Sydney University peace centre rebuffs Israeli civics teacher

Sydney University peace centre rebuffs Israeli civics teacher

  • BY:CHRISTIAN KERR 
  • From:The Australian 
  • December 06, 2012 12:00AM

THE Sydney University’s Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, which has thrown its support behind controversial Palestinian leaders, has cited its boycott of Israel for refusing to help an Israeli civics teacher who has designed programs for both Jewish and Arab children.

Hebrew University of Jerusalem academic Dan Avnon is credited with developing and implementing the only state program in civics written for joint Jewish-Arab high schools.

He approached the head of the Sydney University centre, Jake Lynch, for assistance with studying civics education in Australia under a fellowship agreement between the two institutions.

But Associate Professor Lynch rebuffed the request, citing the centre’s support for the anti-Israeli Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

The centre helped establish the Sydney Peace Foundation, which awards the Sydney Peace Prize. Past recipients include the controversial Palestinian activist Hanan Ashrawi.

The centre’s website says it “promotes interdisciplinary research and teaching on the causes of conflict and the conditions that affect conflict resolution and peace”.

Professor Avnon contacted Associate Professor Lynch, expressing interest in spending time at the centre and meeting him.

Associate Professor Lynch emailed in reply: “Your research sounds interesting and worthwhile. However, we are supporters of the campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, and that includes the call for an academic boycott of Israeli universities.”

The BDS movement explicitly equates the Jewish state with apartheid-era South Africa.

The campaign was started in 2005 by 171 Palestinian non-governmental organisations as a form of “non-violent punitive measures” against Israel until it “complies with the precepts of international law”.

The BDS campaign has included protests outside the Max Brenner chain of coffee shops, which are Israeli-owned.

The boycott was led in Australia by Greens council members in Sydney’s inner-west, including former Marrickville mayor Fiona Byrne, whose council voted to support the boycott in 2010. It was dropped after widespread criticism from the federal and state governments, business leaders and the Jewish community.

In 2003 the awarding of the Sydney Peace Prize to Dr Ashrawi provoked fierce debate and protests, arising from her role as a Palestinian spokesperson in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israeli hard-liners loathe Dr Ashrawi, branding her a propagandist and an apologist for terrorism.

Professor Avnon – who has written on moving beyond the Jewish-Palestinian divide to develop a new sense of citizenship in Israel – said of the centre’s decision: “I find it ironic that you promote a policy of boycott that does not distinguish one individual from another. It is ironic because, like myself, many (probably most) intellectuals and scholars in relevant fields are doing our best to effect change in Israeli political culture. We pay prices for going against the institutional grain. And then we turn around and meet such a ‘blind to the person’ policy.”

Professor Avnon continued: “One common tendency that must be changed if we ever want to live sane lives is to debunk categorical and stereotypical thinking when dealing with human beings.” He received no response from Associate Professor Lynch.

University of Sydney vice-chancellor Michael Spence rejected a call from Associate Professor Lynch in 2009 to cut links with the Hebrew University and a second Israeli institution, the Technion, in the city of Haifa. “I do not consider it appropriate for the university to boycott academic institutions in a country with which Australia has diplomatic relations,” he wrote in response at the time.

A spokesman for Dr Spence said his position had not changed.

The spokesman said Associate Professor Lynch was “entitled to express a public opinion where it falls under his area of expertise”, but added, “on this particular matter he does not speak for the school, the faculty or for the university”.

The Australian was unable to contact Associate Professor Lynch yesterday.

Professor Avnon said he had received “heart-warming, collegial and positive responses” from other staff at Sydney University. “I look forward to associating with them and learning from and through them about Australia’s policies in civic education and other issues,” he said.

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