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May 16, 2022 4:10 pm
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BDS Vote at University of Melbourne Prompts Class Action Student Lawsuit

avatar by Dion J. Pierre

Queens College, a residential building at Melbourne University in Australia. Photo: Rexness/Flickr.

A University of Melbourne student has filed a class action lawsuit against the school’s student union for endorsing the boycott, divestment, sanctions (BDS) campaign and demanding an academic boycott of Israel, an Australian daily reported.

According to The Age, 21-year-old law student Justin Riazaty filed the suit with the help of Gladwin Legal, which agreed to provide its services free of charge. The University of Melbourne Student Union (UMSU) was served on April 29 and urged to annul the motion by Tuesday afternoon.

“This sets a precedent,” Riazaty, who is not Jewish, told The Age, arguing that the measure — which called for Palestinians to wage an “armed struggle” against Israel, amid a wave of terrorist attacks there — violated the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act and another that outlines the role of a university student union. “I felt I couldn’t let this go and stand by and do nothing.”

He continued, “A student representative body is for all students, not a particular group of students. You as an individual may feel a certain way and are more than welcome to share your views but when it’s coming from a body which has defined purposes to support all students, it changes the game a little bit. It’s supposed to be independent. It’s a very different set of circumstances.”

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Riazaty’s counsel Rosalyn Gladwin extolled his effort, describing it as “standing up for his fellow students and fighting for justice.” She said that UMSU’s motion “undermines the multicultural fabric of Australian society.”

University of Melbourne has already gone on record to denounce UMSU’s endorsement of BDS, noting that it “is a self-governing body and operates as a separate entity to the university.”

“This antisemitic motion, narrowly passed in a vote by 16 members of the UMSU Students’ Council, is not the position of University of Melbourne,” a spokesman told J-Wire, an Australian Jewish outlet, on May 4.

The university also said that “any form of antisemitism is antithetical to who we are and what we stand for” and that it is “proud of our relationships with the Jewish community in Australia and across the world, and our academic partnerships with Israeli universities and scholars.”

Following the university’s statement, the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC), urged it to “adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Working Definition of Antisemitism.”

“We hope other universities have taken note of this matter, and will also speedily adopt the Working Definition to try to prevent similar events occurring on their campus,” the groups executive director, Colin Rubenstein, said.

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