Terrorism glorified: Outrage over University of Sydney student magazine

The Honi Soit cover featuring Hamida al-Taher.

THE editors responsible for a University of Sydney student magazine cover depicting a suicide bomber who killed more than 50 people – including several Israeli and Lebanese soldiers – have defied calls for an apology.

Last week’s cover of Honi Soit, a special issue produced by the university’s Student Representative Council (SRC) “Wom*n’s Collective”, featured Hamida al-Taher, who carried out a suicide attack against Israeli and Southern Lebanese Army soldiers in Southern Lebanon in 1985.
The editorial described al-Taher as “a Lebanese martyr of the institution of Israeli colonisation”, while an article on Netta Barzilai’s Eurovision victory contained slurs about Israel “violently oppressing” the Palestinians and claimed Israel was “not even a real country”.

Responding to the cover and to one from April – produced by the university’s Queer Action Collective picturing a Molotov cocktail – the Australasian Union of Jewish Students (AUJS) said it had received complaints from several Jewish students “expressing their acute distress” over the student newspaper’s “idealisation and legitimisation of violence”.

“These editions of Honi Soit display a blatant disdain for Israeli victims of violence, an attitude that has left Jewish students feeling deeply alienated,” AUJS said in a statement.

“This attitude has no place at this university … AUJS calls on the teams who produced the special editions to issue a public apology and affirm their commitment to nonviolent paths to peace.”

Women’s officers Madeline Ward and Jessica Syed, who produced the al-Tahir cover, defended their choice in an online Honi Soit article on Tuesday, saying, “We were aware that Hamida al-Taher car-bombed an Israeli military encampment … [but] her actions occurred in the context of the Israeli invasion and occupation of Lebanon, ie: a war.

“We believe in and support the right for people to resist occupation and oppression, and that Hamida’s actions are far less shocking than the fact Israel murdered over 58 peaceful Palestinian protesters, the youngest of which being an eight-month-old baby,” they continued, omitting that Hamas itself has removed the baby – who was thought to have a heart defect – from its own list of those killed in the recent Gaza border clashes, that the protests were not peaceful as those involved were intent on breaching the border and had been urged to kill and kidnap Israelis on the other side, and that most of the fatalities were members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

In the same article, Queer Action Collective officers Jazzlyn Breen and Ray Prout defended the Molotov cocktail cover and accused AUJS of hypocrisy. “AUJS is a zionist [sic] organisation, who openly support the state of Israel, and thus the actions of the state against Palestine,” they said.

SRC president Imogen Grant, who approved both covers, said her job was to “check the publication for defamation, contempt of court or other legal risks that could affect the SRC– not to censor Honi Soit for producing content that has potential to offend”.

AUJS political affairs director Noa Bloch told The AJN, “It is deeply concerning that instead of responding to AUJS’s concern, the president and women’s officers justified the glorification of violence in Honi Soit.

“These student leaders should be held accountable for sacrificing respectful dialogue, to promote violence and push an extreme agenda.”

Executive Council of Australian Jewry co-CEO Alex Ryvchin said that in running the al-Taher image, “the paper has glorified violence, murder, suicide and war”.

“There is nothing feminist, progressive or trendy about these themes,” he said. “Worst of all, when challenged, the paper has actually defended the glorification of suicide bombers and dismissed the concerns of Jewish students on the basis that they are ‘Zionists’.

“This is an ugly turn into overt racism and leaves little doubt that the use of the image was intended to endorse or incite violence.”

A university spokesperson said USYD did not condone the use of the image but that editorial decisions were made independently from the university.

The matter is being looked at by USYD director, education strategy Associate Professor Peter McCallum, who declined to comment “as the matter is under investigation”.