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The ugly face of student activism

Peter Wertheim and Julie Nathan | The Australian | April 30, 2013

   

WHEN the University of NSW surveyed staff and students about which new stores they wanted on campus, a Max Brenner chocolate shop was the equal second most popular choice. This has not deterred the anti-Israel Students for Justice in Palestine UNSW from seeking to impose its own preferences on the rest of the campus community.

They accuse UNSW, and presumably staff and students who voted for Max Brenner, of supporting "Israeli war crimes" and "apartheid".

Beyond this baseless calumny against Israel, local Max Brenner shops are wholly Australian owned and operated.

Yet if that was the extent of SJP's response, it would hardly rate a mention.But what began as student activism, has ended up in a social media campaign of anti-Jewish vilification, to the point where many Jewish students on campus feel unsafe.

The Facebook page RALLY! Say no to Max Brenner at UNSW was set up by SJP via the Boycott Max Brenner at UNSW Facebook group. It has hosted dozens of comments that cover the gamut of anti-Jewish stereotypes, claiming that Jews are cursed by God, are money-hungry, control the media, and are dirty and evil.


Other posts deny the Holocaust and simultaneously, with textbook cognitive dissonance, blame the Holocaust on the Jews.

The racist postings include a reference to "evil greedy money-loving nature of Jews", and the claim that "Only news (that) Jews are happy with goes through via media". Another post reverts to classical religious bigotry: "Of course I have a problem with Jews. You are not the cursed people and were not Banished from the holy land for nothing lol." Non-Jews who defend Jews come in for opprobrium with the comment: "Tip rats = Jew lovers."

An especially vicious post rails against "the dirtiest most evil people on earth using the holocaust to their advantage as leverage to establish the state of israel. it was all planned."

The UNSW Student Representative Council Ethnic Affairs Officer, Charlotte Lewis, was so shocked she posted: "Reading over these comments has left me gobsmacked at the outrageous anti-Semitic slanders mentioned on this event. If I see one more antisemitic comment, I'm taking this to the University."

In a later post, Lewis stated: "I am the Ethno-Cultural Officer, meaning I need to look out for any hate speech towards any ethnic group. I have witnessed many accusations that the Holocaust didn't exist, and that Jews are money-hungry pigs. Due to this, several Jewish students actually feel unsafe to step foot into the University, meaning I actually DO need to solve this problem."

Lewis informed the page owners that the UNSW Chancellery had been made aware of the page, and its anti-Jewish content, but the university administration appears not to have taken action.

The present National Anti Racism campaign slogan, "Racism, it stops with me", seems to have fallen on deaf ears among the administrators at UNSW, which has one of the most culturally diverse campuses in Australia.

It has been left to other UNSW students who share Lewis's disgust to establish their own Facebook page Defend Max Brenner at UNSW, featuring screenshots of the anti-Jewish posts on the RALLY page to highlight the racism it has spawned. These students posted their own comments on the RALLY page, protesting its anti-Semitism and demanding an end to the anti-Jewish vitriol. For the most part, their demands went unheeded. Some anti-Jewish posts were deleted, but were replaced by others.

SJP has yet to ask itself why it provides a sympathetic home for naked Jew-hatred. SJP organisers wax indignant at the merest suggestion they are complicit in fomenting anti-Semitism. Instead, they accuse anyone who points out the raw racism they attract of trying to "censor" them with the intimidating charge of anti-Semitism. It is difficult but necessary for them to understand their own role in attracting and hosting content which expresses racism against Jews. It is easy, but false, simply to assume any claimed offence is merely feigned for political or other advantage.

Peter Wertheim is executive director and Julie Nathan research officer of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, the national peak body of the Australian Jewish community.

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