University encampment pro-Palestine ‘intifada’ calls spark legal advice inquiries

The war began on October 7 when Hamas attacked southern Israel, killing about 1200 people.

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The “encampment” movement that began in the United States has spread across Europe and the United Kingdom as well. Police in Germany and the Netherlands broke up protests on campuses while UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak also called on universities to protect Jewish students.

Scott and Høj, the chair and deputy chair of the Group of Eight, sent the letter after days of political dispute including calls from Opposition Leader Peter Dutton for stronger action by the government and the universities to stop the protests.

“As for the universities and some of the chancellors and vice chancellors, they’ve got to look in the mirror themselves as well, because we can’t be tolerating the vilification of any part of our community – not the Jewish community, not anyone else,” Dutton said last week.

Education Minister Jason Clare said on Sunday that any words that stoked fear were intolerable, but he did not condemn the phrase “from the river to the sea” when it was put to him in a press conference.

“I’ve seen people say that those words mean the annihilation of Israel. I’ve seen people say that it means the opposite,” he said. “What I’d say is this: what I want all Australians to be calling for is a two-state solution.”

Palestinian and Israeli supporters confront each other at Monash University on Wednesday.

Palestinian and Israeli supporters confront each other at Monash University on Wednesday.Credit: Justin McManus

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese criticised the phrase on the grounds that it undermined a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine.

A key challenge for universities is that they operate under a combination of federal and state law as well as applying codes of conduct to staff and students, although their codes only have force if backed by legislation.

“Group of Eight universities acknowledge that these phrases are deeply offensive to many in the Jewish community,” Scott and Høj said in their letter to Dreyfus.

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“Our universities are effectively being asked to make a ruling on the question of whether these phrases constitute hate speech or legitimate expression.

“Views on this are strongly disputed and we seek urgent guidance from the Australian Government to inform our actions going forward as we collectively aim to ensure protest activity on our campuses does not escalate as in the United States.”

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