A racial discrimination action taken against Sydney University academic Jake Lynch continued in the Federal Court last Tuesday.
Associate Professor Lynch – who is the director of USyd’s Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies (CPACS) – was taken to court by Israeli legal group Shurat HaDin in October last year after he refused to endorse a fellowship application for Hebrew University academic Dan Avnon, citing a CPACS’ policy in support of the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign.
Shurat HaDin alleged that Lynch’s actions violated sections 9, 13, 16 and 17 of the Racial Discrimination Act.
BDS promotes an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, equality under the law for Palestinian citizens of Israel, and the right of return of Palestinian refugees to their homeland.
At Tuesday’s hearing, Lynch’s lawyer Yves Hazan sought to have much of the substance of Shurat HaDin’s statement of claim struck out due to a lack of specific allegations against Professor Lynch that could constitute a breach of the Racial Discrimination Act.
“The applicants need to tell us what the material facts are,” he told the court.
Shurat HaDin said Lynch’s refusal to sponsor Avnon’s fellowship application impinged on his “rights to education; freedom of association; freedom of expression; academic freedom, and work”.
Andrew Hamilton, Shurat HaDin’s lawyer, argued that the statement of claim was sufficient, and that general references to the BDS movement in the claim were important because “everything [Lynch] has done is because of his support for BDS.”
Hazan submitted that Shurat HaDin’s attempt to establish a breach of the Act by linking Lynch to the international BDS movement was “an overreach.”
References to the refusals of Meg Ryan, Dustin Hoffman, Elvis Costello, Santana and Snoop Dogg to travel to Israel in recent years prompted laughter in the courtroom. “What are the primary facts that link them and pin them to the respondent?” Hazan asked.
Justice Alan Robertson, who is presiding over the case, commented that there had been “far too much by the way of socio-political slogans” in the case. “One needs to start with simpler facts,” he said.
Professor Avnon is now at the University, having managed to secure his fellowship without Lynch’s signature. He told The Australian last month he had no interest in being involved in the case.
There was additional debate in the court about Shurat HaDin’s capacity to pay Lynch’s legal costs in the event that he wins the case. Hazan contended that Hamilton had not provided sufficient evidence that his Australian assets could cover Lynch’s costs. Hamilton will have a chance to respond when the court sits again on April 24.
*Note: These legal proceedings will be unaffected by recently proposed amendments to section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.