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Time for a House Un-Australian Activities Committee?
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Woroni: j’accuse – in defence of Socialist Alternative against accusations of anti-Semitism

As many of my regular readers would know I resigned from Socialist Alternative in December last year.

However there is now a scurrilous, vindictive and orchestrated attack on Socialist Alternative at the Australian National University which requires that I come out in their defence.

The ANU Jewish Association, through the Australasian Union of Jewish Students, (incorrectly described by Woroni as the Australian Union of Jewish Students) has complained to the ANU about alleged anti-Semitic attacks on them by Socialist Alternative members. These include a paper aeroplane thrown at the the Association’s stall supposedly made from a Socialist Alternative petition which had on its back ‘Death to the Zionist Entity, Love from Hamas.’

According to Woroni, the incorporated ‘newspaper’ of ANU students, the two co-Presidents of the Association ‘… also reported that later in the day one was called a ‘filthy Jew,’ and an, ‘Israeli bitch,’ when she declined a pamphlet and to sign a petition from the Alternative, respectively.’

ANU Pro-Vice-Chancellor Professor Richard Baker, is investigating the allegations. Here is part of a report in the Canberra Times of March 5

”As you will appreciate the university views these matters very seriously. Tolerance of diversity and the free debate of ideas are fundamental to the concept of a university,” Professor Baker wrote.

The university is also checking CCTV footage to see if any incident was captured.

The ANU spokeswoman said if the allegations were substantiated, the people involved would be subject to the university’s disciplinary code. This could range from mediation to being asked to leave the university, or if the people involved were visitors, they could be banned from visits.

Because the matters are under investigation I wouldn’t normally comment. However the lead story in the 11 March edition of Woroni is Anti-Semitism at the ANU (no room for doubt in that heading eh?) and it shows clearly by its wild accusations that this is not about truth but is a concerted campaign against Socialist Alternative because they are strong supporters of the Palestinians and the increasingly successful Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign drawing the world’s attention to Israeli apartheid.

We live in a society whose ruling elite demonises the other, whether it be asylum seekers, Aboriginal Australians (think of the racist Northern Territory intervention), unionists, Muslims, single parents and gays and lesbians to name a few.

We also need to see this in the wider context of the creeping authoritarianism of the Australian and other Western states and the criminalisation of dissent. The sorts of propaganda and lies the conservatives have used used to justify the Vicious Lawless Association Disestablishment Act in Queensland, the recent laws which will have the effect of suppressing peaceful demonstrations in Victoria, the proposed re-introduction of the kangaroo court Australian Building and Construction Commission, the anti-terrorism laws that saw Mohamed Haneef locked up for 12 days for no crime, or the indefinite imprisonment of 50 asylum seekers because ASIO says they are terrorists are now being used against Socialist Alternative.

In what appears to be almost a straight lift from the Canberra Times report the Woroni reporter said:

In a written statement the Canberra Socialist Alternative declared that the claims against members of their ANU branch were unsubstantiated and ‘completely ludicrous.’ The group stated that, ‘we are proud of our record of consistently opposing racism in all its forms, including anti-Semitism,’ and added, ‘two of the Socialist Alternative members who were present at ANU Market Day are themselves Jewish.’

Corey Oakley, the national spokesman for the Socialist Alternative told Fairfax that the organisation was still cogitating [sic] its response to the allegations. Oakley stated that, ‘we have made inquiries… and are confident that no such comments were made by our members.’ Significantly, he also added, ‘we consider the accusations to be a malicious attempt to smear Palestinian solidarity activists as anti-Semites.’

Despite this denial from Socialist Alternative, and the fact that an investigation is ongoing and the organisation has until 17 March to respond and so the findings have not yet been made let alone released, the Woroni reporter then made a number of unsubstantiated allegations concerning Socialist Alternative.

Leaving aside the fact the accusations appear not only self-serving but flimsy and hard to prove, here is one snippet that shows bias and acceptance of guilt before examining the evidence:

Woroni asked one of the co-presidents of the ANU Jewish Students’ Association how she felt about the Socialist Alternative’s systemic refusal to acknowledge the actions of their ANU members.

Systemic refusal to acknowledge the actions of their ANU members? Seriously? Woroni has already found Socialist Alternative members guilty, without evidence, and without a formal decision on the investigation. Maybe Socialist Alternative denies these actions because, who knows, maybe they didn’t happen.

The fact that Woroni would publish this assertion as fact to thousands of students and staff and others undermines any natural justice Socialist Alternative is entitled to, but I would rather this issue is fought out politically than through administrative law so that the underhand tactics of those seeking to undermine Socialist Alternative and the campaign for justice for Palestine are exposed.

It is not just the guilty until proven innocent stance of Woroni that exposes the reality of this wider smear campaign. Woroni also says:

The alleged incident even caught the attention of our revered education minister, Mr Christopher Pyne. His office released a statement on the matter, asserting that, ‘free speech in Australia does not extend to threats, intimidation and physical harassment. Incidents such as these have no place on campus or anywhere else.’

Woroni doesn’t question the Minister as to how he knows the incidents occurred. It accepts his statement without comment and uses the fact of the press releases to support the ‘fact’ of the alleged incidents. Why let truth stand in the way of bashing the left with accusations of anti-Semitism?

Woroni also dug up, presumably with the guidance of the unnamed source they refer to a little later on, a 2006 article alleging Jewish students were in fear on some campuses. Of course the assertion about real activity to provoke that fear is not backed up with facts.

Then we have a classic.

Woroni spoke to Mr Matthew Lesh from the National Union of Jewish Students. Mr Lesh emphasised that this was not a unique incident, stating that, ‘in terms of the ANU this was an isolated incident. However, in terms of the Socialist Alternative, this was not an isolated incident at all, and over the last few years we have had over a dozen cases of intimidation, harassment, and threats on various Australian University campuses.

You’d think with all these cases of intimidation, harassment and threats on various campuses Socialist Alternative members would have been charged or in jail or the organisation banned from campuses. Funny that that hasn’t happened. Far be it from me to ask why not. Perhaps there is no substance to the accusations. If there were the people involved would have had some action taken against them, surely.

Woroni also refers to alleged threats by Socialist Alternative against Liberal Party students at Melbourne Uni. Let’s leave aside the fact this has nothing to do with the complaints at hand. It also is so weak that Woroni justifies this assertion by baldly saying:

An unnamed source informed Woroni that physical assaults by Socialist Alternative members against members of the Liberal Party, took place earlier this year at the University of Melbourne. However, that the incident was not adequately investigated by the University, the student association, or the student newspaper, Farrago.

Apart from the possibly defamatory implications of this assertion, the fact that all Woroni relies on here is an unnamed source making spurious allegations (without I assume seeking a comment from Melbourne University, the Melbourne Student Association or Farrago), shows that this and the other accusations are clearly part of a pattern of innuendo, gossip and lies to traduce Socialist Alternative and the left more generally as one of the last groups wanting to organise resistance to attacks on higher education, refugees, gays and lesbians and campaigning around those issues and others like Palestine to draw more and more people in to fight for a more just society here and now.

The Woroni report is also internally contradictory. It says:

Woroni contacted Professor Richard Baker in regard to the issue. Professor Baker confirmed that, ‘I have met with the complainants and subsequently have raised the allegations with the Socialist Alliance in writing, to which a response is required by 17 March.’

So now apparently we have Socialist Alliance, not Socialist Alternative, under investigation. Perhaps all socialists look alike to Woroni. This sloppy reporting further supports the view that the intention is to smear the left with anti-Semitism and that attention to facts is left behind in that rush.

As more and more people realise the apartheid nature of Israel and while ever the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign grows and contributes to that success, the louder and louder will the cries of anti-Semitism flow from those with an interest in defending the apartheid regime. They cannot rebut the substance of the arguments that show the apartheid nature of Israel so they resort to unsubstantiated assertions, lies and innuendos of the sort found in this cheap piece of gutter journalism. Woroni, j’accuse.

Declaration of interest. Apart from me being a member of Socialist Alternative until December 2013, my wife is and remains a member. She was on the stall that day but we have not spoken about these allegations since they were aired.

In my 35 years as a member of groups in the International Socialist Tendency including Socialist Alternative I have not once heard an anti-Semitic remark by a member. The organisation has been a strong campaigner against all forms of racism, including anti-Semitism.

I am a doctoral student at ANU and was at Market Day with the ANU Education Action Group from just after 8.30 till 10.30, the ANU branch of the National Tertiary Education Union from 10.30 till 11.30, lunch from 11.30 till 12.30 and the ANU Refugee Action Committee from 12.30 till about 1.10 pm when I left to go home.

I sent this to the Woroni editors for publication earlier on Thursday morning. I got this response:

Hi John,

Your article will be happily considered like every piece of content we receive. Please remember that we are a student publication and, at this stage of the publishing cycle, our print editors are busy trying to catch up on their other lives. Although they can never stay away for long, so I’m sure they will be in touch soon.
Good luck with the newly anointed Freedom Commissioner.
Warm regards,
Since then I have recieved this:
Hi John,

During semester the only content we upload to the website independently (we upload all paper content after it has gone to print) is time-sensitive campus news articles, written by our news reporters. For this reason your submission will only be considered for newspaper publication, and it would be our Comment sub-editor’s prerogative whether it is published or not (depending on other submissions we receive, how well they are written and researched, and how time sensitive they are, in comparison to yours). The fact that you have already uploaded your article to your blog, as well as made other efforts to ensure it’s [sic] circulation, works against its publication. Generally we prefer only to publish Comment content that has not been published elsewhere already. Authors are permitted to upload content to their blogs only after Woroni has gone to print.
As the print team last semester was different to the one this semester we cannot answer your query re the Kim Carr article without contacting our old editors, sorry. It is possible that the article was considered too advertorial of the Socialist Alliance/Alternative to be appropriate for Woroni.
In terms of our policy on clubs writing for Woroni, articles can only be considered for comment section (not news) and they are only appropriate if they are well written, and not advertorial of the club or society in question. We do have advertising space, if clubs choose to purchase this.
They did not give their name.
In other words, sod off, and we don’t publish material  from political clubs that is political…
Free speech Tim Wilson, Human Rights Commissioner?



Pingback from Woroni: j’accuse – in defence of Socialist Alternative against accusations of anti-Semitism | OzHouse
Time March 13, 2014 at 9:11 am

[…] Mar 12 2014 by admin […]

Comment from Kay
Time March 14, 2014 at 7:23 am

Yes, the Left around the world is generally coming under fire for their anti-Israel boycotts. Unfair? Of course, the Left says it is not anti-Semitic. But…..

Yet you have no problem with branding anyone who doesn’t want open borders as “racist”! Funny thing that – the Left is happy to label everyone who disagrees with them by throwing around some nasty, unsupportable epithet, but get hysterical when the same thing happens to them.

Both epithets, “anti-Semitic” and “racist” are a big stretch used by both sides to discredit the other point of view. Neither accusation is supportable by the facts. Perhaps you should learn from that.

Comment from ANUSA Communications
Time March 14, 2014 at 10:02 am

Dear John,

Please note that Woroni is not associated with the ANU Students’ Association in any way. Woroni became ANU Student Media Inc in 2010 from which time it became financially and editorially independent of ANUSA.

Comment from Kieran Bennett
Time March 14, 2014 at 12:05 pm

I know a number of Canberra SAlties quite well, I had the pleasure of working with them in student politics back when I was deluded enough to think ANUSA elections mattered a dime, and I did a couple of stalls with them during Israel’s 2006 attack on Lebanon.

SAlt are anti-racist, pro-Palestine, and anti Zionist. They are principled political opponents of the Israeli state. They clearly differentiate between political opposition to Israel and support for the rights of the Jewish people. I have never heard an anti semitic remark or joke from a SAlt member, although I have seen SAlt members squash those who did.

I strongly support the above remarks by John Passant. Woroni, your baseless smear of Socialist Alternative is pretty low, even in light of some of the utter garbage published in your pages over the years.

Comment from brett rossi
Time March 15, 2014 at 1:48 pm

Is it ok if I tweet about this posting?

Comment from John
Time March 15, 2014 at 2:21 pm

Of course. You don’t have to ask. Just do it.