Jewish groups say pro-Palestinian university camps create “no-go” zones

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday
Students at Colombia University in New York started the on-campus pro-Palestine protest camps - with four Australian universities now following.
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There are now four pro-Palestinian campsites at Australian universities across the nation, with Jewish groups claiming they are turning campuses into ‘no-go areas for Jewish academics and tertiary students.

A camp at Perth’s Curtin University was planned to set up on Tuesday this week to follow the establishment of another camp at Canberra’s Australian National University. Encampments are already on-site at the University of Melbourne and the University of Queensland.

When the first local encampment at the University of Sydney popped up more than one week ago, it mirrored pro-Palestinian protest camps at university campuses across the United States, starting with Columbia University in New York on 17 April. So far, no decision to remove the Sydney protest camp has been made by university leadership or police, but many Jewish leaders are calling for this to change.

Calls for camps to be dismantled

Executive Council of Australian Jewry president Daniel Aghion says all the university campus camps should be dismantled and is calling for politicians to follow in the footsteps of US President Joe Biden and call out what he says is antisemitism.

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“We call on the federal education minister, state education ministers and vice chancellors to take immediate action to ensure the safety of all students and staff,” Mr Aghion said in a statement.

“A failure to do so risks permanently degrading the reputation of our world-class university sector and turning campuses into no-go areas for Jewish students and academics. The encampments must be dismantled.”

Protesting students in solidarity with Gaza

At the University of Sydney, Yasmine Johnson is the Gaza solidarity encampment organiser and says protesters have no plan to leave. She says the protests will continue until the university cuts ties with “companies involved in the murder of over 34,000 Gazans in the last seven months”.

“Across America, students have stood up against the dismantling of their camps when colleges and the police have tried to silence them,” Ms Johnson says.

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“Jewish students like myself have been part of this movement since day one, and we reject the baseless and discredited accusations of antisemitism by those who want to silence criticism of Israel’s genocide.”

President of the Australasian Union of Jewish Students, Noah Loven, disagrees and says the Australian camps were inspired by the antisemitic camps at Columbia University, which called for violence against Jews.

“Regarding the encampments across Australia, the chants, the terminology used at these rallies only incite violence and fear and apprehension among Jewish students,” Mr Loven says.

He says calls by protesters at the University of Sydney – including calls for an intifada, a term associated with violent terrorist attacks against Jews – crossed a dangerous line.

“As an organisation, we always want to uphold freedom of speech and expression, but universities have their own policies around the use of intimidation, and we want to make sure that these encampment students adhere to them,” he says.

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Earlier this week, Federal Education Minister Jason Clare condemned an event, billed as a ‘Kids’ Excursion’, held at the University of Sydney last Friday, where children chanted “five, six, seven, eight, Israel is a terrorist state”.

University points to proud history of free speech

A University of Sydney spokesperson said the institution has a rich history of activism and protest on campus and an understanding that peaceful protests and freedom of expression can be important demonstrations of free speech, while also making it clear that there was no place for hate speech.

“Any slogans, chants or actions that can be reasonably interpreted as implying support for violence, terrorism or infringing the rights of others or threatening the well-being of staff or students will not be tolerated,” the spokesperson said.

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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