Tensions rise over Australian university encampments

Temperatures soar despite the winter chills, as each side accuses its opponents of extremism

五月 10, 2024
Source: iStock

Australia’s opposition says it will attempt to establish a Senate inquiry into antisemitism at universities, claiming that administrators invited “round-the-clock occupation by extremist protestors” by allowing pro-Palestinian encampments on their campuses.

Shadow education minister Sarah Henderson said the Liberal Party would lodge a motion to establish the inquiry, to be conducted by the Senate Education and Employment References Committee, in the coming week.  

She said that the inquiry would peruse legislative and other actions to “shut down” antisemitism and “ensure university campuses are a safe place to learn”.

Ms Henderson said campuses were becoming “hotbeds of antisemitic activism” in “flagrant breach” of university policies and codes of conduct. “Failure to enforce university guidelines not only creates an unsafe environment for learning but fuels hate speech and potential violence,” she said, adding that Jewish students were being subjected to “a level of harassment that would not be tolerated for any other group”.

Meanwhile the Australian Jewish Association has warned that US-style violence could spread to the protest camps in Australia. “We never condone anything illegal but…nobody should be surprised if members of the public take matters into their own hands,” it tweeted.

“Ordinary people are disgusted by the support for terrorism being expressed by the racist activists occupying Australian universities. It should surprise nobody that Nazi encampments on Australian universities make many people angry.”

While the anger on both sides has mainly been expressed verbally, with opposing sides trading insults and branding each other extremists, protesters at the University of Adelaide have been targeted by fireworks. Footage broadcast on local television shows the sparsely populated camp coming under fire from exploding projectiles, in what was reportedly the second incident of its kind.

The university said that it had increased its security presence and would help the “appropriate authorities” with their enquiries. “Universities hold a privileged position within society as a place of critical thinking and respectful debate,” a spokesman said. “Those who choose to express their views on campus through peaceful protest must also uphold the rights of our staff, students and visitors to a safe and respectful environment.”

Monash University has called in the police following reported clashes between opposing groups and claims that pro-Palestinian protesters have been assaulted. A closed-circuit television trailer has been set up near the encampment at Monash’s Clayton campus “to proactively monitor any activity that may require intervention”, the university said.

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The Australian National University is investigating allegations that students in a mass online meeting made Nazi gestures, The Australian newspaper reported, while the University of Queensland has referred two “unacceptable” incidents to police. A protester at the university threw a bollard through a classroom window during a rally, the newspaper reported.

Nine Media reported that federal attorney general Mark Dreyfuss had declined a request from universities for advice on the lawfulness of the protest chants “intifada” and “from the river to the sea”.

Monash said it had received “an overwhelming number of complaints” about conduct and language that was “likely to go beyond lawful speech”.

“Language which goes beyond lawful freedom of speech and causes harm may become a student misconduct matter,” it warned.




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