The University of Sydney has sent letters to 13 people, including Associate Professor Jake Lynch, following an investigation into the heated confrontation between pro-Palestinian activists and pro-Israel activists at a lecture on the campus last month. In a statement the university said that letters had been sent to one staff member, five students, two university contractors and five members of the public. Lynch, the students and the contractors (believed to be security guards) are asked to respond to allegations that they “may have engaged in conduct that breached the University’s Code of Conduct,” the statement says. The five members of the public have received letters because their conduct “fell short of the standards required by the University of visitors to its campuses”. The specific allegations, and the people they have been made against, have not been made public. Crikey understands that letters have been sent to people on both sides of the argument.

Lynch has been accused of anti-Semitism by people at the lecture, after he waved money in the face of a woman who threw water on him and kicked at his groin. The woman, identified by The Australian a 73-year-old Diane Barkus doesn’t deny that she kicked at Lynch, but says she didn’t make contact. Crikey understands that Barkus is one of the members of the public to have received a letter from the university. The lecture on March 11 was by Colonel Richard Kemp, a defender of the Israeli Defence Forces, speaking on the topic of conflicts with non-state armed groups.

Dr Nick Riemer, a senior lecturer at the university and member of Sydney Staff for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, told Crikey the investigation was a “witch-hunt against pro-Palestinian activists” and a “very serious affront to civil liberties on campus which the wider community should be treating with great great concern”.

“The university seem to be clearly acting to shut-down pro-Palestinian activism on campus. It’s a disgraceful blot on its record,” he told Crikey.

“The complaints made against Lynch constitute the latest chapter in the ongoing campaign against him for his promotion of the Palestinian call to boycott Israel. It is scandalous that the University of Sydney has been collaborating with this campaign. The fact that it is doing so is consistent with Sydney’s extensive support for Israeli universities, which continue to play a key role in sustaining the occupation, and in Israel’s onslaughts on Gaza,” Riemer said in a media statement.

An open letter to university vice-chancellor Michael Spence defending Lynch has now been signed by academics and legal figures from all over the world, including Noam Chomsky, Julian Burnside and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu.

The investigation was undertaken by Jane Wright, from WorkDynamic Australia, but her independence has been called into question by some involved in the investigation as she is listed on the university’s website as a staff member under “general counsel”. Crikey put those claims to the university, and a spokesperson said:

“The firm is on retainer to the University to provide legal advice in matters such as the one currently under review. The practice of retainer arrangements for the provision of legal advice is standard in the legal profession.

In order to facilitate communication with Jane Wright, she was given a University phone number and a University e-mail account.  That arrangement was made when Workdynamic was retained to provide additional support for OGC whilst one of its lawyers was on maternity leave and, subsequently, following the retirement of Kerry Rehn pending the appointment of another lawyer.

The only occasions on which Ms Wright has been employed by the University has been on a casual basis from time to time for the sole purpose of her representing the University in court proceedings.

Crikey contacted the National Tertiary Education Union for a statement on the investigation, which is yet to be published.

Peter Fray

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