13 March 2015
The following letter from Peter Baldwin, former ALP Minister for Higher Education excoriates 'repulsive' anti-Israel protesters, demands university take disciplinary action
Dear Dr Spence,
On Wednesday 11 March I attended a meeting at Sydney University that was addressed by Colonel Richard Kemp, the former commander of UK forces in Afghanistan. Colonel Kemp was scheduled to speak about the ethical dilemmas that face military forces confronted by non-state adversaries, especially those that deliberately conduct their operations in close proximity to civilian populations with the goal of gaining propaganda advantage from the inevitable casualties. He was in Israel during the Gaza conflict of July-August last year. He stated at the time that he was impressed by the IDF’s measures to minimize Palestinian civilian casualties and that he had difficulty envisaging what more they could do to this end given the reality of military operations.
By way of background, I am a former politician: the Labor MP for the seat of Sydney for fifteen years, and a member of the federal ministry for six years. For three of those years (1990-93) I was the Minister for Higher Education. During that period I visited a great many campuses and was, more than once, the target of student protest demonstrations.
But I never experienced anything quite as repulsive as what I witnessed last Wednesday, partly captured in this YouTube video.
I learned about the meeting from an email flyer forwarded by the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, though I understand the meeting was sponsored by the Australian Union of Jewish Students. The gathering was attended by a varied audience of students and others, including one other former parliamentary colleague.
When I arrived at the meeting there was a group at the door handing out leaflets supporting the BDS campaign against Israel. After Colonel Kemp had spoken for about twenty minutes there was a kerfuffle and around 15-20 people forced their way in led by a young woman who repeatedly screeched “Richard Kemp supports genocide” into a megaphone that was set to maximum volume. The group chanted continuously and defied the (very restrained) efforts of the security guards to evict them. They clearly intended to disrupt the meeting to the point where it could not continue. It was only after a concerted effort by the security people, with the protestors resisting violently, that the talk could be resumed. This was a truly frightening episode. At one point the lights went out, leading people to wonder what might come next.
In amongst the robotic chanting a few things stood out. The screeching young woman can be clearly heard expressing sympathy for the extremist organisation Hitz ut-Tahrir, whose Australian spokesman gained notoriety last year for refusing (on ABC Lateline) to condemn the tactics of Islamic State (beheadings, crucifixions, incinerations, selling women into slavery). When one of the protestors was accused of fascistic behaviour, he responded “we are not fascists, we’re Marxist-Leninists” – another totalitarian ideology responsible for tens of millions of deaths.
The disruptors tried to suppress the views of Colonel Kemp, who gave a lucid and well-reasoned account of the moral issues in this kind of conflict in the limited time he had available, yet insist on the right of Hitz ut-Tahrir to spout their genocidal ideology, a sample of which was reported in today’s Australian newspaper:
THE top Australian cleric of extremist Islamic group Hizb ut-Tahrir has ramped up his hate speech in a rant referring to Jews as “the most evil creature of Allah” who have “corrupted the world” and will “pay for blood with blood”.
In the latest tirade to surface, cleric Ismail al-Wahwah — representing an organisation whose stated aim is to take over the world — said recognising Jews constituted the “epitome of evil” because that would “strengthen the cancerous entity”.
This, apparently, is acceptable speech to these champions of the ‘left’ - a striking confirmation of the old trope about extremes of Left and Right meeting at some point. The group primarily responsible for this outrage, a Trotskyist group calling itself the ‘Socialist Alternative’, has a record of this kind of thing at your university (this incident for example).
It seems you have active at your university a bunch of totalitarians who think they have a right of veto on the expression of views they disapprove of, and who will try to enforce this veto by violent disruption. The effect this will have on the free exchange of ideas is obvious. Potential speakers will think twice about the prospect of being subjected to this kind of thing. The expression of certain viewpoints will quietly disappear from campuses and students will increasingly inhabit an intellectual monoculture in which only approved opinions are sayable.
According to one Jewish student who I communicated with today the climate at Sydney University is becoming increasingly poisonous and fearful for identifiably Jewish students, especially those who have the temerity to defend Israel.
Do you agree with me, Dr Spence, that these are deeply sinister developments? Do you accept that an institution where such behaviour is tolerated has ceased, in one crucial respect, to deserve to be called a University?
More to the point, will you:
- Unequivocally condemn this behaviour and make clear it will not be tolerated in future
- Take steps to ensure the perpetrators are dealt with under university disciplinary procedures
- Commit to restoring a genuine climate of free debate at Sydney University in which all can participate without fear of intimidation?
I look forward to your response.