Sydney University's Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies is under fire, for adopting an anti-Israel boycott.
(Transcript from World News Australia Radio)
It comes after the Centre rejected an application from an applicant from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, to take part in an exchange program.
LISTEN: Greg Dyett reports.
The Sir Zelman Cowen Universities Fund is an exchange program between the University of Sydney and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
An application to participate in the program by an academic from the Hebrew University in Israel was rejected by Associate Professor Jake Lynch, who heads Sydney University's Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies.
The Centre says this is because it supports the so-called Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.
The movement calls for action against Israel for alleged breaches of international laws through the way it treats the Palestinians.
Associate Professor Lynch rejects claims that the move may have breached the federal Racial Discrimination Act.
"My centre is supportive of the call for a boycott of institutional ties with Israeli universities as part of a protest against Israeli militarism and lawlessness. To suggest that that has anything to do with race and racism is entirely mischievous and is intended to damp down the criticism of Israel's policies."
The Australian Human Rights Commission says it only investigates alleged violations of the Racial Discrimination Act when it receives formal complaints.
The academic in question Dan Avnon from Hebrew University has reportedly not lodged a formal complaint and had also applied to other faculties at the University of Sydney for a study placement.
Vic Alhadeff is the Chief Executive Officer of the New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies.
He says the action by the Sydney University Centre is ironic.
"The Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies seems to be more about conflict and less about peace. The rich irony in this decision is that the Israeli Professor, who Professor Jake Lynch wishes to blacklist from coming out here has been developing a civics course which would bring together Israeli-Jewish and Arab students, that is positive peace building work. And yet Professor Lynch is seeking to punish Arab children if the alternative means supporting an Israeli program, even a civics program. So it is difficult to see how the Centre can credibly include the word peace in its name when it cannot bring itself to work towards that concept."
Professor Lynch says the employment enterprise agreement between academic staff and Sydney University gives academics the freedom to express their opinion in public on issues within their area of expertise.
He says he and his centre have exercised this freedom by placing an institutional boycott of Israeli universities in place because of a belief that Australian and International governments are too lenient of what he says is Israel's militarism and law breaking behaviour.
"Now it's not for the University or its spokesman to decide if my comments are appropriate or not. It's quite clear from the University's enterprise agreement that I have the right to free expression. This is a subject that is squarely within my area of research expertise and I have the right to comment as I have done. We have responded to a call by Palestinian civil society to take matters into our own hands because Israel's persistent militarism and law breaking behaviour is treated with undue leniency by other governments, by Australian and other Governments that should know better."
A spokesman for the University of Sydney says as an academic, Associate Professor Lynch is entitled to have a point of view, and to argue his case.
The University adds that he made it clear in his correspondence with Professor Avnon, that he was not speaking on behalf of the University when rejecting the application - but on behalf of himself.
The University adds Professor Avnon is welcome to collaborate with other academic faculties and centres within the University.
The Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies sits within the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.
In a statement, the Dean of the Faculty, Professor Duncan Ivison, says he welcomes rigorous debate on a range of issues by academics but he and his faculty do not agree with Professor Lynch's support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.
"It is not the policy of the school in which the centre sits, nor the faculty of arts and social sciences, nor the University of Sydney to support the BDS campaign. Indeed, I believe the campaign, as it applies to universities, cuts against one of the fundamental roles a university should play in a free society. But I respect the fact that there are different views about the campaign and remain willing to debate with those who think differently."
Vic Alhadeff from the Jewish Board of Deputies questions Associate Professor Lynch's claim that his move is supported by the principles of academic freedom.
"Even the University itself have repeatedly rejected calls from Professor Lynch to cut links with Israeli universities, to cut links with academic institutions in a country with which Australia has diplomatic relations, that country being Israel. And a spokesman for the University said that the Vice Chancellor and the University do not support Professor Lynch's position on backlisting this Israeli professor. The whole notion of a university is about academic freedom, and what we have here, is specifically an academic from the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies seeking to shut out an academic from another university because he happens to come from a particular country. That violates the whole notion of academic freedom."
Professor Lynch says his Centre has no policy in place of boycotting institutional ties with the universities of any other countries, only Israel.
He argues Israel is a unique case in the world.
"Well there are plenty of other issues in the world where human rights abuses under way and we're well aware of that. There are few if any other situations where a country has been carrying on an illegal military occupation of someone else's territory in breach of international law for many many years where that is not condemned by our own government and the governments of other countries. You know going back a generation people wanted to engage in a boycott of sporting ties with South Africa for example. Now it was the case then that people said, oh you shouldn't cut off sporting ties, it's an essential means of contact and why aren't you cutting off sporting ties with other countries that abuse people's human rights. Well the fact is history has vindicated the boycott activists that did play a part in bringing about significant and welcome political change in South Africa. That's what we hope will happen in the Palestinian territories and Israel as well."
But Vic Alhadeff says the way to encourage peace is to use strategies that encourage co-operation and dialogue rather than sanctions.
"I was in Israel just three weeks ago and visited the West Bank where I saw thousands of Palestinian people productively working in, working with Israeli industries and institutions. Such a boycott policy which Professor Lynch is subscribing would punish the Palestinian people would disadvantage the Palestinian people, would do nothing to bring about a Palestinian state to which Israel is committed and has been for the last half-a-dozen Israeli Prime Ministers."