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Tips and rumours

Mar 24, 2016

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From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

Border Force Act prevents disclosing data breaches? According to the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, if there’s another embarrassing data breach similar to the one before the High Court that exposed a lot of asylum seekers’ personal details, it might not be obligated to report that breach to the public — even if the government passes mandatory data breach notification legislation — due to the secrecy provisions in the draconian Border Force Act.

Despite this, and the fact it’s challenging the legal case about its last reported data breach, the department says it is a very good at voluntarily notifying the Information Commissioner about data breaches. Phew.

Swipe left. Dating app Tinder is getting involved with the US election, giving users the chance to “Swipe the Vote” and find the candidate that most aligns with their political views. Users can swipe right on same-sex marriage or left on decreasing military spending and at the end get told “It’s a match!”

its a match

There’s no promise of Netflix and chill, though.

Give Peace Centre a chance. Sydney University announced last month that it planned on demoting its Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies from a centre to a department, following a decrease in student enrolments. The centre’s director, Jake Lynch, was investigated by the university last year after claims of anti-Semitism. Now NSW MPs from both the Greens and the ALP have sent letters to the university in support of the centre, with the Greens calling the move a “damaging proposal”:

“Through its advocacy and public profile, CPACS has been instrumental in bringing to the public agenda many vital and controversial issues which do not make headlines in the mainstream media. Some of those issues include the rights and freedoms of Palestinians; the aspirations for peace with justice of the people of West Papua; the militarisation of Australia; and the need for accountability for alleged war crimes in Sri Lanka.

“The University is at risk of giving rise to an inference in the wider community that this plan may be a politically motivated attack on CPACS, aimed at silencing its important voice.”

Federal and state Labor MPs including Melissa Parke and NSW shadow attorney-general Paul Lynch signed a letter from seven MPs, saying that the controversies surrounding the centre meant that it was performing its role:

“The fact that CPACS has attracted lively public debate and some adverse commentary in conservative quarters for its role in the Sydney Peace Prize, as well as for its efforts to provide different perspectives in a public discourse dominated generally by mainstream media, means that it is doing its job.”

“It cannot be good for our democracy to and academic reputation to attenuate such voices. It would be particularly disturbing if a prestigious institution like Sydney University, by the simplest expedient of withdrawing resources from CPACS, is seen to suppress reflection and debate on important, even controversial matters.”

Hair’s breadth. A picture of former prime minister John Howard in yesterday’s Australian had us thinking perhaps the ex-PM had had a follicular miracle. Sadly it was not to be — it was a spoof photo from a series of pollies with Donald Trump’s hair:

Howard with Trump Hair

Julia Gillard loves refugees. Former prime minister Julia Gillard has penned an essay on the Syrian refugee crisis, calling it “the tip of an enormous — and expanding — iceberg”. She goes on to detail the humanitarian crisis in Chad, and what her Global Partnership for Education is doing about it:

“Conflict and fragility, not only in Syria, but also in many other lesser-known sites of mass misery, are among the most urgent and seemingly intractable global challenges of our time. Our only hope of breaking out of this cycle of violence and poverty is to ensure that every child, including those trapped by crisis, gets quality schooling and the ability to build a brighter future.”

Of course the essay mentions nothing about the education prospects of refugees sent to detention camps while Gillard was prime minister of Australia.

Go Bombers! The footy (yes, we know, it’s AFL, not what the northerners call footy) season is finally underway tonight, with offices around the country (yes, we know, mostly just Victoria) scrambling to get their tips in for the annual office competition. One tipster was taken aback when signing up to an office competition on the AFL’s site, when along with accepting terms and conditions, the tipster were asked to agree to accept advertising from the Australian Defence Force.

footy tipping

*Heard anything that might interest Crikey? Send your tips to boss@crikey.com.au or use our guaranteed anonymous form

Comments & corrections

May 28, 2015

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crikey15

May 27, 2015

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Sydney University academic Jake Lynch has been cleared of charges of anti-Semitism and serious misconduct after a two-month investigation by the university found that he had engaged in “unsatisfactory conduct”.

“I am greatly relieved and entirely impressed and grateful at the effective campaign to mobilise opinion among right thinking people behind my intellectual freedom and against the vexatious an insubstantial allegations that I faced,” Lynch said.

“There are other aspects of the investigation that are still under discussion, but the main finding is that I remain in my post and that the false imputation of anti-Semitism has been completely refuted.”

Lynch and 12 other people, including five students, two university contractors (believed to be security guards) and five members of the public, had faced hearings from the university regarding a protest at a lecture at the university on March 11. The lecture, by Colonel Richard Kemp, a defender of the Israeli Defence Forces, was interrupted by pro-Palestinian activists, resulting in an altercation between attendees and protesters. Lynch was filmed waving a banknote in the face of one of the attendees, an elderly woman, who he claimed poured water over him and kicked at his groin. The woman, identified as 73-year-old Diane Barkus by The Australian, doesn’t deny that she kicked at Lynch, but says she didn’t make contact.

In a statement yesterday the university said: “A number of members of the University community and the public were found to have engaged in unsatisfactory conduct, as a result of which disciplinary action, including counselling, warning and suspension of access rights to the University grounds have been imposed.”

The university could not confirm how many members of the public or other members of staff had been disciplined or had their access to the university suspended. Barkus is understood to be one of the members of the public who was asked to explain her actions to the university, but it can’t be confirmed if she has been banned from university grounds.

Dr Nick Riemer, a senior lecturer at the university and member of Sydney Staff for Boycott Divestment and Sanctions, told Crikey the result “shows the baselessness of the campaign against him (Lynch)” and is a victory for free speech on campus. “The outcome has been a real victory against attempts to stifle the expression of political views.”

“The university should be congratulating Jake for promoting the cause of a just peace in the Middle East, not threatening him with the sack for it. It’s now time for the university to drop all its charges against the student protesters, too,” he said in a statement.

The investigation into the conduct of five students is still ongoing, and with the upcoming assessment period, Riemer says the investigation “interferes with the students’ education in a real, material way, which is unacceptable”.

News

Apr 16, 2015

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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.

Continue reading “Jake Lynch and a dozen others receive letters over Sydney BDS fracas”

Comments & corrections

Apr 1, 2015

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Executive Director of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry Peter Wertheim AM writes: Re. “Why Jake Lynch was waving money around at an anti-Israel protest” (March 25). Nick Riemer’s apologia for the conduct of his colleague, Jake Lynch, during the disruption by protesters of a lecture by Colonel Richard Kemp at the University of Sydney on March 11  only digs Lynch into a deeper hole.

Riemer begins by accusing Lynch’s critics of attempting to silence him by a variety of devious means, including the legal action brought against Lynch under the Racial Discrimination Act which was ultimately withdrawn.  Indeed, Lynch himself characterised the case as “an attempt to stifle debate”.   Yet now Lynch, and Riemer, defend the actions of the protesters that were intended not merely to stifle debate, but to shut it down altogether.

Riemer seeks to justify Lynch’s conduct in waving a banknote or banknotes in the face of an elderly woman as self-defence against her “series of physical attacks” — throwing water at him and kicking in his direction, but without connecting. We have not heard the woman’s side of the story. Regardless of the view one might take of the conduct of the elderly woman, it is appalling that an academic of Lynch’s seniority should have stooped to such an unedifying gesture.

Greens and the seat of Sydney

Bruce Graham writes: “‘I’ve been lied to’: Greens see red over party’s PDA for Sydney independent” (yesterday).
The mistake for the greens in the electorate of Sydney, was to pre-select anybody.  A strong independant  candidate together with optional preferential voting  meant that the Greens candidate could never win, but might drive a Labor victory by syphoning votes. Given that the present member is so clearly a fellow traveler, it highlights that the greens are likely to persue party hegemony and power in a manner no different to their larger rivals.

On tax reform

Jason King writes: Re. “It’s time to close this company tax loophole” (yesterday).  You guys have it totally wrong on the imputation system. It is the key anti-avoidance tool that the government (and the ATO) has to encourage Australian companies to pay tax here rather than offshore.  If you get rid of it, companies have no incentive to pay dividends. In fact, shareholders will demand that they don’t and instead rely on selling their holdings — possibly benefiting from the CGT discount — on market in order to generate cash flow.  This is what happens in the US (see Google or Berkshire Hathaway for instance). It also means Australian owned and resident companies have an incentive to invest in Australia (meaning more jobs for Australians) rather than offshore where their tax paid does not generate franking credits and so is effectively double taxed in Australian shareholders’ hands.

That’s not to say some tinkering couldn’t be looked at: for instance, a rollback on the extremely generous Howard government change to allow full refund of franking offsets to entities that don’t actually pay tax, would be reasonable.  But the imputation system is generally serving Australia very well so hands off.

Australia

Mar 25, 2015

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In 2014, my colleague Jake Lynch, the distinguished peace-journalist and academic, head of Sydney University’s Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, made international news by defeating a racial discrimination lawsuit brought against him by an Israeli “lawfare” centre for his support for the international boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign for a just peace in Israel-Palestine.

But less than a year after his BDS victory, Lynch is once again the object of a concerted campaign, this time calling for his dismissal from Sydney University.

Lynch’s critics charge him with “a shocking incident of vile anti-Semitism”. This is not the first time Lynch has faced this claim: as any Palestine supporter knows, anti-Semitism is the go-to allegation in the face of opposition to Israel.

Even so, the present charge of anti-Semitism must count as one of the most risible Lynch has ever faced. A brief indication of the circumstances shows why.

Along with other BDS activists on the Sydney University staff, Lynch and I were in the audience at a March 11 talk on conflicts with non-state armed groups by Colonel Richard Kemp, who is in Australia as a guest of the United Israel Appeal, an organisation that “works to further the national priorities of the State of Israel and Israeli society”. Kemp is a well-known apologist for the Israel Defence Forces, with a track record of defending their murder of Palestinian civilians. In reference to last year’s war in Gaza, responsible for the deaths of over 1,500 Palestinian civilians, he described Israel as “world leaders in actions to minimise civilian casualties”.

Kemp had been speaking for about 15 minutes when a group of protesters walked into the lecture theatre, denouncing him for his complicity with Israel’s state-sanctioned murder of Palestinians. As I’ve argued elsewhere, this protest was entirely justifiable. But it’s what happened next that has provoked the ferocious attacks that may jeopardise Lynch’s career.

Very shortly after the protest started, university security began forcefully ejecting protesters. I saw one protester being dragged by his heels out of the room, his back being harshly jolted along the ground. As is confirmed by video evidence, at one point someone turned off the lights, presumably in order to prevent the ejection being properly documented.

Shortly afterwards, Lynch calmly walked to the front of the lecture theatre, telling security that their role was not to take sides in a political dispute, still less to use force as a first resort. It is then that the incident occurred that has made Lynch the target of the present campaign.

An audience member, a purple-haired woman probably in her 60s, embarked on a bizarre series of physical attacks on both Lynch and some of the protesters. She repeatedly threw water from a bottle — first over two of the protesters, including one young, headscarf-wearing woman standing quietly at the front of the lecture theatre, and then over Lynch. Video evidence of two of these incidents has been published here; I was a witness to the third. I also saw the woman snatch Lynch’s phone, and Lynch has said she kicked at his groin twice. The police were called as a result of these attacks.

As the woman continued to lash out at him and others, Lynch told her that she risked a costly court case if she continued, since he would sue her for damages. The financial price of confrontations with the Israel lobby must be at the front of Lynch’s mind; during the case against him last year, he stood to lose his house.

The intention of Lynch’s remarks is beyond doubt: as his own video of the incident records, he made it explicit: “Give us another bottle of water, another hundred dollars,” he said. “Go on, another few thousand, another few thousand of damages.”

In the course of these exchanges, he briefly took a $5 note out of his top pocket to emphasise the point: a blurry still photo of this moment was, for a number of days, exhibit No. 1 for the prosecution, and was circulated endlessly on the internet as unambiguous proof that Lynch — who has a long history of involvement in human rights struggles against apartheid and against Sri Lankan oppression of Tamils — is actually an egregious bigot.

What Lynch’s supposed anti-Semitism boils down to, then, is threatening to sue someone who lashed out at him while he was trying to dissuade security guards from manhandling students.

It doesn’t matter to his critics that there is no indication at all that Lynch thought the woman to whom he mentioned money was Jewish — indeed, her identity is still unknown. It doesn’t matter that the video evidence, in the public domain since last Wednesday, shows beyond any doubt that the explicit context of his references to money was the warning that the woman risked being sued. It doesn’t even matter that nothing in the woman’s reaction suggests that she made any other interpretation. The allegations of anti-Semitism, it seems, do not require the support of any facts to be levelled.

These irresponsible accusations gravely discredit those responsible for them. Writing in The Guardian, Dean Sherr has stated that “the image of a leftwing academic brandishing money in the faces of Jewish people clearly evokes the crude antisemitic falsehood that Jews are obsessed with money.” Sherr’s description is accurate despite himself: it is not the reality of Lynch brandishing money in the concrete context in question that evoked antisemitic stereotypes, but a subsequent, vexatiously interpreted image of it, endlessly trafficked by sectional Israeli interests to smear one of their most prominent, and successful, ideological opponents.

Various commentators have tried to present the protest and its sequel as evidence of a worrying decline in racial tolerance in Australia, in which Jews are particularly victimised.

Quite the contrary. What threatens race relations in this country is not the ordinary exercise of democratic prerogatives, among which disruptive protest holds a central place. What undermines Australian racial harmony, such as it is, is the politically motivated instrumentalisation of a very serious charge — anti-Semitism — for short-term political gain. This trivialisation of racism risks tainting, by association, the very real racism — against Aboriginal people in particular, but also against Muslims, Jews and Asians — that is an undeniable blight on Australian life. It is irresponsible; it must not be entertained.

Claims of Lynch’s anti-Semitism should be dismissed as what they are: a deplorable attack on one of the strongest voices for Palestinian justice in our community.

The University of Sydney has responded to the allegations by launching an investigation into the incident.

*Nick Riemer is a member of Sydney Staff for BDS, a group of University of Sydney employees campaigning for the university to endorse the academic boycott of Israel.

Middle East

Jul 16, 2014

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“This is not war — it’s a massacre”. The slogan has appeared on placards at demonstrations around the world, calling for an Israeli ceasefire in Gaza. Both Israel’s destruction of civilian lives and infrastructure, and the indiscriminate peashooter rockets of Hamas, are war crimes.

There has to be a better way, and it can be glimpsed in the twin tracks of diplomacy and nonviolent resistance. These principles are the heart of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement — and it is for defending BDS that I ended up in Federal Court, facing allegations of racism and anti-Semitism.

For the past year I have been defending my right not to take part in fellowship schemes that link the University of Sydney, where I direct the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, and two institutions from Israel. Last week, Judge Alan Robertson was asked by lawyers from both sides to dismiss the case against me.

It will mark the termination of a complaint by Israeli legal centre Shurat HaDin that boycotting such links amounts to a form of anti-Semitism, and should therefore be ruled in breach of Australia’s Racial Discrimination Act.

Shurat HaDin is the last of five original claimants still standing and wanted the court to order me to apologise and recant. It was joined in bringing the original statement of claim by others including Israeli tour operators catering for international visitors. They sought to blame me for decisions by performing artists, such as Snoop Dogg and Elvis Costello, not to play in Israel.

Once these allegations were struck out for lack of evidence, the case boiled down to my refusal to endorse a fellowship application by a professor from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. With the claim thus narrowed, however, Shurat HaDin lost its legal standing, since — not being linked to a university — it could not possibly be affected by my policy towards collaboration with fellow academics.

This narrow, technical basis for dismissal should not disguise its strategic importance. The program of Israeli “lawfare” against international solidarity actions has stepped up, in multiple jurisdictions, since the vote by the United Nations General Assembly in late 2012 to grant Palestine the status of a non-member state, the biggest diplomatic gain so far.

Pro-Israel groups here responded to the UN vote by persuading Australian politicians, led by then-prime minister Julia Gillard, to sign the so-called “London Declaration on Combating Anti-Semitism”, which seeks to criminalise not only “anti-Semitic discourse” but also “calls for boycotts”.

Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, hinted at a concerted campaign underway to stifle BDS activism, telling the Jerusalem Post: “We realised that many countries have laws against boycotts, and these lawyers came up with very interesting solutions, and this is a way to defeat them,” A US State Department memo published by WikiLeaks revealed Shurat HaDin’s director, Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, admitting to taking directions from Mossad, Israel’s secret service, over whom to target.

We are here today because Israel still faces too little pressure to turn away from its routine recourse to militarism. But that pressure is building from below, through the BDS movement, and in diplomatic arenas as public outrage feeds through into political process.

That is why there has been a co-ordinated campaign to outlaw and exclude boycott activism from the repertoire of legitimate political expression. With my court victory, that campaign in Australia has sustained a significant setback. It represents an opportunity for BDS to be more widely taken up. Anyone who does will be making their own contribution to peace with justice.

Australia

Jun 13, 2014

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Pro-Israel NGO Shurat HaDin has launched a lawsuit against University of Sydney academic Jake Lynch for his refusal to support a visiting fellowship for an Israeli professor on political grounds. The judge has thrown out much of Shurat HaDin’s case, but the organisation is about to go back to court with a narrower focus. We take a look at the background of the case.

What is Shurat HaDin’s agenda?

Shurat HaDin (in English, the Israeli Law Centre) is based in Israel and describes itself as a “world leader in combating the terrorist organizations and the regimes that support them through lawsuits litigated in courtrooms around the world”. If you visit its website, it describes its fight against “Palestinian and Islamic terrorist organisations in the courtroom”.

American diplomats, as revealed by a cable published by WikiLeaks, note that the lawyers of Shurat HaDin are “extremely aggressive” and “boast that they ‘will sue anybody”‘. The cable notes further that “[w]hile the ILC’s mission dovetails with GOI objectives of putting financial pressure on Israel’s adversaries, the often uncompromising approach of ILC’s attorneys seems to overreach official GOI policy goals”.

The cable notes that Shurat HaDin “claims to work closely with Israeli intelligence in selecting cases and collecting evidence”. The founder of Shurat HaDin has admitted that “in many of her cases” she received evidence from Israeli government officials, and “in its early years” Shurat HaDin “took direction” from the government of Israel. She said in 2007 though her organisation “now decides its cases independently”, it “continues to receive evidence and witnesses from Israeli intelligence”.

What is the case against Associate Professor Jake Lynch?

Shurat HaDin is currently suing Sydney University Associate Professor Jake Lynch for his adherence to the boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. Israel’s legislation in relation to boycotts came into effect on on July 13, 2011, and anyone who calls for a boycott can be subject to a civil lawsuit; that is, they can face economic, rather than criminal, sanctions.

Lynch supports the principles of the BDS campaign, which calls for an end to Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories it occupied in 1967, a right of return for Palestinian refugees, and full equality for Palestinians in Israel. Because of this, Lynch refused to support an application from Israeli academic Professor Dan Avnon from the Hebrew University. Avnon was seeking a visiting fellowship at Sydney University.

Shurat HaDin filed a case against Lynch arguing that his actions breached the Racial Discrimination Act and the Human Rights Act. The original complaint argued that the entire BDS movement was anti-Semitic and should be found to be in breach of the RDA, with Shurat HaDin seeking an apology, which would have set a worrying precedent.

How is the case going so far?

Justice Alan Robertson, hearing the case in the Federal Court, has so far been unimpressed by the case against Lynch. Ean Higgins reported in The Australian of his complaint that the case “often lacked clear facts”. Much of Shurat HaDin’s case has been struck out, and the case has moved from Shurat HaDin’s attempt to have BDS banned to only the question whether or not Lynch’s actions in relation to Avnon were in breach of the RDA. Shurat HaDin have also been ordered to put up $100,000 in costs. In response to having its assertions struck out, Shurat HaDin has claimed its case has merely been “streamlined”.

After rejecting much of the complaint out of hand on April 24, Shurat HaDin was given another 28 days to file its new “streamlined” case. The case looks like it will be a disaster for the plaintiffs, and the general fight against BDS. A Ha’aretz article on the matter registers the attitude of Jewish leaders from embarrassment to outrage at Shurat HaDin’s behaviour. Colin Rubenstein of the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council pointedly said he had not been consulted on the case and refused to comment. ECAJ’s Peter Wertheim said the case could be a “shot in the arm” for BDS.

He’s not entirely wrong. Since the launch of the legal action, the Sydney University Branch of the NTEU has come out in support of Professor’s Lynch’s right to support BDS. Jewish academic Peter Slezak has moved from ambivalence on BDS, to becoming one of its most vocal supporters. The NTEU is currently debating whether to debate supporting BDS. Whilst they will not debate BDS at this time, the vote was close, and this is clearly becoming an issue on the horizon for consideration. Furthermore, a group of Sydney University academics have formed in support of BDS.

Is there Israeli opposition to this law? 

‘There has been a wave of similar repressive legislation passed in recent years in Israel. However, Israeli progressives and human rights organisations have widely condemned the Israeli law against boycotts. A member of the centrist Zionist party Kadima, founded by Ariel Sharon, declared: “You’re sending people to the gulag for their opinions.” New Israel Fund Australia board member Mandi Katz wrote in the Australian Jewish News of her opposition to using “the power of the state to silence dissenting political expression. This is indisputably undemocratic, as will be clear to anyone who values democracy, however strongly opposed they may be to boycotts as a means for political change.”

Even the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, the peak communal representative body, distanced itself from Shurat HaDin’s case against Lynch, saying it had “no involvement” in Shurat HaDin’s action, and regarded attempts to suppress BDS through litigation as “inappropriate”. Instead, ECAJ wants to “fight the boycott campaign through public discourse”.

Does Shurat HaDin have other enemies?

Shurat HaDin has accused Oxfam of funding terrorists because Oxfam has given some funding to a couple of union committees in Gaza. Other highlights include Shurat HaDin suing Jimmy Carter and threatening to sue Twitter. When Stephen Hawking boycotted an Israeli conference, Shurat HaDin responded with characteristic respect for human dignity, saying: “His whole computer-based communications system runs on a chip designed by Israel’s Intel team. I suggest if he truly wants to pull out of Israel he should also pull out his Intel Core i7 from his tablet.”

Astonishingly, Shurat HaDin has also launched a sharp attack on Australian Jewish leaders, complaining that they hadn’t done anything to protest Lynch’s behaviour and even accusing them of refusing to “stand up for Jewish rights”.

*Michael Brull is studying a juris doctor at UNSW. He has written commentary for various outlets, including The Drum, Overland, Guardian, Independent Australian Jewish Voices and elsewhere