TACTICAL responses to insurgencies by the conventional armed forces of democratic states, and the ethical challenges of fighting an enemy that uses civilians as human shields and as targets, are topics of obvious relevance to Australian foreign policy and contemporary international affairs.
I was invited to address these issues at the University of Sydney from the standpoint of my experiences as a commander of British forces in Afghanistan, Yugoslavia, Northern Ireland, Iraq and elsewhere, and as the former head of international terrorism intelligence in the British Cabinet Office for the Joint Intelligence Committee and the national crisis management group, COBRA. As well as being a practitioner, I have studied and written extensively about these matters.
I spoke for about 20 minutes to an audience of about 100 students, academics and guests. A group of about a dozen people then stormed into the lecture theatre and started yelling at me and the audience through a megaphone, accusing me of “supporting genocide”, and trying to shut down the lecture.
The protesters occupied the lecture theatre, intimidated members of the audience and were intent on preventing the exchange of views my lecture was intended to facilitate. Two of the academics then joined them, one of whom I saw badgering an elderly woman who objected to him photographing her on his iPhone. When she tried to push the iPhone out of her face he grabbed her arm forcibly, and appeared to hurt her. When she retaliated physically, the academic — an associate professor — waved a $5 note in her face and the face of a Jewish student.
I heard one of the protesters yell support for the Islamist group Hizb-ut-Tahrir, a vile group that is banned in many countries, whose theo-fascist values seem to me entirely at odds with the progressive values these students claim to support.
I have addressed the UN commission of inquiry on the conduct of the parties to the Israel-Hamas war. I have condemned Hamas as a terrorist organisation and recognised the extraordinary measures to which Israel has gone to avoid civilian casualties when faced with an enemy that militarises civilian infrastructure and shields its fighters with the bodies of the civilians it claims to defend. US General Martin Dempsey, the highest ranking officer in the US Army, sent a fact-finding team to Israel and concluded the US forces had lessons to learn from the measures taken by Israel to spare the lives of Palestinian civilians as far as possible, often at the expense of its own soldiers.
By daring to defend the actions of the Jewish state and condemning Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, both designated terrorist organisations, I was considered fair game for the protesters. This is indicative of a pervasive culture among certain sections of university students and staff in Britain, and clearly in Australia, where to speak objectively about Israel is to court harassment, thuggery and violence. The behaviour of the protesters and the academics was an affront to the core ideals of the university — the freedom to speak, the freedom to assemble and the freedom to engage with ideas and opinions.
This protest had clear anti-Semitic undertones. The audience was predominantly Jewish and the protesters knew that. Often anti-Semitic abuse and hatred is dressed up as anti-Israel or anti-Zionist action. This resonated that way, with vicious shouting and intimidation against a group of Jews and brandishing money around invoking the stereotype of the “greedy Jew”.
As for Associate Professor Jake Lynch, shown to be so adept at conflict with an elderly woman, his value to the university and its students would be enhanced by listening to those who have seen real conflict and have risked their lives to secure peace.
Richard Kemp was commander of British Forces in Afghanistan and headed the international terrorism intelligence team at the British Cabinet Office.