Dr Jake Lynch began his talk at the BDS (Boycott, Disinvestment, Sanctions) conference against apartheid Israel at Mullumbimby Civic Hall last Thursday by holding up an orange.
‘When I was growing up in the UK we had three kinds of oranges: fascist oranges from Spain; racist oranges from South Africa; and Zionist oranges from Israel. Two down; one to go!’
Earlier, in a video address, Omar Barghouti, founder of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel and author of Boycott, Disinvestment, Sanctions:the Global Struggle for Palestinian Rights, had reminded us that the campaign against apartheid South Africa had started in the 1950s. ‘People have short memories. It took 25-30 years of struggle to get there.’
Dr Lynch preferred to quote Schopenhauer, saying every idea goes through three stages: ‘First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.’
Associate professor Jake Lynch is director of the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Sydney; an executive nember of the Sydney Peace Foundation and secretary general of the International Peace Research Association. Dr Lynch has also worked as a presenter and journalist for BBC TV, Sky News and The Independent newspaper.
Dr Lynch said his training as a journalist led him to distinguish ‘facts’ from ‘claims’ and compared attitudes to the Israeli occupation of Palestine to elite blindness to, and denial of, climate change. ‘Fact: the vast majority of qualified opinion says human induced climate change is real. Fact: the Israeli occupation is illegal under international law.’
Dr Lynch said many academics asked him ‘why should we get involved?’ He pointed out that Sydney University was ‘deeply enmeshed in the dense weave that ties Australia with Israel.’ Some of these ties were problematic.
Israeli universities are complicit in the occupation of Palestine. Prof Lynch gave the example of Hebrew University, whose Mount Scopus campus is built on land confiscated from Palestinians. This institution accredits military training, giving military qualifications a veneer of academic respectability.
Hebrew University has close links with one of Israel’s largest military companies, Elbit Systems, with Michael Federman, the chairman of Elbit, on its Board of Governors. (Incidentally, Elbit, whose drones have been used in Gaza, was the target of a BDS action in Melbourne in August last year.)
Similarly, with Israel University of Technology (Technion) in Haifa, academics collaborated with the army to develop a bulldozer. Technion was also involved in studies in changing Israel’s brand: re-branding Israel with the aim of legitimising the occupation and lessening the pressure for change.
Dr Lynch said, ‘ For Sydney University to lend its name is to confer an aura of legitimacy on these institution. Unless we take a stand we ourselves are complicit. That is why we called for a boycott of such schemes and links.’
There was a price to pay for taking a principled stand on occupied Palestine. The Australian said that Dr Lynch’s refusal to sponsor an academic from Hebrew University was ‘anti-semitic’ and the Israeli Legal Centre, Shurat HaDin took him to court, accusing him of violating the Racial Discrimination Act. Their case collapsed and Dr Lynch was awarded costs.
Speaking of the Israeli academic who was refused a fellowship, Dr Lynch said: ‘ It makes no difference if he was a Buddhist from Bendigo; it was the scheme itself, not him as an individual.’
In the video presentation Omar Barghouti had also emphasised: ‘We never target individual academics or artists; we target institutions.’
And Dr Lynch added that Shurat HaDin was mentioned in Wikileaks, with leaked emails showing the director boasting to staff about their links to Israeli intelligence.
Shurat HaDin may have thought that a legal case would shut Dr Lynch and BDS, but it had the opposite effect. Said Dr Lynch: ‘ We were blamed for Elvis Costello, Meg Ryan and Snoop Dog not visiting Israel. The lawsuit galvanised people and the BDS movement has received a huge shot in the arm.’
Dr Lynch said BDS was winning and the Israeli government was loosing the propaganda wars, despite the work of paid ‘hasbara’ trolls on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. The BDS campaign had notched up some impressive successes in 2014, including: pressure on Sodastream to close illegal settlement factories; divestments from companies like Veolia, G4S, Motorola, Hewlett Packard, Caterpillar and other companies profiting from the occupation, by organisations as varied as the Bill Gates Foundation and the US Presbyterian Church; and the growing boycott and divestment campaign supported by an increasing number of intellectuals, artists, student associations and worker’s unions across the globe. Even our very own Bob Carr, former Premier of NSW and ex-Foreign Minister, once a founder member of Labor Friends of Israel, has now switched to becoming a patron of Labor Friends of Palestine.
Barghouti too emphasised the effectiveness of peaceful, non-violent cultural and academic boycotts. ‘Cultural boycotts have been the most hurtful for Israel, because brand Israel is being attacked….They have invested millions to re-brand Israel…After every massacre Israel sends out its dance companies, the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra, to whitewash its crimes…’
Dr Lynch also spoke about his difficulties as a “peace professor.” ‘Peace has fallen into disrepute with Palestinians. The so-called “peace process” has failed them. But what we mean by peace is peace with justice. Peace with justice requires the transformation of conflict to achieve a sustainable peace for all.’ He then quoted JFK: “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”
Other voices also featured at the conference, attended by around 70 folk. Australian artist and filmmaker Rihab Charida, daughter of Palestinian refugees, said: ‘This issue has nothing to do with Jews and Judaism; it’s not about religion. It’s about Zionist colonial expansion and the supremacist state of Israel. Israel ticks all the boxes for the definition of “apartheid”. ‘ Palestinian Christian Bassam Shomali’s ancestors were shepherds near Beit Lahaim (Bethlehem). His mother, brothers and cousins were shot at by the IDF, who also tortured his cousin, shot his dogs and destroyed the family olive groves. He said: ‘ My family have been in the area since Jesus. My children are Australian, my wife Scottish, but, as a Palestinian Christian, I have no right of return to my ancestral lands.’ Bassam spoke of the theft of water, the drying up of streams due to the Israeli government’s diverting of waterways. Local activist Gareth Smith said: ‘We must never normalise the abnormal.’ He said Sodastream products were stocked by Harvey Norman, Big W and Mitre 10 in Byron. And Duncan Shipley-Smith, one of the organisers, said: ‘Don’t buy Brand Israel.’
Dr Lynch ended his talk by quoting Primo Levi, Jewish author and Holocaust-survivor: “If not us, who? If not now, when?”
This is not just an academic question. The situation in Gaza and the West Bank is dire. According to a recent report on Channel 4 News: ‘Around 96,000 homes were destroyed in the bombardment, leaving tens of thousands of families struggling in the harsh winter without a home.’ One UNWRA official, who witnessed the death of two infants after the area was hit by severe winter storms in January, was quoted as saying: ‘”The family had been rained on for some time…Four children, one was just 50 days old, died of hypothermia after living in the cold.”
Over 2200 dead in last year’s Gaza massacre, many of them women and children, with thousands rendered homeless; continual demolition of Palestinian homes, coupled with continued settlement expansion in the occupied territories; continued arrest of Palestinian children, some as young as seven…Israel is a rogue state that continues to defy international law, flout the findings of its own human rights organisations , disregard the advice of its ex-generals, police and intelligence geeks – not to mention the fervent pleas of its intellectuals – and turn a deaf ear to the homilies of its best friend and patron, the US of A.
In this situation it’s only a massive international civil society boycott – as outlined by BDS – that will bring recalcitrant Israel to its knees.
Barghouti was hopeful. In his address, delivered in 2011, he quoted a senior Israeli official warning his government : ‘Markets are being closed in our face.’ Barghouti said ‘This is a movement that they cannot stop; and they realise that.’ He said: ‘The struggles are connected…opposing the militarisation and savage capitalism in this country (US) , directly benefits the peoples of the world, including the Palestinians.’
BDS’s time has come. In sleepy Mullumbimby in the heart of the rainbow region of Australia a flag was raised in its name last Thursday.
It’s time that apartheid, Zionist Israeli orange fell and joined the other two in the compost heap of history.
The BDS conference was organised by Byron Friends of Palestine.
For more on BDS see: http://www.bdsmovement.net/
Disclaimer: This≠ writer is a supporter of human rights for all in Israel-Palestine