The A.U.S. Campaign,1975

Nov 30, 2023 | Press & Media

A report on the rise of anti-Israel sentiment on Australian campuses, and the campaign to defeat a series of resolutions passed at successive January Councils of the Australian Union of Students (A.U.S.). Submitted by Joe Gersh, President for, and on behalf of, the A.U.J.S. Executive, July 1975.

  1. CAMPUS CAMPAIGN 1974, AND ITS AFTERMATH

At its January Council of 1974, the Australian Union of Students passed a series of crude and extreme anti-Israel resolutions. The most relevant of these read:

“A.U.S. informs the National Union of Israeli Students that A.U.S. does not recognize the existence of the State of Israel, or of the National Union of Israeli Students (N.U.I.S.)”.

and      “That A.U.S. support the liberation forces of Palestine”.

and      “That A.U.S. no longer believes that N.U.I.S. should be recognized as a member of the Asian Students Association (ASA), and rather believes the G.U.P.S. and other Arab student unions, or any non-Zionist student organisation should be recognized in their place”.

The resolutions, because of their extreme nature, were overwhelmingly rejected on campus by margins of up to 10-1. They offered no alternatives, and were so simply (and naively) anti-Israel, that the majority of Australian students rejected them completely. In a sense, there is very little that requires comment about last year’s resolutions. Note, however, the following points:

First, the traumatic effect on Jewish students, and in fact the entire Jewish community, of the A.U.S. resolutions. It came as a shock, that the supportive view of A.U.S. towards Israel, had reversed itself. A.U.S. had, in fact, sponsored the admission of the N.U.I.S. in the A.S.A. in 1972. For many Jewish students, and in particular those who attended Jewish day schools, the spate of anti-Israel, and in many cases not too well-masked anti-semitic, material was frightening. Second, the move for the expulsion of Israel from the A.S.A. was defeated largely as a result of the tied hands of the Australian and New Zealand delegations. Although the student delegations were able to militate against Israel (e.g. granting the delegate of the International Catholic Student Association observer status and denying this to W.U.J.S. on the grounds that they represented a sectarian interest), they were committed to vote for Israel’s retention in that student forum. The tied hands of the Australian and New Zealand delegation was mainly the result of the efforts of Jewish students throughout Australia and New Zealand to ensure that their national student union were obliged to vote for Israel’s retention.

This may not seem like a great achievement. However, it should be placed against a very troubling year in Jewish history. The ascendency of the petro-dollar, Israel’s expulsion from UNESCO, and the speech written by Clovis Maksoud, and presented by Yassir Arafat in the U.N. are examples of the background against which Israel remained in the A.S.A.

The above are indicators of the change in the political climate which made it possible for AUS to publicly justify bringing a further series of anti-Israel resolutions to Council, and subsequently to constituent ratification.

These are, however, clearly not the reasons for the change. A significant number of AUS leaders are dedicated to the cause of the PLO. It has, moreover, become the cause celebre in many quarters. At January Council 1975, capable and dedicated student officers standing for election to executive positions, were summarily dismissed as candidates if suspected of harbouring pro-Zionist (i.e. ideologically impure) ideals. Franz Timmerman, 1974 Editor of National U, justified the re-introduction of anti-Israel resolutions on the grounds that it was time that the politically aware were prepared to “stuff backward student opinion on campus”. The outgoing AUS President, Neil McLean, who brought the Palestine issue to the fore, saw the losses on campus as a matter of personal pride, and subsequently ensured that the issue was brought up again.

It therefore came as no surprise to Jewish students when the following resolutions were proposed and carried at January Council:

D32.     A.U.S. supports the establishment of a Democratic Secular State of Palestine (encompassing the area of Mandate Territory) wherein all people presently residing in Israel and all Palestinian Arabs forcibly exiled from their homeland will have the right to Palestinian citizenship. This motion embodies the right of Palestinian citizens of all religions, race, colour, creed and sex, to the protection of the new State, and rejects racist legislation, such as the present Zionist “Law of Return”.

D33.     A.U.S. concurs with the U.N. Resolution 3236, and the decision of the U.N. to recognise the Palestinian Liberation Organization as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.

D34.     A.U.S. shall pursue the policy in all national and international areas.

L7.       That A.U.S. Travel cease all advertising, organization, and promotion of travel to Occupied Palestine until the Zionist entity is overcome and the land known as Israel is completely opened to its rightful inhabitants, the Palestinian people, in a democratic secular state.

Although the resolutions were passed, several important changes in the level of political awareness of the Jewish students bore fruit at January Council. The most important was that a series of alternative resolutions were proposed by the delegation of the University of New South Wales. The importance of these alternative resolutions lies in the pretext used by AUS to justify the re-introduction of anti-Israel resolutions, i.e. that after the defeat of the 1974 resolutions. AUS has no formal policy on the Middle East. To enable the 1975 debate to be constructive in the policy making sense, an alternative set of resolutions was required. These read:

L2b.     A.U.S. recognize the need for a U.N. supervised referendum of all Palestinian Arabs to determine their wishes regarding a Palestinian State.

L2c.      A.U.S. recognize the need for a U.N. supervised election by all Palestinian Arabs of those representatives who should make representations on their behalf regarding their homeland and who should have initial control of that homeland, and that any group claiming to represent the Palestinians be eligible to stand.

L2d.     A.U.S. recognize the national rights of the Jewish people.

L2e.     A.U.S. reaffirm its support of the national rights of the Palestinian Arabs.

L2f.      A.U.S. believes that neither the national rights of the Palestinian Arabs or the Jews should be at each other’s expense.

L2g      A.U.S. recognize Israel as the national homeland of the Jewish people.

The fact that these alternative resolutions came before the campuses in the ratification debates, and the fact that the substantive resolutions only passed by margins of 12 constituent votes at Council itself, reflects the increased representation, and political sophistication of the Jewish students at January Council.

Two further sets of resolutions acted, in a sense, as ‘buffers’ between the major resolutions expounding the alternative points of view. The first, proposed by a member of the South Australian regional executive, attempted an ‘even handed’ approach within the democratic secular state framework. It read:

L1        A.U.S. recognizes the joint right of Palestinian Arabs and Israelis to Israel, and supports the eventual establishment of a democratic State either directly or by federation, composed of Israel and parts of Palestine, occupied by Arab nations. All people presently residing in Israel and Palestinian Arabs will have a right to common citizenship. Prerequisites should be the guarantee for citizens, of all religions, race, colour, creed or sex of their rights. Further, A.U.S. recognizes the history of oppression of the Jews and the need for continuing security for Israeli Jews. However it deplores the present occupation by Israel and Arab nations of Palestinian Arabs.

The second, proposed by the delegation from the University of New South Wales, and in particular AUJS Vice-President Geoff Gordon, contained ideas essentially similar to those embodied in the major alternative resolutions, but framed more appropriately to the needs of AUS Council and many of the constituents.

L2        A.U.S. recognize that the ultimate survival of Jews and Palestinian Arabs, as of all peoples, depends upon the overthrow of capitalism and world imperialism; we call upon Jews and Arabs in the Middle East to recognize each other’s national rights: upon the government of Israel to recognize the claims of the Palestinians for an independent national homeland, as originally provided by the United Nations, and upon the Arab governments and the P.L.O. (Palestinian Liberation Organization).

In reality, neither of the ‘buffer’ resolutions served any purpose as the AUJS spokesmen were able to successfully defeat the substantive resolutions and, in doing so, clearly explain the case for the alternative resolutions.

Two interesting sidelights are provided by the AUS Travel Commission motion and the appointment of Bill Hartlev as Education Research Officer. The Travel motion called for the cessation of all flights to ‘occupied Palestine’ until the Zionist entity is overcome. The resolution is ironical in that Ian McDonald, in his capacity as Services Vice-President last year, was very indignant about the AUJS posters reading: “AUS – THE ONLY TRAVEL AGENCY TO SUPPORT HI-JACKING”. He felt that student services and politics ought not to mix. The Travel Department this year, however, has been used to serve political ends. The most interesting side of this resolution is its intent, i.e., “to break the back” of the Israel tourist industry!

The appointment of the well-known PLO advocate, Bill Hartley, as Educator Research Office of AUS prompted a great deal of criticism. Whilst the Mid-East point of view of Hartley may not have been the sole reason for his appointment the role of that point of view in his general political framework would certainly have been influential. It is clear that any number of research graduates and Ph.D students would have equally fulfilled the task of E.R.O. Thus the political nature of the Hartley appointment is a very suspect one indeed.

2. THE GENERAL UNION OF PALESTINIAN STUDENTS (G.U.P.S) TOUR

2a. Why G.U.P.S. Tour Opposed

The Australasian Union of Jewish Students (A.U.J.S.) opposed the visit of representatives of G.U.P.S because:

  1. G.U.P.S. is affiliated to the central executive of the P.L.O, an organization committed to the destruction of Israel, a sovereign state which has existed independently, and enjoyed relations with Australia, for 27 years. G.U.P.S., as with all affiliates, is committed to the Palestine Covenant, and to terror as the principal means of achieving their objective.
  2. The overwhelming defeat of the following resolution in the Mid-East debate, demonstrates clearly the sentiment of Australian students with respect to G.U. P.S. The resolution reads: “A.U.S. recognize the General Union of Palestinian Students as a legal Students’ Union in that area of the Middle East known as Israel in reality, occupied Palestine”. It has been argued that August Council, 1974, voted for the invitation of G.U.P.S. It has already been noted how representative of student opinion Council tends to be, especially with respect to the Middle East. There is little doubt that, had the question of the G.U.P.S. tour gone to Constituent Ratification, that the tour would have been overwhelmingly rejected by Australian students.
  3. The tensions within the University community, already visibly heightened by the entire Middle East debate, would become uncontrollable. The Drummond Street incident is the unfortunate realization of this fear.

It ought to be made clear that the objections were not levelled at the expression of the point of view of individual Palestinians /to P.L.O. professionals. The G.U.P.S. delegates, and in particular their spokesman Eddy Zananeri, proved to be in the latter class the American University of Beirut was responsible there for the recruiting of students for overseas terrorist operations.

2b. Event of Sunday May 4th (the Drummond Street incident)

On the day of the arrival of the two G.U.P.S. delegates 40 young Jewish students and members of Zionist Youth movements exercised their right of peaceful demonstration outside the offices of their own union, A.U.S. The students made no attempt, nor were there indications that such attempts were planned, to enter the A.U.S. office. The students chanted and displayed cardboard placards. Ian Macdonald. reporting on the events to his constituents, indicated that someone’ rang the T.H.C. and alerted the May Day marchers to the Jewish demonstration. The marchers, in response to an impassioned speech from John Herouvim, proceeded towards the A.U.S. offices Herouvim, a Maoist student attending Latrobe, is a long-standing member of P.A.S.C, and is best known in student circles for inciting violence amongst the members of the student delegation in his own university at this year’s January Council of A.U.S. At approximately 2.00p.m. some 150-200 Maoists and local members of the Arab community rounded the corner at Drummond Street. Their arsenal included clubs, flagpoles, and every other crude weapon imaginable. Amongst the victims was a 70-year old Jewish man, passing through Drummond Street on his way back from the cemetery. An ATV-O film crew were present, and A.U.J.S. is in possession of a copy of the 7-minute news film of the events. The film is a clear indictment of several people involved in promoting the A.U.S. anti-Israel resolutions at January Council.

2c. Evaluation of Drummond St

  1. The Drummond Street incident was not a spontaneous act on the part of pro-P.L.O. supporters. Nor were A.U.S. officers blameless. McDonald’s own admission is that ‘someone’ in the AUS building alerted the May-Day marchers. Although unnamed in his report, it is hardly likely that the caller was unknown to him. This was confirmed by the threat of physical violence made by Franz Timmerman (last year’s editor of National U) to several Jewish students, should they attempt to disrupt the tour of G.U.P.S. Some of the prime movers of the anti-Israel resolutions at January Council, e.g. John Herouvim (Latrobe), Graham Lambert (Swinburne) and Ken White were present, and reported in film, at AUS.
  2. The effect on the local Arab community of the tour of G.U.P.S. was considerable. The local Arabs felt that they had regained their pride, lost to the onslaught of articulate and balanced pro-Israel propaganda. They therefore felt moved to take to the streets, and as victory was whipped up, to physically attack the supporters of Israel.
  3. There was a great deal of discussion amongst the senior leadership of the Jewish Student movement about the desirability of entering into debate with the two G.U.P.S. delegates when they arrived. The matter was taken to a national conference in Sydney, and the issue debated at length. It was finally decided that to counter the media impression created by G.U.P.S., that Jewish spokesmen should put their point of view. It was also decided to be selective about accepting invitations, and only those conducive to our cause should be accepted. This was a national undertaking. However, before this undertaking could be put into effect, the Melbourne delegates returned to Tullamarine to be greeted with the news of Drummond Street. Betar members leading the Drummond Street demonstration, had solicited and entered into a media confrontation with Palestinians. This placed any other student undertakings in an entirely different light. An A.U.J.S. officer, Johnny Baker, present at Drummond Street; attempted to present to the reporters present a more balanced view of the Jewish student objection to the G.U.P.S. tour.

It should be noted that at no time, even when decisions by splinter groups of students ran counter to those of the student leadership, was a public differentiation between the two groups. The demonstration at Macquarie University, which had clear violent potential, was actively discouraged by A.U.J.S. office bearers in Sydney. When the events took their disastrous course. however. there was no attempt at disassociation on the part of the Jewish student leadership.

2d. Effects of Drummond St

Drummond Street had an effect disproportionate to its physical impact on the Jewish community. It is true that the most violent clash between pro-Israel and pro-P.L.O. supporters coincided with the arrival of the G.U.P.S. delegates. It is also true that a great number of people felt physically threatened, and evocation of Nazism and the pre-1939 period was commonplace. The most important outcome of Drummond Street, however, was its adverse effect on the level of debate. The Zionists. and the supporters of the P.L.O. were seen as opposing extremes. The issue of the very existence of the State of Israel became secondary to whether or not the G.U.P.S. delegates should have been in Australia. Such discussion, of course, was fruitless as it was essentially centred around a fait accompli. The effect was also serious for that part of the Jewish community which identifies with the Right-wing of Israeli politics. In a time where unity was necessary, the effect of a vocal minority was to splinter the Australian Jewish community to the detriment of unity. The most ridiculous arguments came from an extremely small quarter of the community who felt that violence was the only means whereby the P.L.O. could be excluded from the Australian shores. It was clearly demonstrated that violent incidents were not only physically damaging to the Jewish community, but also extremely damaging to the cause of Israel.

3. RESULTS OF THE CAMPUS VOTES

3a. Final Results

Voting closed on Friday, June 6.   59 of the 73 campuses voted.

D.32                             216 NO                                    45 YES                                     24 ABST

D.33                            226 NO                                    36 YES                                     23 ABST

D.34                            208 NO                                    62 YES                                     15 ABST

L.1                               204 NO                                    14 YES                                     21 ABST

L.2a                             155 NO                                    62 YES                                     24 ABST

L.2b                             19 NO                                      206 YES                                   17 ABST

L.2c                              32 NO                                      193 YES                                   17 ABST

L.2d                             7 NO                                        220 YES                                   15 ABST

L.2e                             29 NO                                      196 YES                                   17 ABST

L.2f                              5 NO                                        220 YES                                   17 ABST

L.2g                             16 NO                                      208 YES                                   18 ABST

L.7                               137 NO                                    13 YES                                     25 ABST

3b. Analysis

The YES vote in the case of Resolutions D32-34 is compounded of two cases. First, those campuses which voted in our favour, and simply did not register their vote with AUS by the closing date. Thus the vote in favour of the resolutions is in part made up of campuses silently ratifying the resolutions by default.

Second, those campuses which simply failed to vote at all, thus silently ratifying the resolutions.

Third, those campuses which affirmed the resolutions.

Our estimates indicate that no more than 16 of the 292 votes actually went in favour of the democratic secular state concept. This approximates to five campuses. estimates also suggest that support for the P.L.O. WAS EVEN LESS THAN THE ABOVE.

A few points should be noted about the campuses on which A.U.S. ‘succeeded’. In no case did the resolutions pass at a meeting of over thirty students. Many of these were not general student meetings or were improperly constituted or advertised.

There were, moreover, some abuses of democratic process more glaring than even the silent ratification process. Western Australian Institute of Technology, for example, called for a General Meeting at which a quorum was not attained. Some 800 signatures were then collected for a petition requesting a general referendum. This was ignored, as the Guild Council passed, of their own accord, the anti-Israel resolutions. Several non-Jewish students protested the absurd functioning of the Council; their arguments were simply brushed aside.

Even more troubling was the anti-semitic nature of the Gippsland Institute. Posters reading ‘Zionism isn’t kosher’ and comments such as ‘Jews have too much money, support the PLO’ greeted Jewish spokesmen who had come to put their case.

The results are a clear rejection of the substantive resolutions passed at Council, and an overwhelming acceptance of the alternative resolutions.

4. FUTURE PROSPECTS

Our primary concern is if at all possible, there be no AUS campaign next year. Nothing is more wasteful of our meagre resources, nothing more deleterious to the remaining activities for the year, than another extensive Middle-East debate on campus. All educational, travel, cultural and religious activities suffer. AUJS is seen even with in the Jewish community, as a one-issue organisation. Little learning is carried out in an atmosphere which is essentially propagandistic.

Student apathy, of mentioned in this report, is also a problem. Whilst the Middle-East is still the most potent of the international political debates on Australian campuses, signs of apathy are mounting. Far fewer students, generally speaking, attended this year’s debates, and participated in this year’s referenda than last. The AUS constituent ratification process means that campuses not registering their vote; silently ratify the resolution referred by Council to Constituent ratification. Although many years ago this may have acted as a ‘prod’ to the small number of campuses making up AUS, it has now become an effective means of subverting the democratic process in policy making.

A small number of campuses simply felt that there was insufficient interest in the Middle East to warrant meeting over it again this year. This contributed to the small margin of AUS feels that it enjoyed. It is doubtlessly true that this number of ‘uninterested’ campuses will grow.

This is not to say that the Middle East is an issue which we wish to see die on the campuses. However, the Australia- wide pro-forma debate within a fixed space of time is both damaging to the organisations involved, and in the context of creating political awareness, almost useless.

What must be examined are the chances of there not being an AUS Middle East debate next year.

It is certainly true that a considerable number of AUS activists do NOT want a Mid-East debate next year. The ability of articulate Jewish spokesmen to create disquiet amongst the rank-and-file members of AUS is unquestioned. It isn’t only the ‘AUS-bash’, technique sometimes employed by AUJS speakers to play on student dissatisfaction with their union, which worries AUS leadership. The humiliating defeat, campus by campus, of the resolutions so strongly proposed at Council, and so vocally urged by AUS on campus, is the major factor. Even the most dedicated pro-PLO supporters are beginning to feel that “more grass roots work” is needed before another protracted campus debate can take place.

Despite these optimistic factors, there are some serious doubts about the future non-emergence of debates on anti-Israel resolutions next year.

First, the tide of world events, and even the actions of the Australian Government, is moving progressively against Israel and adding hope and credibility to the proponents of the PLO line. The passage of UN Resolution 3237, observer status to the PLO granting belief that Australian students could hardly be prepared to negate recognition accorded an organisation such as the UN (hence Resolution D.33). Further, inevitable global developments may also encourage attempts to sway the Australian campuses into the anti-Israel fold.

Second, and a far more troubling concern, is the extent to which AUS officers are being compromised by accepting funds, moral support and in some cases also physical support from members of the local Arab community, and possibly from diplomatic sources. When confronted with huge expenditures of funds, AUS officers simply attribute the ‘funds’ to private sources. In this way, they are able to say the entire AUS debate on the Middle East was conducted by them for a budget of some $500. However there is legitimate concern about the manner in which a national union of students, regardless of its political leanings, can be compromised by accepting funds from a partisan source. The acceptance of funds and support would make it very difficult for AUS to reverse their policies or their Middle-East emphasis regardless of the personal feeling of their officers.

A third fear is simply that. in a vacuum of international political affairs. the Mid-East issue is a very viable one on which to build a following: The collapse of Vietnam as a political issue, inevitably meant that the Middle East issue gained prominence. The existence in Australia of a vocal Opposition (the Jewish community), and the availability of moral and financial support from the Arab community, increases the attractiveness of the Middle-East issue.

There is a final fear which is, perhaps, the most serious and realistic. In the event that AUS itself drops the Middle East as an issue of contention, this will hardly mean that the PLO cause will cease to be propagated. It is clearly possibly that Friends of Palestine, Bill Hartley the AUS Education Research Officer – and the various obscure left factions on campus will continue their “grass roots work” unofficially sanctioned and organised through AUS.