A national conference, 'BDS: Driving Global Justice for Palestine', will be held at Sydney University on the 28th and 29th of July. BDS refers to the international, non-violent Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement to end the Israeli occupation and to promote Palestinians' rights to self-determination.
To their considerable credit, the University of Sydney authorities have not tried to close the conference. That stand is welcome, given that the letters BDS usually send the Zionist lobby into a frenzy. On cue, they claim that the BDS movement is anti-Semitic and aims to destroy Israel.
To foment fear, BDS supporters can be defined as potential or actual terrorists. Any polemic will do.
Following signs from the Zionist lobby, most Federal and State politicians dare not mention BDS, let alone express their support. In Federal parliament there have been brave exceptions, such as Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon, Labor MP Maria Vamvakinou and former Labor MP, Melissa Parke.
It is difficult to know why cowardice persists, in parliaments, in mainstream media and elsewhere. On Australian university campuses, the only staff group for BDS is at Sydney. Under business models for running universities, authoritarianism does make academics fear for their jobs. But even if Chief Cop Dutton rules in Canberra, Australia is not a police state.
Why do academics fear to take a stand on a major human rights issue? A couple of years ago, the supposedly radical union the NTEU, opposed support for BDS, albeit by a small majority of voting members. Opponents of BDS argued that it was not the right time, that if the union's image was tarnished, it would be more difficult to represent members' interests.
Eroding Free Speech
The organizers of the Sydney conference have thrown down a gauntlet. Are you interested in justice? Do you support human rights and the rules of international law? Will you refuse to be intimidated by the Zionist lobby? Will you find the time and energy to inform others about this global movement for justice?
Threats to stigmatize BDS supporters, to stifle their voices and to forbid their activities are real. Free speech is at risk. It's not just BDS.
Palestinians feared to contribute to the Sydney conference because they felt certain the Israeli government would in consequence forbid them to return to their homes in occupied Palestine.
Repeated attempts to stage a conference on BDS and the future of Palestine at the UK's University of Southampton have been cancelled on the usual bogus security grounds.
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