Several institutions have responded to the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict without taking a clear stance on the conflict, and all have notably lacked support of Palestinian liberation — often implicitly responding in opposition to it.
Last week, New South Wales announced that they had planned to exercise “extraordinary powers” at the Palestine rally held on Sunday 15 October. NSW police acting commissioner, David Hudson, said that the threshold established by the use of these powers at the Cronulla Riots had been met, and NSW Premier Chris Minns also said that this was justified.
The protest was described as “largely peaceful” by the police and no arrests were made despite there being thousands at the rally, and more than 1000 officers on standby. At the rally, several speakers denounced the anti-semitic chants, with one of the organisers at the protest saying, “How dare you weaponise the Palestinian struggle for your racist chants? I’ve had it.”
The police have also been involved in education institutions and student behaviour surrounding the conflict. At a pro-Palestine rally held by Students Against War, there was a group of police present to monitor the protest. One of the organisers of the protest was asked to provide their personal details. When asked by Honi, and the organiser in question, the police said, “just doing my job”.
At Pendle Hill High School, a school in Western Sydney with a high proportion of Muslim students, most of whom are working class, a teacher posted on a staff messageboard about the police investigating students’ political behaviour.
“Due to current circumstances overseas, I have been contacted by our local Police Youth Liaison Officer. We will need to deal with 99% of the silly comments etc that students make, however, the police are interested ‘in students that are actively sharing material and/or expressing ideological views (no matter how extreme) so that we can monitor and assess them.
“Please let the senior exec know if any students fall into this category and what they are sharing etc.”
An anonymous source also told Honi, “I have been told that two teachers are being reprimanded for expressing pro-Palestine views on school grounds.”
The USyd Autonomous Collective Against Racism (ACAR) told Honi in a statement, “The NSW police’s recent actions and involvement in stifling all forms of pro-Palestinian activism – concerning both protests and online support – is frankly abhorrent. To threaten the use of extraordinary powers at a legally compliant protest and to request identification of online pro-Palestinian supporters from schools in Western Sydney falls nothing short of shameful.”
Institutions have also responded to the conflict by releasing public statements which were often general in nature.
At Griffith University, a student who displayed a Palestinian flag was sent an email from the university saying, “Globally, those who have friends and family in regions impacted by natural disaster or armed conflict including Afghanistan, Gaza and Myanmar will doubtless be distressed and worried for them. Our thoughts are with you during this difficult time.”
The email mentioned racist abuse to First Nations people during the referendum alongside “expressions of violent anti-Semitism on Australian streets” without further mention or contextualisation of the conflict.
At USyd, Vice Chancellor Mark Scott sent an email to students with a similar blanket approach to the conflict. Scott wrote in the email, “I have been shocked and saddened to witness the escalating violence in the Middle East and the accompanying unconscionable statements and behaviour from fringe actors here in Australia and abroad.”
Scott denounced “racist, anti-Semitic, or anti-Muslim language and behaviour” adding that students should exercise their right to free expression consistently with the Student Charter.
The University of Sydney Union (USU) Board also released a statement on the conflict in a similar vein, stating “The USU is saddened to hear about the reports coming out of the Middle East and we recognise that the situation will adversely impact many of our members. We are committed to fostering a safe, respectful, and welcoming campus for all our members and encourage anyone who is impacted to reach out to University counselling and mental health support.
“We stand firm in our commitment to anti-discrimination and prevention of any behaviour that breaches the University’s student charter.”
ACAR was critical of statements of this kind for remaining neutral and their complicity in being unable to criticise the ongoing apartheid and genocide of Palestinians.
“Attempted responses and addresses speaking of the current situation in Palestine have been deplorable. Statements from the University of Sydney Union as well as the Vice Chancellor fail to contextualise the effects of the ongoing settler-colonial project of Israel in racialising and besieging Palestinians, thus deeming them stateless.
“However, this is clearly too much of an ask, considering the USU is not capable of simply naming the state of Palestine (or its’ Israeli occupation). Instead, the USU vaguely alludes to the ‘situation’ and ‘reports’ coming out of the Middle East’, before swiftly moving on to advertise counselling services.
“To not acknowledge and condemn the 75-year-long occupation of stolen Palestinian land is simply to be complicit. With a membership of over 35,000 students, they have decidedly neglected their outreach and thus any responsibility to educate students. Thus, the failure to address the ongoing war in Palestine and its occupied territories underscores the need for a more informed and conscientious approach.”