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Fancy a PhD in Hamas Studies?

Article’s tags: October 7, Media imbalance, Australian Issues, Neo Anti Sem

Julie Szego

Jun 14, 2024

“Free Palestine” protest, 21 October 2023, Sydney. Photo by Nikolas Gannon on Unsplash

At 4am last Friday, the 7th of this month, a group of anti-Israel protestors broke into the Baillieu Library at Melbourne University.

There is a video of the incident seemingly filmed and disseminated by the infiltrators who claimed to be acting in the name of a militant Palestinian group with jihadi links. I can’t speak to the video’s authenticity — and the police won’t say either way — but it attributes the break-in to students, alumni and outside agitators, the latter description appearing in quotes to indicate irony. We’re shown images of property damage and spray-painted slogans. The university is warned the group will “escalate” their campaign. The clip ends with the exultations “Long Live the Intifada” and “Glory to the Resistance.”

Victoria Police says detectives from its Crime Investigation Unit are investigating. No-arrests have thus far been made. Melbourne University said criminal behaviour of this sort “has the potential to incite further physical and psychological harassment, endangering people’s safety and wellbeing.” For its part the mainstream media has made passing reference to an incident of vandalism at the library but avoided discussion of the details or the video. 

I feel compelled to tell you about the footage because it’s scary. Assuming the video is authentic, I’m now officially worried about the actual, physical safety of university students, especially Jewish students. 

In my last post — “Pairing anti-Semitism with ‘Islamophobia’” — I wrote that students from several of the protest encampments had expressed open support for Hamas and that “few, if any, academic staff pushed back on such comments.” A senior academic at one of Australia’s top universities rightly pulled me up on this sloppy assertion, which seemed to imply that none of her peers were speaking out against their institutions tolerating the intolerable. This is not the case, obviously. (I have since removed the reference.) 

Apart from the formation of the Australian Academic Alliance Against Antisemitism, a network of 250 academics from 26 universities, individual academics have publicly lambasted the protestors and the broader intellectual squalor that’s taken root within the academy. The fact these voices are depressingly scarce is all the more reason to acknowledge they exist. 

Everyone in my family of origin has a degree from Melbourne Uni; all, except for me, came to Australia as postwar migrants. Graduating from the country’s most prestigious institution of higher education was an enduring source of familial pride. It was beyond question that I too would go to the sandstone campus, and I did. It was beyond question my older daughter would do the same and so it came to pass.

I have a younger daughter still in high school. But when the Gaza solidarity protestors unrolled their prayer mats on the south lawn, the only-Melbourne spell was emphatically broken. Melbourne, Sydney, Columbia, Harvard, UCLA and many other “elite” universities have outed themselves as less ivory towers than the squat headquarters of our civilisational decline. So maybe it’s high time we all, and Jews especially, reassess our benchmark for success. 

Maybe the old Jewish joke that goes, “Quick, my son the lawyer is drowning!” is due for urgent revision.

“Quick, my daughter the electrician …”?

Below is a piece I wrote about the academy and its woke hypocrisy. It first appeared in Eureka Street


The protracted drama of “Gaza solidarity” encampments at universities across the West has me reflecting on my steep learning curve since October 7. 

In the immediate aftermath of the darkest day for the Jewish people since the Holocaust, academics and students at Harvard, Melbourne University et-al were signing open letters that either erased the Hamas atrocities from the historical record or asserted Israel had it coming. These were acts, I decided, of “Hamas apologists,” of people “making common cause with jihadists.” Sure, there was the odd professor openly celebrating the attack as “exhilarating”, the odd student protestor declaiming “all of us are Hamas.” Sure, the phrase “GLORY TO THE MARTYRS” was projected in full glory onto the campus library at George Washington University— so … okay, I should have grasped back then that things were really that bad.  

Eight months into the Gaza war and in the wake of anarchic campus protests, I’ve moved beyond lamentations about “apologists” or “making common cause.” 

I’m not accusing all of the student protestors and their staff allies of shilling for the terror group; basic intuition tells me many were merely incensed at the loss of civilian life in Gaza. But at every Australian university we found students unselfconsciously expressing support for Hamas. The jihadist group deserves “unconditional support” said a protestor at ANU; the October 7 attacks were “magnificent” gushed an encampment leader at Adelaide University. “As socialists,” declared a group at Sydney University, “we unconditionally support Hamas’s right to resist Israel’s occupation by any means necessary.”

With the steadfast refusal to repudiate Hamas, or, worse, the frank celebration thereof, came disinhibited anti-Semitism on campus. One invariably follows from the other. After all, the Hamas terrorist didn’t brag to his parents on October 7 about killing “Zionists,” simply “Jews.”

Sure, no-one to date has echoed the leader of Columbia University’s encampment that we ought to be “grateful” he wasn’t just going out and murdering Jews, oops “Zionists.” We should be grateful no-one echoed that view. Thus far, Jewish students in Australia have only endured, among other things, a (redundant) warning on social media that “Zionists aren’t welcome,” a Nazi gesture during a Zoom meeting, activists invading lecture theatres to demand a show of hands against Israel and photographing the response. My gratitude journal is bursting.

Far worse than the intimidation from students was the supine response from university chiefs and government ministers — now I know for sure that the intelligentsia considers anti-Semitism a uniquely tolerable form of racism. There are “many different forms of racism” that are abhorrent and deserve attention, said Melbourne University’s chancellor earlier in May, insisting critics of university leaders’ handling of the anti-Israel protests were “looking for division.” 

The “division,” with respect, was on full display at Australia’s most highly ranked university. The encampments at Melbourne, and elsewhere, were already bad enough. A right to protest is one thing; literally colonising a section of the public square so as to disenfranchise other students, and other viewpoints, quite another. At Melbourne, of course, the radicals went further with a week-long occupation of the Arts West building — which they renamed “Mahmoud’s Hall” — to the disruption of 17,000 students at the business end of the semester. 

“A spontaneous collective action,” was how deputy vice chancellor Professor Pip Nicholson described it, throwing the mob a bone even as she unsuccessfully ordered them to leave. A “spontaneous action,” to be sure, which perfectly mimicked the violent takeover of Hamilton Hall at Columbia University where the keffiyeh-clad protestors demanded “humanitarian aid” and channeled Hamas down to the seizing of hostages, at least according to the janitor who found himself detained alongside some other campus workers. 

The powers-that-be at Melbourne Uni made all sorts of threats, including to send in the police, and carried through with none. Eventually, the protestors agreed to vacate Arts West and dismantle the encampment citing the university’s alleged acquiescence to one of their “key demands” of disclosing ties with weapons companies. But the semester being nearly over, there were few classes left to disrupt. The protestors were allowed to get away, metaphorically speaking, with murder — and get away literally, in the case of one chap, with an air purifier. All in the service of “intifada.” 

Is that term — “intifada”— under the banner of which thousands of Israelis have been slaughtered and maimed in suicide bombings, an illegal call to violence? What about “from the river to the sea Palestine will be free,” a phrase sprung from Hamas’s charter? The vice-chancellors from the “prestigious” Group of Eight turned to the (Jewish, as it happens) Attorney-General for an opinion. Because they dared not rush to conclusions. Academic freedom being sacred, you understand. 

Hilariously, the Group of Eight had implored the protestors themselves to use “clear phrases” instead of slogans “open to different interpretations or misinterpretation.” Breaking news: university chiefs demand students use “clear phrases”! To their sudden concern for academic freedom we can now add a hankering for logo-centricity.

And yet, Melbourne University deputy vice-chancellor Professor Michael Wesley entertained no ambiguity when he described the Arts West protest as “intimidating,” and said he could “ .. only imagine how our students, particularly our Jewish students, would feel having to make their way to class through that.”


Here we arrive at the apparent exceptionalism in the academy’s response to the protests. I’m not the first person to contrast the universities erring on the side of free speech here when every other day the prevailing ethos is one of “safetyism”, namely suppressing speech or inquiry if an identity group frames it as “harmful” to them. If it was, say, Asian or indigenous or indeed Muslim students complaining of campus racism could anyone, hand on heart, envisage a chancellor responding with a homily about “many different forms of racism” deserving attention and we shouldn’t be fixated on one. 

But we ought to remember that inherent in “safetyism” is an undercurrent of aggression. Identity politics being a winner-takes-all bloodsport, the concern about emotional safety only extends to the group deemed oppressed. As for the oppressor, well, it is a case of resistance by any means necessary.

Hence, the persistent harassment and intimidation meted out to Melbourne University’s gender critical philosopher Holly Lawford-Smith who notoriously argues that biological sex is real and not inconsequential. After she last year spoke at Melbourne’s infamous Let Women Speak rally, gatecrashed by neo-Nazis, the university’s dean of arts sent an email to staff alluding to her presence at the rally that he claimed had aired “dehumanising views” antithetical to the institution’s values. (Call for the mass murder and rape of Jews, on the other hand, and the academy scratches its head as to whether such views are a de-humanising anathema to the institution.) 

Trans-rights activists proceeded to bully not only Lawford-Smith but also her students, plastering campus with posters smearing them as “fascists” for enrolling in the associate professor’s course on feminism. It took a month for the academic hierarchy to speak out in defence of academic freedom, by which time Lawford-Smith was bringing legal action and teaching with a security guard outside the classroom, so “unsafe” had campus become. 

To spell it out: women, in whose interests Lawford-Smith advocates, are, according to the prevailing ideology, considered more powerful than trans women (biological males who identify as women). Thus, women can never, almost as a law of physics, be disenfranchised at the hands of trans women, one of society’s most marginalised groups. 

This is an intellectual paradigm — if naked stupidity can even be called that — in which power dynamics are a matter of set-and-forget. A worldview alert to micro-aggressions but blind to macro-aggressions. As many commentators post October 7 have pointed out, in the black-and-white schema of oppressor and oppressed the particularity of the Jewish story goes unseen as does the anti-Semitism inherent in its vanishing. Jews are coded “white;” Palestinians the victimised non-white Other. Obliterated from view is not only the Jews’ ancestral ties to the state of Israel but also the more than a million “brown” Jews evicted from Arab-Muslim countries in the mid 20th century. Muslim anti-Semitism, in other words, is rendered invisible. 

The intellectual fog is a perfect climate for the distorting influence of dark money, soft influence — billions in donations from Islamist Qatar to US Ivy League colleges — and a jihadist group engineering civilian casualties so as to stoke international outrage in the hope of winning the war it started. 

The Melbourne University protestors themselves described their fight as pitched against a university that emptily “preaches human rights and decolonisation.”


Colonialism is deemed the worst of all contemporary sins. Judging by the weight of UN resolutions, damning NGO reports and media coverage, the collective Jew, in the state of Israel, ranks as the most oppressive of all “white” colonisers.

Among my many naive delusions shattered in the aftermath of October 7 was that the Western left would instinctively empathise with the Israeli victims of that day; after all these weren’t gun-toting religious settlers on the West Bank but socialists in their kibbutzim and young peaceniks at a rave. Turns out the opposite was true. The fact the slaughtered Israelis were the epitome of virtue, determined to empathise with the Palestinians in Gaza despite Hamas’s persistent aggression, seemed to rouse the self-hating Left to hate them more, not less. 

The Left is both unwilling and unable to critically interrogate these ideas because it would necessitate looking under the bonnet of its own orthodoxy.

It’s not simply that Jews don’t count, as per the masterful title to David Baddiel’s book, but that Jews don’t fit. We’re not quite a race, not just a religion, capable of both blending in with the powerful and standing out like a sore thumb, cheerleaders historically for both capitalism and communism, both rootless cosmopolitans and an insular nation within nations. Really, given the Jews’ track record of scrambling binaries, we ought to be celebrated as the ultimate queer subject. Instead, as per the now-infamous campus slogan, the “queers” are rooting for Palestine. 

Even as they deconstruct everything under the sun the Western intelligentsia cannot deconstruct their own — what to call it? — goy privilege?

Through a gradual process of natural selection universities have become places hostile to intellectual dissent. So while I detest the toxic environment Jewish students confront on campus, the solution is not to include them in the sacred circle of groups entitled to “safety” — although the law might have something to say about blatantly jihadist chants — but to smash that circle entirely. I’d like to see universities strive to be uncomfortable and “unsafe” for all — Chinese, indigenous, Muslim, trans, wealthy, whatever — with no identity immune from respectful scrutiny. 

On the other hand, if the totalitarian status quo endures, places of higher education will, and not for the first time in history, become synonymous with institutional tolerance for anti-Semitism. And that would be a problem for society as much as one for the Jews, an early warning sign of liberal democracy under threat. 

I don’t want to overstate the present danger; the extreme agitators at Melbourne University were tiny in number and calls to “globalise the intifada” aren’t going to win hearts and minds among the masses. And consider this statement from ANU vice chancellor Genevieve Bell: “I want to be clear that ANU does not support or endorse the terrorist organisation, Hamas.” 

When the vice chancellor of one of the nation’s most prestigious universities feels she must clarify that her institution does not support a jihadist death cult it’s surely a sign we’re approaching a nadir of moral and intellectual decay. In which case, surely, the only way is up?


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