Friday, December 7, 2012

Across the divide: boycott shocks 'unity' professor Dan Avnon

AN Israeli academic who set up one of the few centres where Jews and Arabs study together says he felt like "a fish on a hook" when he was boycotted by the University of Sydney's Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies.

Dan Avnon says he still hopes to study in Australia and has been overwhelmed by public and academic support after Jake Lynch, director of the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, rejected his request to be a contact person on an application for the Sir Zelman Cowen Fellowship application.

Associate Professor Lynch said he and the centre would not assist Professor Avnon's application because of their support for the campaign of boycott, divesments and sanctions against Israel, which extends to an academic boycott of Israeli universities.

The decision prompted the dean of the university's arts and social science faculty, Duncan Ivison, to write yesterday to Associate Professor Lynch spelling out that "he does not speak for the faculty on visiting scholars and cannot make decisions about who comes here".

A spokesman for the University of Sydney said the institution and Vice-Chancellor Michael Spence did not support Associate Professor Lynch's position on Professor Avnon and that the centre director spoke "on behalf of himself and maybe one or two colleagues".

Professor Avnon, who works at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, told The Weekend Australian he thought it was ironic that a department focused on peace and conflict would boycott him.

"This is how conflicts start," Professor Avnon said. "This is groupthink at its worst. My attitude to peace and conflict is 'go meet your enemy'."

Professor Avnon's career includes time spent at leading US universities and he is an expert in the teaching of civics.

He received his PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, and his first job was at Stanford. In 2005 he was part of an EU program, Toward a Culture of Tolerance and Co-existence, with Palestinian partners. He has been associated with Hebrew University for 20 years. He will apply for a Sir Zelman Cowen Fellowship, with references from two other academics at the university prepared to sponsor him.

He established the only centre in Israel where students from the three streams of Israeli state education - secular Jewish, religious Jewish and Arab - studied together in 2001. "I'm seventh-generation Israeli and growing up I was not able to relate to Arabs at an equal level because we were not at schools together," he said.

"The same was true for my children. I thought: 'I am going to change this', so I started this program where all three groups in the state system could study together."

The drama began when Professor Avnon decided to study how a diverse community such as Australia's studied civics. He wrote to six Sydney University academics. "Four said yes, one did not reply and one said he'd boycott me."

He said Professor Lynch within 12 hours "trumpeted his principled stand across Australia on a mailing list". "It was an opportunity for him to trumpet his principled stand," he said. "I was strung on the hook of his fishing line."

This year the centre hosted Ilan Pappe, a left-wing Israeli academic attached to Exeter University in Britain.

Professor Avnon said that if he met Professor Lynch he would try to change his mind.

"I'd ask him: 'What's your story, man? Am I your enemy? Is your thought more important than the person in front of you?' " Professor Avnon said.

He said his email inbox had been filled with Australians offering assistance. "I've never been there but now I know a lot of people. These are people who don't know me, don't need anything from me and have said: 'We want you to know this is not what Australia is about, this is specific to this person.' This guy Lynch has done me a huge favour."

The program Professor Avnon began in Israel has lapsed, partly due to lack of funding, but it may be revived.

One of Professor Avnon's PhD students is a Palestinian woman who was a teacher at the school. A film called Living in Jerusalem has been made about the course.

Sourced -  John Lyons, Middle East Correspondent

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Israel's Violence on Palestenians

Right to Defend itself

Israel has always cried 'holocaust' tears to the world while singing the old tune of "Defending itself and its citizens". How do they do it? By banning or killing international journalists by bribing their supportive governments. Palestine is destroyed as a State so is Gaza. Meanwhile the "chronically suffering Israel" has developed to a point it does not need Uncle Sam anymore, see their infrastructure, see their military development up to nuclear programs... and they are the eternal "poor" in need. -- --