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August 15, 2022 11:26 am

University of Melbourne Student Union Endorses Boycott, Divestment Sanctions Movement

avatar by Dion J. Pierre

Anti-Israel protestors in Melbourne, Australia, c. 2021. Photo: Matt Hrkac/Wikimedia Commons.

The Student Union of University of Melbourne (UMSU) has passed a motion endorsing the boycott, divestment, sanctions (BDS) movement, drawing criticism from the country’s leading advocacy group for Jewish students.

The motion, which passed 13-3 on Monday, accuses Israel of apartheid and ethnic cleansing. It follows a similar motion that UMSU approved in May but later rescinded after it was denounced by the university and became the subject of a lawsuit alleging that it promotes antisemitism.

According to Jerusalem Post, UMSU on Monday said it “supports the self-determination of the Palestinian people and their right to engage in self-defense against their occupiers” and “deems the use of Zionism to justify the illegal occupation of Palestine as racist and colonial.”

UMSU president Sophie Nguyen took to Twitter to support the motion, accusing its critics of using “lawfare” to “undermine democratic processes.”

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“I refuse to conflate anti-semitism with supporting Palestinian struggle for self-determination and freedom,” Nguyen said.

Responding to the news, the Australian Union of Jewish Students (AUJS) said it is “disappointed” by UMSU decision, noting that anti-Zionist activism on the campus has made Jewish students “feel unwelcome and isolated.”

“It is impossible to fit all the complexities and narratives of the Israeli Palestinian Conflict into a student council motion,” AUJS tweeted. “Instead of promoting dialogue and understanding, this motion misrepresents Zionism and over-simplifies the conflict, which will lead to the targeting and harassment of Jewish students who want to embrace their identity at University of Melbourne.”

AUJS issued another joint statement with Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC), Executive Council of Australian Jewry, Zionist Federation of Australia, Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV), and Zionism Victoria, which described as “disingenuous” arguments claiming that the motion represents anything but calls for “the eradication of Israel as a state.”

The university’s Students for Palestine chapter welcomed the motion’s passing, however, calling it a “bold stance” and an “important step in the struggle for Palestine.”

“We commend the movers and everyone who spoke in favour, standing up to lawfare attacks from Liberals and Zionists who want to cover up the reality of occupation, apartheid, and ethnic cleansing that Palestinians experience daily,” the group said.

UMSU is currently the subject of a class action lawsuit filed after it endorsed BDS in May and demanded an academic boycott of Israel. This previous resolution also advocated for an “armed struggle” against Israel amid a surge of terror attacks there.

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. UMSU was served on April 29.

University of Melbourne has unequivocally rejected the BDS movement on its campus and denounced SMSU’s moves to adopt it as “antisemitic.”

“Any form of antisemitism is antithetical to who we are and what we stand for,” a university spokesperson said. “Tackling it and and its damaging effects is a responsibility of all members of our community.”

The University also extolled its “relationships with the Jewish community in Australia and across the world, and our academic partnerships with Israeli universities and scholars.”

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