Sydney University’s show of solidarity

From left: AUJS University of Sydney president Janine Joseph, Jewish chaplain Rabbi Eli Feldman, university vicechancellor Dr Michael Spence, AUJS political affairs director Joshua Kirsh and chairperson Josef Wilkinson. Photo: Giselle Haber

THE University of Sydney has expressed its support for Jewish students and staff, after it was revealed last week that a convicted terrorist planned to kill students wearing kippahs on campus.

Ihsas Khan is awaiting sentencing after being found guilty of carrying out an act of terror when he stabbed his neighbour in Sydney’s south-west in 2016.

During a sentencing hearing last week, Khan told the court he had bought the knife used in the attack to carry out a mass murder at the university, where he was a student.

“I was planning on using it on Jewish students in the university to kill them. Just people wearing the Jewish head gear, the kippah,” he said.

“I was filled with hatred … It was revenge for what was happening in Palestine.”

University vice-chancellor Dr Michael Spence said the plot was “deeply disturbing”.

“Harassment or discrimination of any kind has no place in our community,” Spence said. 

“We as a community reject religious hatred in all of its forms and stand behind the Jewish community, with which we share close ties.”

He added, “A more diverse university is a stronger university, and I continue to encourage everyone to consider what role they can play in creating a campus environment that is as safe and welcoming as possible.”

The university has confirmed Khan is no longer a student there, and it is “not aware of any current threats to students or staff”.

NSW Jewish Board of Deputies president Lesli Berger said the “shocking revelation” that an individual planned to murder Jewish students is a “reminder of the importance of communal security and of the real threat facing members of the community”.

“It is also reinforces the damage that can be caused by hate speech and by demonisation of Israel,” Berger told The AJN

“We welcome the response from the vice-chancellor and trust that the university administration will take all necessary measures possible to ensure the safety of its staff and students.”

Australasian Union of Jewish Students (AUJS) political affairs director Joshua Kirsh told The AJN to hear a threat like this “sends a chill through Jewish students”.

“The target of Khan’s violent hatred could have been any Jewish student at the University of Sydney – so, in many ways, it feels like it was every Jewish student at every university,” Kirsh said.

He noted that in response to the threat, AUJS is having “more conversations on campus about how to make students safer”.

“Our conversations are also about how to respond to the culture on campus, which in many ways normalises the reasoning that Khan expressed,” Kirsh said. 

“Many on campus were encouraging hatred of Jews because of the actions of the Israeli government long before his testimony last Thursday. We know that this threat won’t cow or deter them, but we hope we can at least prompt them to think before resuming normal activity.”

Janine Joseph, president of AUJS at the University of Sydney, said such threats “drive home the real fear of violence on campus for Jewish students”. 

“Irresponsible rhetoric has real consequences. When young people are fed a warped view of who and what Jews are, it leads to irrational hatred and creates an atmosphere of unsafety,” she said.

“Now more than ever, we have to work together to stamp out antisemitism and keep students safe.”

Rabbi Eli Feldman, the university’s Jewish chaplain, said he was “heartened by the supportive statement issued by the university and its swift attention to this matter”.

“We are grateful for this support and are confident that Sydney University will continue to be a place where Jewish students and staff feel welcome and safe.”

EVAN ZLATKIS