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AUJS slams autonomous Honi Soit editions

Jewish students claim the covers of Queer and Women's Honi Soit endorse violence

Left to right: the 2018 Women's and Queer Honi Soit covers. Left to right: the 2018 Women's and Queer Honi Soit covers.

The Australasian Union of Jewish Students (AUJS) are calling for a public apology from the SRC’s Women and Queer officers regarding their choice of cover graphic for this year’s Women and Queer editions of Honi Soit.

In a media release published today, AUJS claimed the Queer Honi cover, which includes a graphic of a Molotov cocktail, is deliberately “endorsing violence as a legitimate form of protest”. Additionally, the organisation criticises the cover of Women’s Honi Soit for showcasing an image of Arab Ba’ath Party member Hamida Mustafa al-Tahir, who in 1985 committed a suicide bombing in an Israeli military base in Lebanon. AUJS said the attack killed 50 individuals, including Israeli and Lebanese soldiers. A New York Times article published at the time put the death toll to at least 20 Israeli officers and members of the Israeli-supported Southern Lebanon Army.

Combined, AUJS asserted the covers “display a blatant disdain for Israeli victims of violence” and that many Jewish students are feeling “acute distress […] over the idealisation and legitimisation of violence against Israel by their university’s student newspaper.”

AUJS media release

As per section 4(e) and 4(f) of the SRC Constitution, two issues of Honi Soit are each year reserved for an autonomous Queer and Women’s edition, created with the help of an open collective of students who belong to the identity being represented. The ten elected editors of Honi Soit are historically not involved in the creation of these special editions.

While section 4(e)(iii) mandates that woman-identifying members of the elected Honi Soit editorial team must coordinate Women’s Honi Soit, precedence over the last three years has handed full editorial control over to the Women’s Officers of the SRC. This year’s Women’s Officers, Madeline Ward and Jessica Syed, defended their choice of cover graphic. “We were aware that Hamida Al Taher car bombed an Israeli military encampment …[but] her actions occurred in the context of the Israeli invasion and occupation of Lebanon, ie: a war.”

“We believe in and support the right for people to resist occupation and oppression, and believe that Hamida’s actions are far less shocking than the fact Israel murdered over 58 peaceful Palestinian protesters, the youngest of which being an 8-month-old baby.”

SRC Queer Officers, Jazzlyn Breen and Ray Prout, also defended their cover graphic, believing AUJS misconstrued their intentions. “The Molotov cocktail was very obviously in relation to the violent history of the queer liberation movement against the continued oppression which has targeted queer identifying people throughout modern history.”

Breen and Prout are critical of AUJS’ condemnation of violence, citing hypocrisy on part of the organisation. “AUJS is a zionist organisation, who [sic] openly support the state of Israel, and thus the actions of the state against Palestine.”

Although Queer and Women’s Honi Soit are autonomously produced, the President of the SRC must approve the final publication of every issue before print. This year’s President, Imogen Grant, confirmed she knew of both the Women’s and Queer Honi covers. “My job as President is to check the publication for defamation, contempt of court or other legal risks that could affect the SRC—not to censor Honi Soit for producing content that has potential to offend.”

“Calls to censor Honi Soit in response to the cover stinks of bygone debates from the 60s about censoring Tharunka, Lot’s Wife, Farrago and other student press for publishing material that management morally and politically objected to. This is about freedom of speech in the contest of political ideas.”

AUJS told Honi that this is not a question of free speech. “Student newspapers at our universities must not incite or promote violence and hatred. Every student has a right to safe [sic] on campus.”

AUJS have sent their complaints directly to the Vice-Chancellor’s office, which has since redirected the matter to Peter MacCallum, Director, Education and Strategy Acting Registrar. It is unclear what the outcome will be as the publication of Honi Soit, including its special editions, is not regulated or managed by the University.

Grant said, “This matter should have been referred to the SRC. The University is not empowered to censor Honi Soit, cease its distribution, force a public apology […] or censor similar content in the future before the paper goes to print.”

More to come.

A previous version of this article stated AUJS accused the collectives of anti-semitism. This has been corrected.