Today’s Murdoch Australian has an article, with the charming headline “University forum with Israeli academics ‘offends Muslims’”, that highlights one of the lone voices in Australian academia willing to speak out strongly and regularly for Palestinians:
University of Sydney scholars set to exchange ideas with visiting Israeli experts on neuroscience, tissue regeneration and other cutting-edge research areas are being warned the event will offend potential Muslim undergraduates.
Associate Professor Jake Lynch, director of the university’s Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, has urged his colleagues to withdraw from the research gathering, and the university administration to cancel it.
Dr Lynch has been a strong supporter of the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign designed to isolate Israel. He says he has been asked to intervene by the Campaign for Justice and Peace in Palestine, a group that has pushed the BDS campaign among councils in Sydney.
The Israel Research Forum, to be held next Monday, will bring local scholars together with researchers from Israeli universities and institutions.
“The university risks sustaining reputational damage if the forum goes ahead,” Dr Lynch told The Australian yesterday.
“It risks being seen as condoning the complicity by Israeli universities in Israel’s breaches of international law and indirectly raises problems with the university’s social inclusion policy.”
In an email to staff due to take part, Dr Lynch condemns the lack of Palestinian involvement and the failure of Israeli universities to teach in Arabic.
In his letter to the university’s deputy vice-chancellor, Professor John Hearn, he says the forum is contrary to the university’s social inclusion policy, which requires it to reach out to students in western Sydney.
He says most Muslim students live in the west and feel “a sense of resentment and alienation resulting from the predominance of pro-Israeli voices in Australia’s political and media discourses”.
But one of the local scholars billed for the event, neuroscientist Manuel Graeber, has emailed a strong defence of the forum to Dr Lynch, pointing out that a similar meeting with Arab scholars is scheduled for next year. “The event with Israel should go ahead exactly as planned,” Professor Graeber writes. “There is absolutely nothing questionable about it. Academics must not be held hostage by ideologies.”
In his reply to Dr Lynch, which he provided to The Australian, Professor Hearn says: “In the interests of academic freedom we should ensure that the upcoming forum with Israel and the 2012 forum with the Arab countries should be peaceful and productive.”
An organiser of the forum, University of Sydney physiology professor Rebecca Mason, said collaboration between Australian and Israeli scholars could shed light on problems.