We write regarding RMIT’s partnership with the Israeli arms manufacturer Elbit Systems.
As you will be aware, students, staff and members of the Australian public have expressed their grave concerns about this partnership.
Last week you received the attached letter from Palestinian Federation of Unions of University Professors and Employees (PFUUPE) which represents some 6,000 Palestinian university academics and staff at more than a dozen higher education institutions in the occupied Palestinian territory calling on RMIT to end its ties with Elbit Systems. This letter outlines the reasons why these fellow academics deplore RMIT’s association with Elbit Systems.
Partnering with institutions or companies complicit in Israel’s apartheid regime contributes to prolonging Israel’s violent rule over Palestinians and comes with serious legal and moral concerns. And partnering with a company that works closely with that regime to produce weapons and repressive surveillance systems used against not only indigenous Palestinians but other oppressed communities around the world, takes those concerns to an entirely different level. The fact that RMIT states that this partnership is for the development of AI to be used for civilian use, does not in any way absolve RMIT from partnering with the company that produces 85% of the military drones used by Israel in assaults on civilians in Gaza.
We note that Professor John Thanharajah, Professor in Artificial Intelligence and Associate Dean of Computer Science and Software Engineering at RMIT states that he has worked directly on several research contracts with the Defence Science Technology group. We have no reason to believe that his work with RMIT doesn’t relate to research that Elbit is working on to further develop its drone technology for use by the Israeli and other military against civilians.
BDS Australia is campaigning to end all military ties with Israel and the companies which support the ongoing oppression, persecution and dispossession of Palestinians.
We will continue to campaign against RMIT’s partnership with Elbit. We are available to meet with you to further discuss this issue and look forward to your response.
Boycott of Israeli film fund by Israeli filmmakers
In a significant development against Israel’s use of culture to attempt to hide and normalise it’s crimes against Palestinians, key Israeli film directors and creatives have called out Israel’s apartheid, occupation and art-washing in a public letter declaring they will boycott a government film fund aimed at supporting Israeli film makers working in illegal occupied Palestinian territories.
Some 140 Israeli filmmakers have declared that they will refuse to do business with an Israeli film fund that operates in the West Bank. In a public letter organized by filmmakers Avi Mograbi, Rachel Leah Jones, Liran Atzmor, Yasmin Kini, Noam Sheizaf and others, they state that they will not cooperate with the Samaria Film Fund: They will not apply to it for grants, they will not participate in its projects and they will not be employed by it. They write that the endowment “is not a pluralistic fund, but rather part of the apartheid mechanism.”
“Behind this festival, as well as behind the establishment of the Samaria Film Fund, is not the love of culture but politics, which aims to erase the Green Line and the distinction between a military and civilian regime,” the letter from the filmmakers states. “Therefore, it is unsurprising that leading this political foundation are Esther Allouche, the spokesperson of the Samaria Regional Council, and Yossi Dagan, the chairman of the Samaria Regional Council. The foundation and the festival invite Israeli creators to take an active part in whitewashing the occupation in exchange for financial support and prizes.”
The University of Melbourne Student Union (UMSU) passed an historic motion on August 15, 2022 in solidarity with Palestinians and in support of BDS.
BDS Australia believes this is a major turning point for BDS activism in Australian tertiary institutions and congratulates the UMSU for their ethical stance and for their strength standing strong against threats of lawfare.
Motion on BDS and Solidarity follows this preamble from UMSU
On Monday 15 August 2022, a motion relating to actions in support of Palestine was moved by a student at the University of Melbourne Student Union (UMSU) Students’ Council. This motion was considered following the same process as all valid motions put to Students’ Council.
The motion was debated publicly and passed 16 votes to three with one abstention. The resultant policy has been incorporated into UMSU’s Stance Booklet which can also be accessed on our website.
UMSU considers that the motion is robust, was supported by appropriate consultation and was passed with due diligence by Students’ Council.
UMSU recently engaged an independent agency to facilitate a consultation process with relevant stakeholders, including pro-Palestinian and Jewish bodies on campus. This consultation process was conducted to help inform Students’ Council about student perspectives on this topic. It was not conducted for the purpose of preparing a motion. The consultation process was completed on 1 August 2022.
UMSU and its predecessor organisations, has maintained a 130-year tradition of students standing up for human rights issues, including those relating to international affairs. This is consistent with the purpose, mission and values of UMSU.
UMSU continues to encourage respectful debate of international affairs on campus and deplores and denounces bigotry and hate speech in all its forms. Following research, consultation and engagement, UMSU does not believe that supporting the Palestinian cause and the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement is anti-Semitic. This is a position that is shared by many organisations and commentators aroundthe world, including the United Nations, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Israeli human rights group B’Tselem.
Our highest priority, as always, is to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all students. UMSU has a diverse student body and Students’ Council regularly considers motions on issues about which people feel passionately– as always UMSU encourages all students/stakeholders to engage with each other respectfully.
Minutes UMSU – 15 August 2022 – Meeting 13
Students have been key participants in the fight against the illegal colonization and occupation of Palestine by protesting, organizing, and educating fellow students. Student unions and associations across the world continue to formally endorse BDS. As one of the biggest universities in Australia, the University of Melbourne’s monetary and academic connections to the State of Israel have helped legitimize the narrative created by the state of Israel. Thus, the University of Melbourne’s Student Union must take a clear and firm stance to communicate both to the university and the world that the apartheid and oppression of Palestinians will not be ignored, upheld, or accepted by the university’s student body.
1. UMSU stands against the Israeli occupation of Palestine and condemns the ongoing ethnic cleansing of Palestinians
2. UMSU supports the self-determination of the Palestinian people and their right to engage in self-defence against their occupiers
3. UMSU deems the use of Zionism to justify the illegal occupation of Palestine as racist and colonial
4. UMSU recognises that Israel is an apartheid state in accordance with prominent human rights organisations like Amnesty International, B’Tselem, and Humans Rights Watch.
5. UMSU condemns the Australian government’s support for Israel and its ongoing crimes including occupation, settlement, expansion, and ethnic cleansing.
6. UMSU condemns any and all forms of antisemitism
7. UMSU recognises that Israel’s actions are not representative of the Jewish community. Similarly, Israel’s crimes are its responsibility alone and not that of Jewish people worldwide.
1. UMSU supports the academic boycott movement of Israeli institutions in accordance with the PACBI guidelines: PACBI Guidelines for the International Academic Boycott of Israel | BDS Movement
2. UMSU calls on the university to participate in an academic boycott and cut ties with Israeli institutions, researchers, and academics to be in harmony with the Palestinian call for boycott, as a contribution towards upholding international law and furthering the struggle for freedom, justice and equality
Divestment Actions and Support:
1. UMSU calls on the university to divest from corporations complicit in and profit from the Israel apartheid and that operate on illegally occupied Palestinian land.
2. Direct the CEO to update the UMSU ethical register and boycott companies that support and profit from the Israeli apartheid in line with the global BDS guidelines.
3. To direct the President and POC Officers to write and publish a joint statement announcing UMSU’s decision to adopt BDS and its support for Palestinian rights to be published on all UMSU socials.
4. To direct the General Secretary to update the UMSU stance booklet to reflect this policy and subsequent vote on it.
5. To direct the President and POC officers to send a joint letter of support to the Australian Centre for International Justice affirming UMSU’s support for Palestine on behalf of UMSU.
This is BDS Australia’s response to the Melbourne University Student Union Motion passed recently in support of BDS as a non-violent means to pressure Israel to end its violations of Palestinian human rights. (See below for the motion).
We are writing to congratulate you on your recent vote of support for the campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions on Israel, in favour of Palestinian rights.
The political project to maintain Jewish majority and rule throughout historic Palestine, entails ongoing crimes against humanity and cannot be separated from this.
The call for BDS has grown internationally, and is a crucial, non-violent way to apply pressure to the Israeli government to act in accordance with international law and cease its grave violations of Palestinian human rights. The spread of this movement among universities is proved not only by your own initiative but also the recent publication of an editorial in The Crimson, the student newspaper at Harvard University, indicating support for BDS.
A series of expert reports have established a wide consensus of credentialed opinion, backed by rigorously assembled evidence, that Israel is operating a system of apartheid in its treatment of Palestinians. These reports have come from international monitoring groups, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch; from Israeli NGOs Yesh Din and B’Tselem, and from a group of Palestinian human rights organisations (Al-Haq, Badil, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, a-Damir, the Al-Mizan Centre for Human Rights, the Civil Coalition for Palestinian Rights in East Jerusalem, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights and the Beatat Coalition for Housing and Land Rights) and most recently from the Harvard Law School and the UN Human Rights Council.
The racist nature of the Israeli state was evident from its inception, according to the AI report: “Since its creation, the Israeli state has enforced massive and cruel land seizures to dispossess and exclude Palestinians from their land and homes”, thus rendering them “a group with perpetual lesser rights”.
In case any doubt remained, Israel in 2018 adopted the Nation State Law – later upheld by the country’s supreme court – which specifies that the country is a state only of its Jewish inhabitants.
We note that critics of your historic decision have invoked the so-called IHRA definition of “anti-Semitism”, one of whose accompanying examples claims that calling the State of Israel “a racist endeavour” should itself be seen as tantamount to racism. This is no more than a cynical attempt at truth-suppression by vested interests, directly analogous to climate change denialism in the face of the overwhelming scientific consensus on anthropogenic global warming.
According to a recent opinion poll commissioned by the Australia-Palestine Advocacy Network, most Australians support both the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, and the ongoing investigation by the International Criminal Court. The former is made impossible by Israel’s blatant ongoing theft of Palestinian land; the latter should rule that the entire program to build Jewish-only settlements, or colonies, in the occupied Palestinian West Bank, is a war crime. The Fourth Geneva Convention baldly states: “An occupying power must not move any part of its population into the territory it occupies”.
The IHRA definition has been adopted by political parties and institutions in shadowy meetings through bullying by the Israel lobby, including here in Australia. It is a plot to thwart public opinion as a factor to be considered in the formulation of government policy.
A minimum expectation for such a policy, to reflect both the established facts about Israel’s oppression of Palestinians, and Australian public opinion, would be to adopt the three key demands of the BDS movement: an end to the occupation of 1967; equal rights for all citizens of Israel to replace the panoply of apartheid laws, and support for the right of return by Palestinians driven out of their homes in the racist campaign of ethnic cleansing at Israel’s establishment in 1948.
In this context, we thank and congratulate you for your initiative, and look forward to working with you to promote peace and justice for all the peoples of Palestine.
Motion: UMSU stands with Palestine – BDS and Solidarity Policy
In the late 1800s, Political Zionism was born to establish a Jewish home in Historic Palestine, disregarding the Indigenous Palestinians living there. This colonial project has led to the establishment of the state of Israel, the blockade of Gaza and the occupa#on of the West Bank through massacres, forced expulsion and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. Israel has been deemed as a se8ler colonial apartheid state. It continuously denies the native Palestinians of their right to self-determination, freedom, dignity and equality. Inspired by the South African anti-apartheid movement, the BDS call urges ac#on to pressure Israel to comply with interna#onal law.
With the recent bombing of Gaza, Israel has carried out a police raid at the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. Israeli forces have detained 500+ and injured 170+ Palestinians in Jerusalem since the beginning of Ramadan. These Palestinians were simply congrega#ng and praying at the mosque, which is one of the few remaining public spaces for Pales#nians in Jerusalem.
Students in Palestine and around the world have been key participants in the fight against the illegal occupation of Palestine, protesting, organizing, and creating a discussion on respective campuses. Many student unions and associations across Europe, North America, and Australia have formally endorsed BDS or some version of solidarity, it’s long overdue for a clear and firm stance by UMSU on these crimes. Policy, UMSU stances and actions:
General Stance: UMSU stands against the Israeli occupation of Palestine and condemns the ongoing ethnic cleansing of Palestinians
UMSU supports the self-determination of the Palestine people and their right to engage in self-defence against their occupiers
UMSU deems Zionism as a racist, colonial ideology UMSU rejects Israel’s continued settlement, expansion, and annexation of Palestinian land
UMSU condemns the Australian government’s support for Israel and its ongoing crimes including occupation, settlement, expansion, and ethnic cleansing.
UMSU condemns any and all forms of antisemitism against students of the Jewish faith and stands in solidarity with Jewish students.
UMSU recognises that Israel’s actions are not representative of the Jewish community. Similarly, Israel’s crimes are its responsibility alone and not that of Jewish people worldwide.
UMSU strongly endorses that Judaism and Zionism are not to be conflated as one
UMSU supports the academic boycott movement of Israeli institutions
UMSU calls on the university to participate in an academic boycott and cut ties with Israeli institutions, researchers, and academics that support the Israeli oppression of Palestinians
Divestment Actions and support:
UMSU calls on the university to divest from corporations complicit in and profit from the Israel apartheid Direct the CEO to update the UMSU ethical register and boyco8 companies that support and profit from the Israeli apartheid in line with the BDS Australia organization guidelines.
UMSU publishes a statement prepared by the UMSU POC department and relevant student groups announcing this policy and its support for Palestnian rights.
To direct the General Secretary to update the UMSU stance booklet to reflect this policy and subsequent vote on it.
To direct the President and POC officer to send a letter of support to the Australian Centre for International Justice affirming UMSU’s support for Palestine on behalf of UMSU.
Update: This petition was signed by 21,991 Australians in the limited time it was online (4 weeks) and was presented to the Australian Federal parliament in August 2021. The then Foreign Minister, Senator Marise Payne responded to this petition and her letter is here and copied below.
May 27, 2021 PETITION TO THE AUSTRALIAN FEDERAL PARLIAMENT
BDS Australia believes that it’s time the people who want to see justice for Palestinians, tell our politicians that it’s time to sanction Israel. We have one month until this petition is closed and it will be presented to the parliament. Australia is obliged to take action to support international law. BDS Australia is committed to championing the rights of Palestinians in law.
Successive Israeli governments have severely discriminated against and brutally dominated Palestinians since the Nakba of 1948. The latest attacks in Gaza and throughout East Jerusalem, the West Bank and inside Israel show that the Nakba has never ended. The systematic oppression of Palestinians amounts to grave breaches of international law and the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution. Palestinians have been subject to ongoing largescale military assaults and an illegal 14-year physical and economic blockade in Gaza; a brutal 54-year military occupation; decades-long restrictions on freedom of movement; widespread imposition of an illegal settlement enterprise; confiscation of land and mass denial of residency rights. These actions intentionally and severely deprive millions of Palestinians of key fundamental rights and protections including the right to self-determination, the right of return, the right to equality and non-discrimination, and the rights to life, liberty, health, water, and security. The Australian Government has a responsibility as a signatory to numerous international treaties to take action against Israel due to these grave violations of international law, which are also criminal offences under Australian law.
We therefore ask the House to 1) publicly condemn Israel’s assaults on Palestinians. 2) support targeted sanctions and an arms embargo on Israel. 3) support the suspension of defence cooperation with Israel and end defence industry partnerships. 4) introduce legislation to ban all settlement goods and services from entering Australia. 5) prevent Australian companies from operating, trading, or investing in settlements or contributing to their maintenance and/or expansion.
Response by the then Foreign Minister, Marise Payne October 7, 2021
This website is maintained by BDS Australia, which is affiliated with the coalition of Palestinian organisations that leads and supports the BDS movement and by the Palestinian Campaign for Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), a BNC member organisation.