Thursday, May 8, 2014

Viva Australian Student Activism 2

Continued from my previous post:


"The 1975 resolutions [passed at AUS's January 1975 Council] were far clearer in their formulation [than the 1974 resolutions]...

[MERC: These were 1) AUS supports the establishment of a democratic secular State of Palestine (encompassing the area of mandate territory) wherein all people presently residing in Israel and all Palestinian Arabs forcibly exiled from their homeland will have the right to Palestinian citizenship. This motion embodies the right of Palestinian citizens of all religions, race, colour, creed and sex to the protection of the new State and rejects racist legislation, such as the present Zionist 'Law of Return'. 2) AUS concurs with UN Resolution 3236 (XXIX) and the decision of the UN to recognise the Palestine Liberation Organisation as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. 3) To counter the present media bias, AUS should continue to use its resources to publicise to both students and the general community the plight and continuing oppression of the Palestinian people by both Israeli and Arab nations.]

"As Simon Marginson has pointed out in his paper on the subject in Alternate News Service (No 43, August 4, 1975) the debate in 1975 showed a marked unity and turn to the right in Zionist arguments.


"Nowhere was this turn more evident than in response to the tour by a delegation of two members of the General Union of Palestinian Students in May 1975. At [AUS's] August 1974 Council there was an unanimous vote in favour of the motion: 'That AUS invite a representative of GUPS to do a speaking tour of campuses early in 1975 in order that membership can directly seek clarification of various aspects the Palestinian question.' Shortly afterwards, the then President [of AUS] Neil McLean wrote to GUPS in Cairo issuing an invitation. No reply had been received by Annual Council 1975, and in February Ian McDonald, the new president, issued another invitation. The invitation was delivered verbally by FCC Rodd Webb during a visit to Damascus that month and was accepted and publicised with little reaction.

"Meanwhile the question of allowing a PLO delegation into Australia had become a matter of public controversy. In January 1975, the Prime Minister [Gough Whitlam] had decided not to issue visas to a group of PLO members. This controversy, and the ALP's vacillation over the question, must be dealt with in another place. It is only relevant [in so far as it relates to] the question of the GUPS delegation and the public reaction of AUJS to its visit. The Labor Government, having satisfied itself that the GUPS delegation would not be representing the PLO, issued visas to Eddie Zananiri and Samir Cheikh who duly arrived in Melbourne on May 4, 1975.

"The public controversy in 1974 to the AUS stance paled in comparison to the storm which greeted the arrival of the GUPS delegation. A demonstration by right-wing Zionists outside AUS [headquarters] degenerated into a brawl when some Arab and Australian supporters of the tour diverted a small section of a May Day march to AUS under the impression that the GUPS delegation was under siege. The next day [Opposition Leader Malcolm] Fraser launched an attack against the tour in parliament while daily newspapers and television reported, editorialised [on], and once again scrutinised AUS' activity.

"The tour was eventful and well attended and received by the majority of students. Hundreds, and in some cases, thousands of students turned up to hear Zananiri and Cheikh. However, the speakers were frequently heckled and drowned out by Zionist demonstrators. At the first public campus meeting at Melbourne University, AUJS president Joe Gersh had to appeal to his supporters not to incite violence and held an alternate demonstration in front of the [AUS] building [in Carlton] as the Palestinian speakers were on the other side. Marshals at the Jewish demonstration were extremely anxious that some of their more extreme elements (there were reportedly several ex-Israeli soldiers in the crowd) would become violent. Unfortunately, very little of Zananiri's or Cheikh's speeches was actually heard. Both were drowned out completely, despite an effective PA system, by the constant rival chants of the Zionists and pro-Palestinians. (Imre Salusinszky, Nation Review, May 9-15, 1975)

"On May 7, The Australian reported that one of the leading Zionists at Melbourne University, Michael Danby, had resigned his position as AUS secretary on that campus in protest over the visit. A few days later Danby's resignation was reported in The Australian Jewish News because of: '... the fascist, racist actions and attitudes taken by AUS towards Jews and the scandalous abuse of AUS resources.'

"AUJS opposition to the GUPS tour was confused and contradictory. There had been no opposition at all at August 1974 Council; indeed, prominent members of AUJS had supported the tour (Arena, 21/5/75). At January Council [1975], AUJS members had also voted for a resolution condemning the Australian government's decision to ban the PLO tour. Days before the [GUPS] delegation arrived, AUJS condemned the tour and Joe Gersh declined an offer to debate the Palestinians when they arrived. Yet, within two days, Gersh demanded equal time on the platform with the delegation, a theme which repeated itself throughout the interruptions at public meetings. (There was eventually a debate on Monday Conference between Zananiri and Peter Wise).

"In [a] telegram to various ministers in the government, AUJS demanded the immediate deportation of the delegation, pointing out that under the Commonwealth Crimes Act anyone dedicated to the overthrow of an established government could immediately be deported (Australian Jewish Times, 8/5/75). To substantiate this demand AUJS attempted to draw links between GUPS and the PLO."

To be concluded next post...

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