A Jewish student at the University of Melbourne says he is ashamed of his identity on campus and fears attending classes due to a series of anti-Israel motions passed by the student union.
Despite rescinding a motion earlier this year that condemned Zionism as a “racist colonial ideology” and urged the university to endorse an academic boycott, the University of Melbourne Student Union passed an almost identical motion on Monday.
The motion, which condemns the “ongoing ethnic cleansing of Palestinians” and the “use of Zionism to justify the illegal occupation of Palestine as racist and colonial,” stated support for Palestinians to “engage in self-defence against their occupiers”.
It passed 13 to three, with one abstention on Monday, despite further legal threats, ignoring calls by students and Jewish groups not to proceed.
Over the weekend, eight people, including a pregnant woman, were wounded after a Palestinian gunman opened fire at a bus carrying Jewish worshippers.
The attack followed three days of deadly fighting at the Gaza Strip that claimed the lives of 47 Palestinians, including 17 children, as Israeli forces targeted leaders of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and militants who fired more than 1000 rockets into Israel.
It is believed, however, that up to one-third of those killed were struck by Islamic Jihad-fired rockets that fell short.
After the original motion passed in early May, a University of Melbourne spokesperson condemned the student union, labelling the motion “anti-Semitic,” adding that it was “not the position of the University of Melbourne”.
Despite a clear stance from leadership, the union has renewed calls for the university to “participate in an academic boycott and cut ties with Israeli institutions, researchers, and academics”.
One Jewish student at the university, who wanted to remain anonymous due to fear of being “targeted,” said he no longer felt safe on campus and tried to hide his Jewish identity due to the student union’s actions.
With posters such as “Why we should oppose the Israeli apartheid” plastered around campus, the student said he was ashamed of being Jewish and Israeli at university.
“I feel as if people are after me in the sense that I am not allowed to be who I am, and if certain people found out that I am Israeli and Jewish, I feel as if I would be targeted, discriminated against and attacked,” he wrote in an email to the Anti-Defamation Commission (ADC).
The student, who said he was hesitant to say his own name while in class in fear of his peers recognising he was Israeli, claimed the student union was not representative of many students.
“I remember walking past Union House and ironically saw that on the building it said “For students, by students”. That is not the case whatsoever,” he said.
“It is not fair that I had to hide who I am.”
University of Melbourne student Justin Riazaty, 22, threatened legal action against the union earlier this year in regard to the May motion.
He sent a letter to the student union’s lawyers on Friday demanding they do not introduce the new motion.
Mr Riazaty, who is not Jewish, told NCA NewsWire the he would be rehashing legal action, saying this “anti-Semitism pure and simple and cannot stand”.
“The passing of this motion is a declaration of war against every Jewish student at the University of Melbourne and a blatant attempt to defame and delegitimise anyone who supports Israel and Zionism,” he said.
In May, following a letter of demand by Mr Riazaty, UMSU withdrew the motion, stating it did not want funds to be “unnecessarily spent defending legal proceedings”.
UMSU president Sophie Nguyen has been contacted for comment.
Australasian Union of Jewish Students president Natalie Gunn said the motion, which she said contained “utterly false and ludicrous version of history”, would lead to an increase in anti-Semitism on campus.
“The motion strips the Jewish people of their right to national self-determination and dignity,” she said, adding that Jewish students already feel “unwelcome and isolated”.
Australia’s leading Jewish groups, including the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council, Executive Council of Australian Jewry, Zionist Federation of Australia, Jewish Community Council of Victoria and Zionism Victoria have joined forces to condemn the motion.
They argue that it is “disingenuous to suggest that this motion is simply about criticism of the Israeli government or support for the Palestinians”.
“It effectively advocates the eradication of Israel as a state and thus denies the basic right of national self-determination of the Jewish people,” they said, adding that the motion is “imbued with racism and its language drips with venomous hatred”.
ADC chairman Dvir Abramovich agreed, arguing that the motion “labels Jewish students who back Israel as racists who are guilty genocide and apartheid”.
“The end result is that Jewish students will feel so threatened, so isolated, so under siege that they will feel compelled to hide their Jewish identities,” Dr Abramovich said.