Opinion //

OLES2155: Experience Israel — I have.

As Palestinians commemorate the 75th year since al Nakba, it is wounding to see the University align themselves with our oppressor.

The University of Sydney recently introduced OLES2155: Experience Israel, an in-country study unit “[introducing] students to the Hebrew language and culture through an intensive program at a partner university in Israel.” As a Palestinian citizen of Israel with lived experience in the country, I have experienced Israel. I’ve experienced firsthand its apartheid practices, discriminatory laws, and systemic racism — and that is exactly why this unit should be cut immediately.

The unit of study normalises Israel. This contentious, and frankly unnecessarily risky move by the University of Sydney attempts to whitewash the crimes of the state of Israel and normalise its existence.

This is not a state we should normalise. 

As an Australian university, it need not be said that the University of Sydney should uphold fundamental and universal values of equality, freedom, and the protection of human rights. Instead, USyd has chosen to align itself with an apartheid state accused by countless human rights organisations, including the United Nations, of committing crimes against humanity in their treatment of Indigenous Palestinians. The act of offering this subject is incredibly divisive, as it signals USyd chooses complicity with Israel’s settler-colonial Zionist project. As Palestinians commemorate the 75th year since al Nakba — the invasion of our homeland and the start of occupation, land theft, and colonial subjugation — it is wounding to see the University align themselves with our oppressor. The University of Sydney should not, and cannot, normalise relations with states which commit apartheid, ethnic cleansing, and occupation.

Students and staff of the University have expressed clear objections to normalisation of Israel. Many organisations — including Staff for BDS, Students for BDS, Students for Palestine, the NTEU USyd branch, the Student Representative Council, and the Autonomous Collective Against Racism — have called for the University of Sydney to stand in solidarity with Palestinians. Most of these organisations also advocate for the University to cut ties with apartheid Israel and to engage in the thriving global antiracist BDS campaign to pressure Israel to comply with international law. USyd campus observed Israeli Apartheid Week last month as collectives, students, staff and academics shed light on the Palestinian plight. In the past six months, the Student Representative Council, the National Union of Students, and the NTEU have taken positions against the adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, which dangerously conflates criticism of the state of Israel as antisemitism. It does this by its examples, whereby “claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour,” is an outlined example of antisemitism under the IHRA working definition. 

In 2021, the USyd branch of the NTEU passed a resolution calling on members to “participate in active solidarity with Palestinian members, including in ongoing demonstrations,” which saw 78% of members vote in favour. It also passed a resolution calling on its 27,000 members to boycott visits to Israel by pro-Israel organisations. 

In March this year, the SRC passed a resolution stating:

  1. The SRC recognises the historic and ongoing suffering endured by the Palestinian people perpetuated by the state of Israel.
  2. The SRC acknowledges that the dynamic between Israel and Palestine is an Apartheid system.
  3. The SRC understands that Palestinian oppression continues to be ignored, and believes that world leaders and institutions should stand firmly in solidarity with Palestinians and their liberation.

It is clear that collectives and unions, elected to represent students and staff, do not support the normalisation of the state of Israel. So why would the University, against the wishes of its staff and students, normalise the contentious Israeli state? There is a lot at stake here, and I call on the University of Sydney to immediately discontinue this unit.

Filed under: