ANU conference condemned

A CONFERENCE on Palestinian human rights which is being held at the Australian National University (ANU) this week has “no academic credibility”, the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) says. Speakers at the “Human Rights in Palestine” gathering include UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories Richard Falk, who has been condemned repeatedly for making anti-Semitic remarks, and controversial Palestinian politician Hanan Ashrawi.

Falk, who was publicly rebuked by UN chief Ban Ki-moon in 2011 for suggesting the September 11, 2001 attacks were orchestrated by the US government, blamed the recent Boston bombings on “American global domination” and “Tel Aviv”, while Ashrawi infamously voted against removing clauses in the PLO charter calling for Israel’s destruction in 1996.

According to the conference’s website, it features a program looking at the “considerable impact of the occupation” on the economic, social and cultural rights of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.

ECAJ executive director Peter Wertheim was quick to dismiss the event’s bona fides. “A conference that features fringe conspiracy theorists and ideologues and omits recognised scholars in the field has no academic credibility,” he said. “It is appalling that one of our top universities, the ANU, seems no longer to understand the difference between genuine scholarship and political advocacy.”

He added: “The conference organisers seem unwilling to recognise that Israelis living under the constant threat of annihilation for the last 65 years are also human beings with rights.”

In a letter to ANU Vice-Chancellor Professor Ian Young, Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) national chairman Mark Leibler and executive director Colin Rubenstein said “It is evident from the conference website that the conference’s principal aim is to engage in unadulterated vilification of Israel and to support the Palestinian ‘cause’ – not to engage in serious academic debate or inquiry about the current state and future status of the West Bank and Gaza,” they wrote.

NGO Monitor president Gerald Steinberg said the conference program “blatantly violates academic norms”.

“Many of the participants are simply activists … associated with and funded by political advocacy NGOs that exploit the banner of human rights,” he said.

He added that Falk’s record “speaks for itself”.

“He has long ago left the academic field in order to promote fringe political positions, including an immoral anti-Israel obsession, and has published no peer-reviewed academic work for many years,” he said.

An ANU spokesperson acknowledged the conference was exploring issues “that are at times controversial” for different groups, adding, “The University holds no views on the issues the conference explores. Academic freedom means that researchers have the right to challenge and discuss in their areas of expertise.”

GARETH NARUNSKY

The controversial UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Richard Falk.