Senators berate Australian National University over Gaza position

In rerun of US Congress hearing, Australian university executives reprimanded over both insensitivity to antisemitism and ‘complicity’ in Gaza slaughter

June 7, 2024
Parliament House, Canberra
Source: THE

Australia’s national university has been harangued in parliament for turning a blind eye to antisemitism while contributing to Israel’s “genocide” against Palestinians, in a two-hour inquisition by members of a Senate estimates committee.

In an echo of a fiery hearing in US Congress last December, when three university presidents were berated over perceived Palestinian sympathies, Australian National University (ANU) leaders were summoned to estimates for just the second time in the institution’s 78-year history.

Obliged to accept because ANU is governed under federal legislation, university executives were grilled by shadow education minister Sarah Henderson over their handling of “hate speech” against Jewish students.

Her interrogation was interspersed with questioning by Greens education spokeswoman Mehreen Faruqi and independent senator Lidia Thorpe over ANU’s “surveillance” of pro-Palestinian protesters and its “complicity in genocide due to its weapons holdings”.

Dr Faruqi said the university had increased its shareholding in British multinational BAE Systems by A$28,000 (£15,000) during the first month of Israel’s military action in Gaza. “BAE systems is involved with supplying fighter jets to Israel. How does the ANU justify investing more in BAE systems since the beginning of this genocide?”

ANU had also announced it was “cutting all ties with Russia” within 10 days of the invasion of Ukraine, Dr Faruqi noted. “It’s been eight months of genocide in Gaza. Why haven’t any similar steps been taken to cut ties with Israel?” she asked.

Ms Thorpe asked whether the university had attempted to obtain legal advice as to whether its staff could be “complicit” in the case being considered by the International Criminal Court. The ICC has filed warrants for the arrest of leaders of both Israel and Gaza for crimes against humanity.

“Can you tell me how you can justify to your Palestinian students, who have had family murdered in the genocide in Gaza, that you are using their fees to fund the manufacture of the very same weapons that are being used to kill their loved ones?” Ms Thorpe asked.

Ms Henderson asked about ANU vice-chancellor Genevieve Bell’s views on the protest encampment causing “a great deal of fear and grief and distress” to the university’s Jewish students. She also asked Professor Bell’s opinion of slogans on stickers around the campus.

“‘If you’re not with Palestine, you are a psychopath,’” Ms Henderson quoted. “Is that antisemitic in your view? What about ‘Zionism is terrorism’? I think self-evidently that’s pretty hateful. Would you agree?”

“Yes, I would, which is why we work on removing [those stickers] when we find them,” Professor Bell said. “Almost every day [we are] taking multiple things down from around our campus.”

She said ANU had instituted 10 “disciplinary proceedings” over the protests and expelled two students. Four “incidents” on campus had been referred to the police.

Professor Bell questioned whether the wars in Gaza and Ukraine were “identical circumstances”, but said the ANU council would review the university’s “socially responsible investment” policy at its 14 June meeting.

“We have a lot of policies that need to be reviewed,” said Professor Bell, who became vice-chancellor in January. “Part of the job for my team is to go through the entire suite of…nearly 400 policies and determine whether they’re all still appropriate for the 21st century.”

ANU’s deputy vice-chancellor for research and innovation, Lachlan Blackhall, said the university had research relationships with “a small number of defence companies for a small number of projects”. The work was “focused on fundamental research at very low technology readiness level” and was not funded by government grants or student fees.

ANU investments were selected by an external manager who was required to meet conditions of the socially responsible investment policy, Professor Blackhall said. “I completely reject the assertion that we’re complicit in genocide,” he said.

The Palestine protests consumed a significant proportion of the 12-hour estimates hearing on 6 June. Federal Department of Education secretary Tony Cook said they had also consumed a significant proportion of his time.

Mr Cook said he had discussed the issue with Universities Australia, the Group of Eight, the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency, the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, the Australasian Union of Jewish Students and education minister Jason Clare, and held 21 separate conversations with the vice-chancellors of the universities of Adelaide, Deakin, Melbourne, Monash, Queensland and Sydney, as well as ANU.

Register to continue

Why register?

  • Registration is free and only takes a moment
  • Once registered, you can read 3 articles a month
  • Sign up for our newsletter
Please Login or Register to read this article.

Related articles