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Australian student union calls for boycott of ‘apartheid colonial state’ Israel

University of Melbourne’s union passes motion accusing Jewish state of ethnic cleansing of Palestinians; Jewish bodies condemn ‘venomous’ language

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, right, is escorted by Vice Chancellor Duncan Maskell as he arrives to hold a student town hall at the University of Melbourne in Melbourne, Australia, February 10, 2022. (Kevin Lamarque/AP)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, right, is escorted by Vice Chancellor Duncan Maskell as he arrives to hold a student town hall at the University of Melbourne in Melbourne, Australia, February 10, 2022. (Kevin Lamarque/AP)

The student body of Australia’s highest-ranked university passed a motion Monday calling for a full academic boycott of all Israeli institutions. A similar motion was passed in April before being repealed amid community backlash and the threat of legal action.

The new motion, passed on Monday by the University of Melbourne Student Union (UMSU), featured a strongly worded preamble accusing Israel of the “ethnic cleansing of more than 350+ Palestinian villages and towns” and “forcefully displacing over 750,000 Palestinians from their homes.”

Much of the language of Monday’s motion is identical to April’s motion. It was not immediately clear what led UMSU to resubmit the motion.

The motion was passed 13–3 with one abstention.

The preamble says Israel is an “apartheid colonial state” operating an “open-air prison” in the Gaza Strip. The document suggests Israel intends to carry out a forceful expulsion of Gazans followed by the “massacre” of those who remain in the coastal enclave.

The April motion sparked an enormous backlash against the student body. At the time, a University of Melbourne spokesperson distanced the institution from its student body, saying the motion was “not the position of the University of Melbourne.”

Shortly after its passing, a non-Jewish student, Justin Riazaty, launched a lawsuit, alleging that the motion was in violation of Australian law. Amid growing legal pressure and accusations of antisemitism, the student union revoked the motion in May.

In response to the fresh motion, which claims that Zionism is a racist colonial ideology, a coalition of Australian Jewish advocacy groups released a joint statement saying, “It is disingenuous to suggest that this motion is simply about criticism of the Israeli government or support for the Palestinians… the motion is imbued with racism and its language drips with venomous hatred.”

The statement also made mention of “death threats and a planned stabbing” that it contends was fostered by on-campus antisemitic rhetoric.

“We reject the lies in this motion. We reject the denial of Jewish connection to Israel, and we stand by Jewish students who face constant antisemitism and unrelenting hatred on campus because of who they are, and their family, ethnic, cultural and religious connections to Israel,” the statement concluded.

Speaking to the Times of Israel, Jewish student leader Josh Feldman said, “The student union has sent a clear message that Jewish students aren’t welcome on campus, and that message is bound to have tangible consequences.”

Feldman urged fellow Jewish students to “scream from the rooftops” due to the lack of support from the wider public. “Under no circumstances will we tolerate attacks against the Jewish community at Australian universities.”

Illustrative: A man holds a sign during a rally in support of the BDS movement in Albany New York, on June 15, 2016. (AP/Mike Groll)

After the threat of renewed legal action against the student body, the president of the student union, Sophie Nguyen, called the reaction “disgusting” in a series of tweets Monday.

“In my opinion, we have done everything right and stayed true to the purposes and aims of our student union. It is shameful that legal threats are used to undermine democratic processes and to scare students,” she said.

Addressing persistent accusations of antisemitism, Nguyen said, “I strongly stand against antisemitism. This sort of behavior is not on and should never be tolerated on campus — or anywhere. In the same way, I refuse to conflate antisemitism with supporting [the] Palestinian struggle for self-determination and freedom.”

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