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BDS academics to foot legal costs

By Christian Kerr and Rick Morton, August 29, 2013

Greens MP David Shoebridge speaks at the BDS rally at Sydney University yesterday. Stuart Rees and Jake Lynch have been threatened with legal action over involvement in the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against the Israeli state. Picture: Sam Mooy. Source: TheAustralian
 
THE academics at the centre of the Sydney University boycott, sanctions and divestment row will be left to cover their own legal costs as campus controversy over the anti-Israeli movement blazes.

Protesters gathered at the university yesterday to protest action lodged against Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies director Jake Lynch and council member Stuart Rees by the Tel Aviv-based Shurat HaDin Israel Law Centre.

Shurat HaDin alleges the support of Associate Professor Lynch and Emeritus Professor Rees for the BDS movement violates the Racial Discrimination Act.

The complaint is before the Australian Human Rights Commission, but Akiva Hamilton, the Australian lawyer with Shurat HaDin, says it is unlikely to be resolved in that jurisdiction.

"Based on Associate Professor Lynch's response to the Australian Human Rights Commission, Shurat HaDin expects that the AHRC will be unable to conciliate the racial discrimination claim," he said.

Sydney University will not indemnify professors Lynch and Rees if the matter proceeds.

"The university does not provide legal support for staff in relation to complaints or proceedings against them in respect of their activities in a personal capacity," a spokeswoman said.

Professor Rees, who is also the director of the Sydney Peace Foundation, was asked at the rally about reports Jewish students felt offended and intimidated by the tenor of the BDS debate towards Israel.

Professor Rees said it was "absolute nonsense". "You should see the hate mail I get as a result of taking a stand. They call me anti-Semitic," he said.

He said the Greens were genuflecting to political survival instincts by pretending the party did not support the BDS campaign. "Well, they're making political calculations because they know the mainstream media and they know that most of the people in Canberra are cowards, irrespective of party," he said.

NSW Greens Legislative Council member David Shoebridge defied federal leader Christine Milne -- who says party policy is not to support any BDS campaign -- to attend the rally.

The Australian understands other NSW parliamentary Greens were angry at Mr Shoebridge. "With the attacks on the Centre for Peace Studies here we've seen attacks on two academics who have stood up, we've seen a response," he told about 35 people.

"And it's effectively a slap-suit; litigation raised against them to silence their voice of dissent and to stop them speaking truth to power."

Alon Tal, a 22-year-old commerce/law student, was offended by the framing of the campaign.

"As a Jew, my Zionism is inextricably linked with my Jewish identity so the fact that these people are calling for a boycott on Israel which is, essentially, calling for the destruction of Israel, it's really an affront to me," he said.

Professor Rees claimed he had "silks" lining up to offer pro bono legal support.

"It is a Rupert Murdoch nonsense, actually worse than nonsense, portraying that this is a movement to do with the abolition of Israel or that it is racist or anti-Semitic," he said.

"It only gets treated as some kind of extremist leftie plot in this country because the general public are effectively anaesthetised by the front page of the Daily Telegraph or by the editorial or frequently the front pages of The Australian. That's not journalism, that's the campaign."

If the complaint is not resolved in the AHRC, Shurat HaDin will apply to the Federal Court.

"Shurat HaDin expects the AHRC to terminate the matter on the basis that the complaint involves an issue of public importance that should be considered by the Federal Court and that there is no reasonable prospect of the matter being settled by conciliation," Mr Hamilton said.

If the AHRC terminates the complaint, Shurat HaDin will have 60 days to lodge Federal Court action.

The issue has spilt over into Israeli media, with Professor Lynch telling The Jerusalem Post the complaint was "nonsense".

Shurat HaDin - Israel Law Center
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