The University of Sydney does not consider the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions policy appropriate and it is not University of Sydney policy,” Dean Duncan Ivison of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences said. He was responding to inquiries on the recent lawsuit filed by the Shurat HaDin Legal Action Center against Prof. Jake Lynch.
At the same time, said Ivison, “we encourage academics to contribute to public debate and deliberations on issues spanning local, national and international boundaries within their area of expertise, in conformity with the law and the policies and obligations of the university. For this reason the university does not intend to take any specific further action on this matter.”
While attempts were made to reach Lynch, the only response was an automatic email indicating that he was on research leave until February 2014. Ivison clarified that the leave was unrelated to the events of the case and was scheduled beforehand.
In an online post on June 25, Lynch wrote that “the charge that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel is anti-Semitic fails its only salient test. The target of BDS is not Jews or Judaism, but militarism and lawlessness, argues Jake Lynch.”
On July 31, Shurat HaDin filed a class action complaint with the Australian Human Rights Commission over Lynch’s participation in and public support of boycotts of Israel.According to Shurat HaDin, faculty and students at the University of Sydney recently called for severing links with Israeli institutions, “actions that would be deemed racist and in violation of Australian federal anti-discrimination laws.”
The complaint – which Shurat HaDin’s solicitor Alexander Hamilton filed under Australia’s Racial Discrimination Act 1975 – is the “first time that a Racial Discrimination Act action has been launched in Australia against those promoting boycotts, sanctions and divestment (BDS) against the Jewish state,” the NGO said.“It is the first time that Australia’s anti-racism laws have been utilized against those seeking to harm Israeli academics or businesses because of their national origin,” it continued.
Ivison said that despite the lawsuit, “the university has received no communication from the Human Rights Commission concerning the matter.” He added that regarding the validity of the discrimination claim, “the university has no comment to make on the legal issues around the lawsuit.”
In its letter to the commission, Shurat HaDin pointed out that the Racial Discrimination Act made it unlawful for anyone “to do any act involving a distinction, exclusion…or preference based on race… or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose… of nullifying or impairing… fundamental freedom in the… economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life.”
The complaint also noted that any boycott of Israeli “settlement products,” such as SodaStream and Ahava, harmed Palestinian economic interests, since the factories employed many Palestinian workers and provided an important source of income for local families and villages.
This past semester, the university’s student body endorsed Lynch’s academic boycott of Israel, Shurat HaDin said.
Regarding the university’s relations with Israeli academics and Israel in general, Ivison said that “the university takes no particular position on Israel nor on any other country with which our government maintains diplomatic relations.”
Shurat HaDin said Lynch had publicly announced his refusal to work with Prof. Dan Avnon of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s political science department and also called for a boycott of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa. Shurat HaDin said it had warned Lynch last month to cease participation “in unlawful, and racist, boycott activity.”
The legal NGO added that Lynch had ignored its warning. Next, the it said that authorities such as the Anti-Defamation League and the Simon Wiesenthal Center had recognized the BDS movement as anti-Semitic.
Hamilton called the BDS movement “racist by its own definition, because it seeks to discriminate and impose adverse preference based on Israeli national origin and Jewish racial and ethnic origin of people and organizations.”