The defence of Jake Lynch and the students who stormed the lecture theatre at the University of Sydney during a talk by Colonel Richard Kemp, has been speciously framed as a struggle for the right of free speech and dissent.
No mention is made of the protesters having admitted that it was they who were trying to suppress free speech by shutting down Richard Kemp’s lecture altogether. There is a rich irony in anti-Israel academics and students invoking the right of free speech in order to deny the right of free speech to anyone they disagree with, and specifically of anyone who dissents from the disingenuous, one-dimensional caricature that constitutes their portrayal of Israel.
The right to protest or hold opposing views is not in question. When protesters held anti-Israel banners outside the lecture theatre and distributed flyers to all who entered to hear Kemp speak, they were exercising these important rights, no matter how misguided their message was. Their subsequent conduct had an altogether different and darker purpose — to deny Kemp his right to speak, and to deny the students, academics and visitors in the audience their right to listen and engage with his ideas. There is no room for competing ideas or opinions in the narrow, grim worldview of the far-left.
In the wake of the negative media coverage that the censorious protesters attracted, Lynch’s supporters quickly launched an Op-ed offensive with one clear message: The protesters who tried to deny Richard Kemp and his audience the freedom to speak, were themselves being denied the right of free speech. With typical moral inversion, the perpetrators were now being cast as the victims.
Nick Riemer, who convenes an anti-Israel boycott group at the University of Sydney asserted that the University of Sydney would make itself “the instrument of the Israel lobby’s witch hunt”, if it investigated the allegations against Lynch and the students.
At a subsequent forum organised by Riemer at the University of Sydney, titled “Why boycotting Israel isn’t antisemitic”, Riemer claimed that “the Israel lobby had only to snap its fingers for the university to jump.” The irony of using an event aimed at distancing BDS from anti-semitism to rail against the so-called string pulling of the pro-Israel community, was obviously lost on Riemer.
A petition defending Lynch, which drew the support of the usual anti-Israel voices, including Lee Rhiannon, Melissa Parke and Mike Carlton, made further insinuations regarding unnatural Jewish power and manipulation. The letter called on the university’s vice-chancellor, Michael Spence “not to allow [him]self to be made the agent of the Israel lobby’s persecution.”
The theme was picked up by the National Tertiary Education Union, which released a statement claiming that the investigation into the actions of Lynch and the students is “solely designed to placate external parties”. The union didn’t mention the “Israel lobby” by name but it didn’t need to. The mere allusion to this seemingly supernatural force is far more evocative.
There is a great deal of scholarship around the racially infused use of terms such as “Jewish lobby”, “Zionist lobby” and “Israel lobby”, all of which mean the same thing. The term is intended to cast the involvement of the Jewish community in public affairs as somehow subversive, undemocratic and inherently sinister. It is intended to appeal to antisemitic views of the Jews as exercising an extraordinary or dark power. It is crude, conspiratorial thinking.
The effect of the unchallenged use of the term is to limit or worse, deprive the Jewish community of its right to speak on matters of importance to it, a right extended to all communities and all people in our free society.
It is significant that while a range of stakeholders have spoken publicly on the matters that transpired at the lecture, including alumni, academics, students, political commentators, politicians and concerned members of the public, only the views of the Jewish community have been described as a “witch hunt” or depicted as shadowy, controlling or unduly powerful.
The themes of victimhood and power were then taken to their absurd conclusion by Riemer, who in a rambling letter condemning the university for issuing show cause notices, claimed that the investigation into conduct on campus and any resulting disciplinary action should be seen as the University “siding with a nuclear power” and “siding with Andrew Bolt and Tim Blair.”
Equally disturbing has been the perversion of noble ideals central to university life to spare Lynch and his followers from the consequences of their deplorable conduct.
NSW Council for Civil Liberties president Stephen Blanks defended the actions of the student activists claiming that they were “exercising their legitimate right of free speech”. The claim that the investigation into students who shouted down Colonel Kemp’s free speech with a megaphone actually infringes on their rights of free speech is beyond parody.
There is a further right at stake in this battle. That is the right to express views sympathetic to Israel or otherwise antithetical to the far-left smorgasbord of causes. Kemp had not uttered a word about the Arab-Israeli conflict when the theatre was stormed. His mere presence on campus and reputation for defending Israel was enough to ensure that his basic right to speak was violated by baying, ranting crusaders with megaphones. This is a chilling development played out on campuses throughout the world, where facts are held hostage to embedded prejudices and small bands of protesters can suspend the rights of others as they seek to fulfil their quest for moral superiority.