University campuses are revered by society as palaces, dedicated to the pursuit of higher education, scholarly debate and academic research. Our tertiary institutions have often stood toe to toe with some of the best in the world and our Australian society has undoubtedly been a welcome recipient of the positive influence they have provided.
Our own Jewish community, with its high value placed on education and what many would consider an over-representation in these institutions, understand well, the beneﬁts and opportunities that come from their existence and their accessibility
What worries me, however, is that our community can sometimes turn a blind eye to the reverse of that coin. I’ve seen ﬁrst hand the battle for identity that Jewish students have had to face when coming onto university campuses. It’s a battle that many students are forced into unwillingly, one they are unprepared for, and one that sits in an environment far more hostile and perverse to that of general society. Coming into my role as the next Chairperson of the Australasian Union of Jewish Students (AUJS), I fear that many in our community don’t regard the ﬁghts happening on university campuses as highly as they do those of the general community.
University campuses are more than just institutions for higher education and intellectual debate. They are enclaves for identity development and expression in Australia’s youngest adults. They are seemingly resistant to the influence and distraction of the outside world and as such, serve as laboratories for social change and classrooms for political trendsetting.
If we look to our own history, we can see clearly that the university campus stands as one of the most influential political battlegrounds in society today. For Jewish students, it’s unfortunate that this battleground is tainted with countless examples of Antisemitism, hatred, and bigotry.
This year, LaTrobe University, Victoria University, RMIT and The University of New South Wales were inundated with posters supporting and endorsing the Antipodean Resistance movement. This right-wing extremist group uses Nazi imagery like the swastika as their symbol and has members dedicate themselves to the values of Adolf Hitler. This movement promotes and incites hatred and violence and has been connected to groups overseas who have committed acts of terror and are recognised terrorist organisations. This was a repeat of poster campaigns last year in Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney, calling to legalise the execution of Jews.
In April of last year, an individual organised by the group Chemtrails Geelong, was caught on ﬁlm distributing leaflets supporting Holocaust denial across numerous campuses. Flyers denying the existence of the gas chambers and contesting the number of Jews murdered by the Nazi regime were found at the Australian National University in Canberra and at Melbourne University and Monash University’s Clayton campuses in Victoria.
A few years ago at St Mark’s College in South Australia, students attending a costume party were seen wearing striped concentration camp-style pyjamas, caricature hook noses and a yellow Star of David pinned on their chests. The students were wearing mock shackles and had prisoner identiﬁcation numbers marked on their inner arms, simulating those tattooed on Jewish concentration camp victims during the Holocaust. Other photos from similar events at the college saw many students dressed as Adolf Hitler and many others doing the Nazi salute.
Earlier this year, the University of Sydney branch of the National Tertiary Education Union was almost successful in a move to join the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. The meeting to discuss this move was held over Shavuot and it was narrowly defeated at a vote.
It’s clear to anyone who reads the ECAJ 2017 Antisemitism Report that Antisemitic incidents on our university campuses are becoming more frequent and more troubling. With the report finding that Antisemitic incidents have increased by 9.5% across Australia, it’s also clear that this battle won’t be coming to an end anytime soon.
AUJS continues to sit at the forefront of this battle, right where it belongs. Over the past few years, AUJS has not only dramatically expanded its operations in fighting Antisemitism and protecting Jewish students on campus, but it has professionalised its approach, galvanising support through legitimate political strategy and influence.
We have developed authentic and understanding relationships with many of the leaders in the National Union of Students (NUS). At their National Conference in 2017, AUJS represented the only group in attendance without a vote to put forward and have passed a motion. AUJS successfully passed the resolution ’We Must Act Against Anti—Semitism’ in a historic move that would see the NUS take active steps to ensure that Jewish students feel safe and accepted both on campus and within the national student body.
Earlier this year, in partnership with the ECAJ, AUJS hosted an advocacy summit in New South Wales and Victoria, giving our students and student leaders hands—on political training and tangible advocacy skills, so that when they are forced to fight for their identity, they are prepared. We are looking forward to continuing and expanding this in 2019.
These examples are in combination with ourJewish and Zionist awareness campaigns and our national and regional political training seminars. It’s in combination with our campus executives who have worked tirelessly throughout the year to ensure their campus associations adopt the IHRA definition of Antisemitism and commit to protecting the rights of all Jewish students at university. It’s in combination with the amazing work done by our past and present Political-Affairs Directors, nationally and regionally, to ensure that all Antisemitic incidents experienced by students are reported and dealt with.
This work is of paramount importance, both now and in the future. The most influential political actors in our society were shaped during their time in university and the political actors of the future are on campus right now. Ensuring that their view is supportive towards Judaism, the Jewish right to self determination and Jewish peoplehood should be in the interest of every member of our community.
Joey Wilkinson, AUJS Chairperson-Elect
This post has been contributed by a third party. The opinions, facts and any media content here are presented solely by the author, and WUJS assumes no responsibility for them.