiting tensions in the Middle East to promote anti-Semitism and recruit members, according to Jewish student groups.
He said Jewish students for the first time felt targeted as Jews, rather than supporters of Israel. “When they walk past socialist stalls (on campus) they feel very uncomfortable, especially when called ‘a f—ing Jew’,” Mr Kamien said.
He said Students Against War and Racism gave out leaflets at Monash University recently that said Zionists were murderers and racists and “will not be tolerated on this campus”.
The number of anti-Semitic incidents during the Israel-Hezbollah conflict in July were the highest since records began in 1945, according to Grahame Leonard, president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry.
“At 141, it was 60 per cent higher than the previous record. Many of these incidents were on campus, and the big growth was in Victoria,” Mr Leonard said.
“It’s just blind ideology with these (hard-line left) groups … It’s not about Muslims, it’s about thugs and radicals using Islam as an excuse to pursue their political agenda.”
There have been several incidents on Melbourne campuses, particularly between [SocAlt] and university Liberal Party groups.
In one, a Liberal was grabbed by the throat and threatened. In another, security staff had to separate Students Against War and Racism and Liberal Club members waving Israeli flags.
In Sydney, Jewish students have been spat on and pushed.
Official religious groups on campus say Middle Eastern tensions have not been apparent in Australia. The national heads of Muslim, Jewish, Catholic and Baha’i student groups released a joint statement when conflict broke out in Lebanon.
Monash University Islamic Society president Adhnan Wazil said Jewish students had been quiet and there had been no problems for Muslims.
Mr Kamien said Jewish students had had no problems with Muslim students in general.
Students Against War and Racism organiser Vashti Kenway, a member of [SocAlt], acknowledged Middle Eastern tensions were being used as a recruitment tool, but denied they were anti-Semitic. “We take a firm stand against all forms of racism,” she said.
Melbourne University Student Union president Jessie Giles said anti-war activists walked a fine line between attacking Israel’s actions as a state, which was legitimate, and making students feel awkward over religion, which was not.
Interestingly, these allegations were preceded by similiar allegations of political intimidation of leftists by Zionist students. And on the same day as The Age article, the following appeared in the Herald Sun:
‘Junior Libs accused of Jewish slur’
September 4, 2006
THE Liberal Party is fuming over an embarrassing scandal which has erupted at one of its junior off-shoots, the Melbourne University Liberal Club.
A secretly recorded tape of a meeting is alleged to have caught some university Liberal Club officials swearing, making anti-Semitic remarks and commenting on inciting tensions between Lebanon and Israel.
A club official has been forced to resign after being accused of leaking details about the scandal, but instead of going quietly, the woman fired off an angry email accusing the club of intimidating her.
An infuriated Liberal Party hierarchy has launched an investigation and disciplinary action could be taken against some members of the MULC who are also members of the Liberal Party.
While the two organisations are separate, there are a number of connections, including:
THE woman alleged to have secretly recorded the meeting, former club vice-president Jayde Lovell, works at Liberal Party headquarters, Melbourne.
OTHER club members — who are not the subject of any allegations — work for Federal MP Tony Smith and Senator Mitch Fifield, both key allies of Federal Treasurer Peter Costello.
Ms Lovell claims she was forced to resign.
The scandal threatens to damage Liberal Party relations with important allies in the Jewish community and is a serious distraction with the state election just months away.
A transcript of the secret recording, posted on a political blog run by former Melbourne University official Andrew Landeryou, reveals Mr Rowswell is allegedly heard referring to the Australasian Union of Jewish Students’ Michael Gubieski, as a “little Jewish (expletive)”.
Mr Rowswell yesterday told the Herald Sun the comments had been improperly recorded and it was “offensive, insulting and untrue” to claim he was anti-Semitic.
“During a bitter, private discussion of factional university politics, where gratuitous comments were traded, I used crude language,” Mr Rowswell said.
“It was not religiously motivated and I have apologised and my apology has been accepted by the person involved.”
Mr Rowswell said he was a strong supporter of Israel and was a member of two Jewish student organisations.
“What is offensive is that the notion of anti-Semitic inferences has been used in a partisan political way designed for no other purpose than to score an internecine political point,” he said.
Club treasurer Courtney Dixon is alleged to have commented that the returning officer would boot out any ticket that incited tension over Israel and Lebanon and that “we should incite something.”
Mr Dixon agreed yesterday he was the voice on the tape but would not answer any specific questions, saying he was busy.
Liberal Club president Andrew Campbell is alleged to have said at the meeting: “We’re not gonna go out and attack Jews — just Gubieski.”
Mr Campbell’s only comment yesterday was that he would have to check whether it was his voice on the tape.
The row centres on the [University] of Melbourne Student Union elections, which begin today.
Previously, the Union of Jewish Students and the Liberal Club were allies but fell out this year.
Mr Gubieski confirmed he was the person referred to in Mr Rowswell’s comments.
“All I can say is that it is obviously very disappointing but I trust the Liberal Party will know how to take care of it,” he said.
“I do believe I have been vilified but I am more concerned about the cultural problems at the Liberal Club.”
Liberal Party state director Julian Sheezel, who is Jewish, said an investigation had been launched.
“If those remarks are correct, then I am appalled and disgusted,” he said.
The second article from The Age goes into much more depth:
‘An unholy alliance’
Barney Zwartz and Adam Morton
September 4, 2006
Anti-Semitism is reportedly on the rise across university campuses. Has political opportunism unleashed the devil?
Daniel Wyner is used to robust debate. A senior figure in the Australasian Union of Jewish Students, he moves around Melbourne campuses arguing for Israel. But he was taken aback recently when a Monash lecturer confronted him, almost incoherent with rage, and called him a Zionist oppressor and f—ing racist.
“He kept going on his rant and rave. He wasn’t Muslim or Arab. He may or may not have been a member of the arts faculty, and I may or may not have followed him back into the office to find that out.” The incident highlighted what many Australian Jews claim is a distinct rise in temperature on campus but the hostility has not come from Muslims.
“I’ve been at La Trobe, Deakin and Melbourne too. The problems, the anti-Semitism, the vilification we feel as students on campus are coming almost entirely from the left… Socialist Alternative (a left-wing student group), they just latch on to a cause which isn’t theirs to try to make it their own by twisting it,” Wyner says.
Jewish groups claim some of the more radical left-wing groups are trying to exploit tensions in the Middle East to foment trouble on campus and increase their own numbers. An example, Wyner says, was the recent visit to Melbourne University by the Israeli ambassador: Socialist Alternative members disrupted the meeting and were asked to leave by the Lebanese students’ society.
In Sydney last month, a Jewish student was pushed to the ground and others spat on. At Monash, a Young Liberal member staffing a stall supporting Israel was grabbed by the throat and threatened, while the table was kicked over.
At Melbourne University, security staff had to keep apart the Students Against War and Racism and a group of mostly Liberal Club members waving Israeli flags. Tensions flared, insults were traded and observers said only a handful of guards prevented the conflict becoming physical. The vice-chancellors of both Melbourne and Sydney universities called for calm, saying that while vigorous debate was acceptable, vilification was not.
Grahame Leonard, the president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, says July had the most anti-Semitic incidents since records began in 1945. At 141, the total was 60 per cent higher than the previous record.
“Generally it’s low severity — phone calls, graffiti, hate emails — but there are some violent incidents. The big growth was in Victoria, and many of these incidents were on campus.”
In Sydney some Jewish students feel so intimidated that they are wearing hats over their kippahs (skull caps). In Melbourne they are more defiant, but they are concerned.
“There’s a real feeling of threat,” says Deon Kamien, Victorian president of the Union of Jewish Students. “It’s not something I can put in words. A lot of students who would feel very comfortable wearing a kippah or T-shirt with Hebrew words on it now feel they are being targeted as Jews — not supporters of Israel, but Jews. When they walk past socialist stalls (on campus) they are called f—ing Jews.”
Kamien says that where previous conflicts have been about politics, this time it’s turned racial. “The leftists have completely blurred the line between politics and religion and have misunderstood the situation. They’ve got hung up on the Middle East and absolutely hung up on Jews. What we are seeing is nothing more than anti-Semitism.”
Greg Weinstein, national president of the Australasian Union of Jewish Students, says “the left” are uneducated and base their arguments purely on passions rather than fact. “They are misusing what’s happening on the other side of the world to promote their own cause, which is shocking. I don’t think they are gaining credibility.”
It is not just the students, and not just Australia. Ted Lapkin of the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council wrote an essay for Quadrant magazine recently, criticising what he terms anti-Semitism by left-wing academics.
“Australian campuses are like most Western universities, but more so,” Lapkin says.
Jewish community leaders detect a rising tide of anti-Semitism throughout the West. They pinpoint a couple of key reasons: the inoculation effect of the Holocaust is disappearing over time, so that dinner-table anti-Semitism is re-emerging. People who don’t like Jews feel more comfortable about expressing it.
Second, they say, Israel provides a convenient excuse. They accept that most criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitic, but say it can provide a convenient cover for attacking Jews generally. A red-line warning for the Jewish community is when critics compare Israel to the Nazis. You don’t use a Nazi slur if you know what the Nazis did, and if you do know and use it, that’s inexcusable, they believe.
Jews ask why British university lecturers insisted that Israeli academics sign a statement dissociating themselves from Israel’s “apartheid” policies if they wished to teach in Britain. Is Israel worse than China, or Sudan or North Korea or Iran?
The answer, they are convinced, is that latent anti-Semitism is resurfacing. A Christian observer at Melbourne University, who did not want to be named, certainly thinks that’s the explanation in this city. He says “Jew-baiting” is rising, as opponents try to turn anti-Israel sentiment to anti-Jewish. “Socialists bait Jewish students. The intention is to get Jewish students to fight back so they can use them. It’s a deliberate incitement of people’s emotions to generate conflict.”
Socialist Alternative tactics are outlined in an in-house publication.
Discussing an incident at Melbourne, when a socialist stall was overturned, Daniel L. says the best response is to “immediately make a huge fuss — denounce them loudly, screaming ‘you’re a murderer, you support George Bush’s war, you support killing innocent people in the Middle East, you’re fascist scum’ and so forth. When we did this it had a huge polarising effect with people coming up afterwards to show their support. Often this was from the point of view of freedom of speech, rather than a willingness to support fighting Israel. But that doesn’t change the fact that it is excellent terrain for us.”
One writer, Vashti, says “two young Lebanese guys came up and asked if they could beat up the Zionists”.
Daniel says of this: “They knew which side they were on and were willing to fight. We do not want to start fights with the Liberals ourselves, but if Lebanese people do it’s a good thing and we’re f—ing well with them.”
Melbourne University Student Union president Jessie Giles says the campus has been polarised. “Socialist Alternative in particular have been responsible for whipping up some of this sentiment, and I also think the Melbourne University Liberal Club is equally to blame on the other side.” The Socialist Alternative group admit they used the Middle East conflict to recruit members but deny that they are racist.
Vashti Kenway, a Socialist Alternative member at Melbourne and organiser of Students Against War and Racism rallies, says: “I’m pretty unashamed about saying that I think it would be good if there were more socialists in Australia who were against all the horrors of the Howard Government.”
She argues that it’s wrong and lazy to accuse critics of Israel of anti-Semitism. “We take a firm stand against all forms of racism, and that includes anti-Semitism. No one from Socialist Alternative has made any racists slurs against anyone.”
Colleen Bolger, Socialist Alternative organiser at Monash, says the Australasian Union of Jewish Students conflates anti-zionism with anti-Semitism. She says students supporting Israel have surrounded socialist stalls on campus, yelling “terrorist”.
Is she misusing the conflict for political ends? “I’d reject the idea that we shouldn’t be recruiting people who agree with us. This is a perfectly legitimate thing for a political organisation to do. We certainly don’t create the wars, we stand up against them.”
Has the left used racism? This is being debated inside the left, as shown by an exchange in late July on a group email list run by the National Union of Students. Chris Di Pasquale of the RMIT Student Union wrote that Zionists at Melbourne and Monash universities “felt the need to reassert their racism and fetish for genocide and mass slaughter of Arab people”, calling security and the student union to shut down socialist stalls.
National Union of Students president Rose Jackson wrote that this was a racist remark that would be extremely hurtful to some people in the student movement. While she opposed the war in Lebanon, “you do not need to resort to this type of distressingly hateful name-calling to show people that you are left-wing and radical. There will come a point (if it has not already been reached) where suddenly people in the left will feel they can get away with anything when talking about Israel and the Israeli people. Where no comments or insults are off-limits.”
As she wrote, she knew she was inviting attack. She didn’t have to wait long. Heidi Claus, the union’s Victorian education officer, replied: “WHAT THE!!!!!!!! Rose Jackson you are an apologist for the racist state of Israel and fundamentally uninformed.”
Claus claimed that the apartheid state of Israel was set up on the blood of the Palestinian people, and there would never be peace while Zionism or Israel continued to exist. It was Jackson, in fact, who was racist because she equated the Jewish people with Zionism which itself was anti-Semitic. She concluded: “I demand an apology from you for your racist filth and an apology to Chris and Socialist Alternative for your blatant slander.”
Muslims are distancing themselves. Chaaban Omran, national president of the Federation of Australian Muslim Students and Youth, says some left groups can be too aggressive. “They are using this momentum, the build-up of mistake after mistake (by Israel). At the end of the day they have their own agenda. We are quite happy to work with them about Lebanon or Palestine, but not the extreme views of being aggressive. We say there’s an intellectual way to do it.”
Omran says Islamic societies on campus are extremely cautious because they are so aware of keeping Muslim extremists out. “There are some Muslims and far-left students who see issues in black and white, but we try to promote that there’s a middle path.” He says that when Islamic societies on campus have a website with a forum, which can’t be controlled, extremist views can be posted.
“But you don’t know who’s putting it on, students or people from outside wanting to cause trouble. Usually a couple of people reply immediately saying that’s not the way, or we send an email saying that.” “Extreme”, of course, is in the eye of the beholder. “We’re not about to stop anyone from saying people in Lebanon have the right to defend themselves, but we haven’t had calls for jihad.”
Omran says there has not been a single report of Muslim students being intimidated, but Muslims are nevertheless increasingly frustrated. “They feel the world is walking all over them, that Muslim blood is very cheap, of less importance, that there’s a blatant attempt to demonise anyone of Islamic faith by politicians or certain parts of the media. This can only lead to radicalisation, and we should look forward to more extremism.”
Australia needs to tackle the cause, rather than the symptom, by fixing its foreign policy. Greg Weinstein thinks the religious groups on campus are providing the right model. When the Middle East conflict broke out, he says, the national presidents of the Jewish, Muslim, Catholic and Baha’i student associations issued a joint statement calling for unity and prayers for peace. Over the past few weeks he and Muslim president Kaled El-Hassan have become friends; the pair met for lunch last week and solved a few of the world’s problems.
Barney Zwartz is religion editor and Adam Morton is higher education reporter.
See also : ‘Australia’s Israel Question’ : a speech by (Justice) Alan Goldberg at the Melbourne Writers’ Festival, August 27, 2006