As one Victorian university orders a pro-Palestine encampment removed, some students and academics are pushing back

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday
University campuses around the world have become hom to pro-Palestine protest encampments, with many Jewish students also joining the action.
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Victoria’s Deakin University has ordered pro-Palestine protesters to leave its Burwood campus, after citing concerns around the “safety, security and amenity of all campus users”.

In response, camp representative Jasmine Duff says the protesters – including 20 people who have remained at the camp overnight, with more attendees during the day – have accessed legal advice they say confirms the camp is lawful and that they will not comply with the order.

“We do believe we have the right to stay here,” says Ms Duff.

Organisers of the protests have been told by Deakin University to dismantle and remove the encampment immediately. One reason given for the order is the “unacceptable behaviour of protesters” that created an “impediment to the normal use and function of the campus”.

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“The university takes its obligations in relation to ensuring the health, safety and wellbeing of staff, students and visitors to the campus very seriously,” says deputy vice-chancellor of university services, Kerrie Parker.

“The right to freedom of speech does not extend to the establishment of unauthorised camps which pose hygiene and safety risks and restrict the access, availability and use of Deakin premises and facilities for the benefit of the Deakin community of users.”

Protestors say they are not leaving

Deakin protesters have called a Wednesday evening rally at the encampment to demonstrate they are “not going anywhere”.

Ms Duff says protesters will stand up to police if they were called to dismantle the protest.

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“If Deakin University has learned anything from America, it should be obvious that calling in police only increases the number of people protesting – it grows the protest,” the Deakin University history student says.

“Right now, over 35,000 people have been killed in Gaza and our university is helping to do research and development on explosives and other guided weapons that are being sent to Israel and then to Gaza. We think that’s an absolutely unforgiveable situation.”

Victorian Premier Jacinta Allan says she has been given specific advice about the latest updates from Deakin University but added that local universities had already arranged campus security and said some were also working with Victoria Police.

“More broadly, I am calling for calm across university campuses across the state,” Ms Allan says.

“Universities should never, never be a place of violence. And they most certainly should never be a place for antisemitic behaviour. That is not acceptable.”

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Ms Duff says the protesters at the Burwood campus were all Deakin students and were not antisemitic or calling for the abolition of Israel.

“Lots of the student leaders of Students for Palestine are themselves Jewish, and we see ourselves as standing in a long line of Jewish anti-war and pro-Palestine activists,” she says..

Protest promotes violent and racist ideology, says Jewish leader

Israel has killed more than 35,000 Palestinians in Gaza since Hamas’ attack on southern Israel took hostages and killed 1200 Israelis last year. Australia voted for greater rights for Palestine at the United Nations on Saturday morning (AEST).

Executive Council of Australian Jewry co-CEO Alex Ryvchin has praised the order by Deakin University, and describes the ongoing protests on university campuses across Australia as a “nuisance, a disfigurement of campus grounds and … hubs for promoting a violent and racist ideology”.

“We have to stop treating antisemitism as a lesser form of hatred and that begins by removing the encampments created solely to intimidate and marginalise Jews and taking disciplinary action against those involved in racism, harassment and vandalism.”

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Academics support student protestors

To date, more than 500 Australian academics have signed a letter outlining their pride in “the students who have established peaceful encampments”.

“We are facing one of the greatest crimes of the 21st century happening right in front of us,” the letter states.

“Unsurprisingly, students around the world, including students at Australian universities, have initiated peaceful protests that have various demands relating to ending Western government support for Israel’s attack, ensuring institutional divestment from complicit companies, and calling for an end to Israel’s war crimes in Gaza.”

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Claire Halliday has an extensive career as a full-time writer - across book publishing, copywriting, podcasting and feature journalism - for more than 25 years. She lives in Melbourne with children, two border collies and a grumpy Burmese cat. Contact: claire.halliday[at]brandx.live