ANU Pro Vice-Chancellor, Professor Richard Baker, is personally investigating allegations that members of the ANU Jewish Students’ Association were harassed and intimidated by members of the ANU Socialist Alternative, at the ANU Market Day, on the 12th of February.
The two co-presidents of the ANU Jewish Students’ Association told Woroni that they received a message, scribbled on the back of one of the ANU Socialist Alternative’s petitions, in the form of a paper aeroplane, that stated, ‘death to the Zionist entity, love from Hamas.’ Woroni has received a copy of this note, which is pictured above. The two also reported that later in the day one was called a ‘filthy Jew,’ and an, ‘Israeli bitch,’ when she declined a pamphlet and to sign a petition from the Alternative, respectively.
She told Woroni that, ‘we had not done anything to provoke them (the Socialist Alternative), we weren’t promoting anything Zionist, we are just a social group, we meet up for dinner once a month.’ She added that, ‘I have found the ANU to be an accepting environment. This situation was very out of blue and very shocking to me. Generally at the ANU all minority groups are so accepting of one another. It’s just very shocking that we were attacked for something we identify as.’
The ANU Jewish Students’ Association initially reported the incidents to ANUSA (the ANU Students’ Association), and then, to the Australian Union of Jewish Students, who made the formal complaint to the University.
The alleged incident even caught the attention of our revered education minister, Mr Christopher Pyne. His office released a statement on the matter, asserting that, ‘free speech in Australia does not extend to threats, intimidation and physical harassment. Incidents such as these have no place on campus or anywhere else.’
In a written statement the Canberra Socialist Alternative declared that the claims against members of their ANU branch were unsubstantiated and ‘completely ludicrous.’ The group stated that, ‘we are proud of our record of consistently opposing racism in all its forms, including anti-Semitism,’ and added, ‘two of the Socialist Alternative members who were present at ANU Market Day are themselves Jewish.’
Corey Oakley, the national spokesman for the Socialist Alternative told Fairfax that the organisation was still cogitating its response to the allegations. Oakley stated that, ‘we have made inquiries… and are confident that no such comments were made by our members.’ Significantly, he also added, ‘we consider the accusations to be a malicious attempt to smear Palestinian solidarity activists as anti-Semites.’
Woroni asked one of the co-presidents of the ANU Jewish Students’ Association how she felt about the Socialist Alternative’s systemic refusal to acknowledge the actions of their ANU members. She stated that she didn’t really want to comment extensively on the matter, as doing so may further escalate tensions between the two groups. However, she did remark that this refusal, and deliberate re-framing of the matter by the national branch of the Socialist Alternative, made her and her colleagues feel ‘degraded and belittled.’ Furthermore, that she and her co-president, ‘had no reason to lie about anything,’ and, moreover, that they possessed physical evidence of the event.
Woroni spoke to Mr Matthew Lesh from the National Union of Jewish Students. Mr Lesh emphasised that this was not a unique incident, stating that, ‘in terms of the ANU this was an isolated incident. However, in terms of the Socialist Alternative, this was not an isolated incident at all, and over the last few years we have had over a dozen cases of intimidation, harassment, and threats on various Australian University campuses.’ Mr Lesh added that, ‘we welcome a strong investigation by the University. It is extremely important to deal with cases of racism and negative experiences such as these in a series manner. It is also important to build respect between groups, without resorting to vile activities and degrading and intimidating behaviour, such as occurred in this situation. ’
Woroni dug up an article from The Age, published on September 4, 2006, titled “Jews in fear of hardline uni groups.” The article states that, ‘radical left-wing groups at Melbourne universities are exploiting tensions in the Middle East to promote anti-Semitism and recruit members, according to Jewish student groups.’ The article details a series of verbal and physical assaults against both Jewish students and student members of the Liberal party, which occurred at this time.
An unnamed source informed Woroni that physical assaults by Socialist Alternative members against members of the Liberal Party, took place earlier this year at the University of Melbourne. However, that the incident was not adequately investigated by the University, the student association, or the student newspaper, Farrago. The same source stressed that, ‘if a student is Jewish, they don’t mechanically support settlements in the West Bank, just like, if a student is opposed to Israeli activities in the West Bank, they are not automatically anti-Semitic.’
Woroni contacted Professor Richard Baker in regard to the issue. Professor Baker confirmed that, ‘I have met with the complainants and subsequently have raised the allegations with the Socialist Alliance in writing, to which a response is required by 17 March.’
Professor Baker also made reference to the contents of correspondence with the Socialist Alternative, “In his [sic] letter, I indicated the seriousness of the matter: ‘As you will appreciate the University views these matters very seriously. Tolerance of diversity and the free debate of ideas are fundamental to the concept of a university. Moreover, the University has a responsibility to provide its students with a safe and secure study environment and threatening behavior [sic] such as this cannot be permitted.’”