Last week in Honi Soit, Bjorn Wallin in a letter to the editor, advocated that the student community, namely through the SRC, support Professor Lynch of the Conflict and Peace Studies Centre in his decision to refuse to assist the Israeli Professor David Avnon, citing that because Israel apparently commits war crimes, we should therefore cut ties to Israeli tertiary institutions. I’m deeply ashamed to say that the SRC did in fact that week vote to support this decision. I am proud to have voted against it, and deeply oppose and condemn this cutting of ties for one single reason; the appalling decision to use broadbrush approach of assuming every Israeli is evil, and that cooperative engagement has no value.
Ignoring discussions of both the appropriateness of Israel’s behaviour and the appropriateness of cutting educational institutional links for the crimes of a state aside, the reality is that Professor Avnon is not some neoconservative, foreign policy hawk reveling in the blood of Palestinian children. In 2001 he established the only centre in Israel where students from the three streams of Israeli state education – secular Jewish, religious Jewish and Arab – could studied together in 2001. In 2005 he also contributed to an EU program, Toward a Culture of Tolerance and Co-existence, with Palestinian partners. Professor Avnon decided to study how a diverse community such as Australia’s studied civics, and asked for Australian academic assistance, which the ‘heroic’ Dr Lynch refused to him. So let’s get this right; our apparently progressive SRC opposed cooperating with a noted progressive academic in Israel, working towards promoting social concord and peace in his own state, in studying ways of teaching civics in diverse and multicultural communities. Who is better positioned than Avnon to change Israeli society from within? To do the painstaking, indispensable work of convincing fellow citizens and policymakers that, for example, encouraging Israeli Jews and Arabs to learn with and from each other might actually be worthwhile? And, now that we’re supporting the alienation and isolation of such progressives, let me pose a new question to you, who will successfully do that work?