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Frydenberg joins push to Zionise Australia's universities

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Former Treasurer Josh Frydenberg is pushing for the closure of university protest encampments (Screenshots via YouTube - edited)

Australian Jewish youngsters enrolled in Jewish schools are tutored in a “love of Israel”. But what happens when suitably socialised students hit the university?

(Jewish) American academic and journalist Eric Alterman has commented on the phenomenon on U.S. campuses (‘Biden’s Lonely Stance on the War in Gaza’, Le Monde Diplomatique, February 2024):

‘Almost all upper-middle-class American Jewish high school students go on to college. Most do so, however, having been educated about Israel in an ideological bubble. In college, they enter an alternative universe in which Israel is understood to be the oppressor and the Palestinians their victims. This caused cognitive dissonance and the result was often panic.’

What is termed “insecurity” for Jewish university students is rather cognitive dissonance in the face of accurate descriptions of Israel’s character.

Former Liberal MP and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg (schooled at Mount Scopus) wants university campus protest encampments closed down.

He asserted in mid-May:

“Our universities must be safe spaces for learning and education, not indoctrination.”

Liberal MP Julian Leeser appeared on Sky News on 28 May to claim:

“Universities are ground zero for anti-Semitism in Australia today. People go to universities to learn about the world around them, and what if they are learning is... that Jews should be destroyed... then that is a terrible thing that we are creating for the next generation of Australians.”

Sky News quickly followed up the Leeser interview with one of Labor MP Josh Burns (schooled at Mount Scopus, self-appointed Minister for Israel in the Federal Labor Caucus, as was his predecessor Michael Danby, also schooled at Mount Scopus) and of Liberal Senator Dave Sharma (the Liberal equivalent).

Frydenberg et al have the story upside down. The academy is chock-full of selective slants on history and society, but there’s sufficient tolerance and learning capacity for tertiary students to pick up on essential elements of the history of Israel and of Zionism. It is not a pretty story. These are opportunities apparently not available in the representative Australian Jewish school. Nobody is being indoctrinated against Israel at university level and nobody is learning that “Jews should be destroyed” or is denigrating Judaism.

If there is indoctrination going on, it’s by the Zionists themselves. Representative is the commemoration of Yom HaZikaron. A separate annual event was established in Israel in 1963, to commemorate soldiers killed in battles, later enhanced by adding ‘civilian victims of terrorism’.

The phenomenon came to broader attention when pro-Palestinian protestors disrupted a comparable event at Monash University in May, apparently attended by 1,000 people. It turns out that Zionism Victoria hosts the event and it has been occurring at Monash for some years. What is a university doing hosting such propaganda for a foreign pariah state? The lovefest starts in the schools.

It appears that Frydenberg et al want to “Zionise” the general university system — promoting a Zionist ghetto while enjoying the privileges of a formally secular and open intellectual environment.

In December 2023, Alex Ryvchin, CEO of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ), gave a webinar at the Moriah Foundation. It is reported that Ryvchin said that ‘Zionist movements should “ensure that maximum pressure is brought to bear” on teachers who express support for Palestine or call for a ceasefire...’.

Their task is to dictate coverage of one particular country — Israel. Such censorship involves the creation of a significant “blank space”, the investigation of which is prohibited to open inquiry. The impact is not limited spatially but spreads to all international linkages with that “space” that is the state of Israel. The geopolitical analysis itself is handicapped; kneecapped. There is no limit to which a silence imposed regarding Israel cannot be imposed on vast areas of the university’s curricula.

At university, Zionist students already have a security blanket against open inquiry in the Australasian Union of Jewish Students (AUJS), thus:

‘AUJS subscribes to the Zionist ideals espoused in the World Zionist Organisation’s Jerusalem Program. We seek to promote a positive image of Israel on campus; to encourage truth in student political dialogue, and to educate the wider student population about Judaism and Israel.’

The comfort zone is complemented by departments of Jewish studies (and by Jewish residential colleges). At Sydney University, it’s the Department of Hebrew, Biblical and Jewish Studies (HBJS).

There we discover:

‘Our advanced exchange program provides life-changing experiences in Israel with our partner university, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where students exercise their language skills and develop an understanding of cultural intricacies first-hand.’

Suzanne Rutland, long-time department head, has had a consistent diversionary focus. In The Conversation, 24 November 2023, Rutland assumes a priori that criticism of Zionism and of Israel is an attack on Jewry sui generis and thus heralds anti-Semitism. This conventional sleight of hand is decidedly unscholarly.

Rutland is an active supporter of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance and its fraudulent definition of anti-Semitism and permissible criticism of Israel — again, decidedly unacademic as a means of defending the indefensible.

Rutland claims that there exists a ‘political anti-Semitism associated with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in which ostensible criticisms of Israel can morph into an irrational hatred of Jews’. Criticisms of Israel are merely cover for Jew-hatred? This conflation is a grievous insult to anti-Zionist Jews and to Jewry in general.

Rutland later confronts Jewish anti-Zionism in the flesh and is unrepentant. Rutland was interviewed as a representative counter-weight in an ABC documentary on Antony Loewenstein, Not in My Name, 6 May 2024.

Rutland claims:

The anti-Zionist message leads to attacks on Jews in Australia. So it fosters anti-Semitism, and we’ve seen that with a huge upsurge post October 7.


The mainstream Jewish leadership, most Jews see people like Antony Loewenstein, that extreme Left-wing voice, as highly destructive to the wellbeing of Jews and particularly the wellbeing of the over 7 million Jews living in Israel.

This characterisation is misconstrued and defamatory. Loewenstein’s stance is neither “Left-wing” nor “extreme”. Loewenstein is transparently rational and sober. It is Israel itself, under its successive leadership of whatever stripe, that is “highly destructive to the wellbeing of Jews”.

In September 2015, I attended a meeting held at Sydney University’s Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies (since dismantled — under Zionist influence?). The agenda was to discuss a proposed academic boycott of compromised Israeli institutions following the 2014-15 incursion into Gaza. Rutland turned up with a student platoon who proceeded to talk mumbo jumbo. Indoctrination anyone?

Rutland’s move to Emerita status has apparently not shifted the orientation of Sydney University’s HJBS department. An internal email exchange between Sydney University staff, 6-8 November 2023, followed a professor of international standing questioning Vice-Chancellor Mark Scott’s discounting of the carnage unleashed by Israel after the 7 October Hamas killings.

An email from 17 staff, headed by the current HBJS head, claimed that the professor had a right to express his opinions but the reader has a responsibility to see through the inaccuracies. No corrections of the learned professor’s stance (I saw none) were offered.

HBJS is the recipient of generous funding by the Australian Jewish community, not least the NSW Jewish Communal Appeal (JCA)’s Joint Committee for Jewish Higher Education. A select administration document to which I have been privy discloses donations from the JCA (unreservedly committed to Israel) for the HBJS department in May 2012 which summed to a whopping $573,000. It wouldn’t have been a one-off.

Is Israel the grand ultimate endpoint of thousands of years of Jewish history? If that is the intended agenda for university departments of Jewish studies, it’s a calumny on thousands of years of the history of Jewry.

The Australian Jewish school system has remained steadfast in its devotion to Israel in the face of escalating Israeli criminality.

There is the exemplary case of Ben Zygier, who died in an Israeli prison cell in December 2010. The nature of his death has been inexcusably covered up by Israeli and Australian authorities. He attended King David School and was then a talented favourite son of Bialik College. The tragic affair was well covered by The Melbourne Age in 2013 and in a 2014 book by journalist Rafael Epstein.

Ben Zygier died for what? Has Bialik reconsidered its Zionist orientation?

On 27 May, anti-Semitic graffiti was sprayed on the front wall of Mount Scopus College. The College reacted, bizarrely, by flying not only Australian flags but a bevy of small Israeli flags.

Gazans have been subject to a starvation diet since 2005, regular murderous incursions and are now subject to full-blown genocide. West Bank and East Jerusalem atrocities are daily occurrences. In 2021-22, respected human rights organisations finally acknowledged Israel to be an apartheid state, though its apartheid character has been built into its fabric since 1948 — as documented by the Haifa-based organisation Adalah. There appears to have been not a peep of concern from the Australian Jewish school system.

King David School’s principal, Marc Light, in a recent visit to Israel (Solidarity in Israel, undated) rightly despairs at the ‘unfathomable grief, despair and disillusionment in the challenging circumstances facing the nation’, but expresses no comparable sentiments regarding the hell in Gaza, with seemingly no interest in understanding the origins of the current nightmare.

Light is unrepentant in his defence of Zionism (Calling out Anti-Zionism, undated), claiming, moreover, that ‘the very substantial majority of Australian Jews see Zionism [and the existence of Israel] as a central tenet of their Jewish identity’. Light claims, ‘Indeed, many Zionists have devoted themselves towards peace-building...’. I’d like to see the evidence.

It appears that nothing is going to change with the Australian Jewish school system’s devotion to Israel, whatever barbarities Israel perpetrates. At the same time, the relative openness of the Australian university system is going to leave Israel subject to analysis and criticism, save in self-sustained (and well-funded from external sources) departments of Jewish studies.

The matriculants from Jewish schools when exposed to the real world at a tertiary level will have to like it or lump it.

Dr Evan Jones is a political economist and former academic.

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