"The University of Sydney is refusing to answer questions relating to its short-lived decision to ban a Palestinian American activist, amid claims administrators singled him out for his support of boycotts against Israel. The university first approved, then banned, then approved again less than 24 hours later an address on Monday by Ali Abunimah, a US-born Princeton and University of Chicago-educated author and journalist.
"On Thursday last week the university informed organisers they must cancel the event, then on Friday it said the problem had been Abunimah's lack of a visa and since he now had one the event could go ahead. Jake Lynch, director of the University's Centre for Peace & Conflict Studies and a supporter of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel, said the explanation 'lacks credibility'.
"The HES (Higher Education Supplement) has obtained the email correspondence regarding Abunimah's visit. The organisers sought to book a lecture hall more than a month in advance and, after filling out an application, were told by university venues acting assistant Samantha Dos Santos that 'everything should be fine.' Ms Dos Santos said that if for any reason the event was not approved, 'a reason will be given.'
"On Thursday after 4pm, Ms Dos Santos wrote to the organisers to say the event 'wasn't approved by the university and you'll have to cancel it,' without stating a reason. Soon after 2pm on Friday, though, after a storm of online protest including a petition signed by more than 750 people, university venues manager Caroline Martin-Edwards wrote to organisers to say the issue was visa-related but since Abunimah now had one, the event could proceed given the university was 'deeply committed to free speech and open debate.' In fact, Abunimah, though he had difficulties getting a visa, had received it about 36 hours before Ms Dos Santos issued the email cancelling the event, and online media such as New Matilda reported on Wednesday that the visa had been granted.
"Sceptics of the university's explanation have pointed out that the abortive move to cancel the event came after considerable reporting of the visa controversy, and a couple of days after Robert Goot, president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ), issued a media statement describing Abunimah as 'a leader and founder of the loathsome BDS campaign.'
"Among questions Sydney University would not answer was whether University of Michigan art history professor Patricia Simons, who also delivered a public lecture on Monday - in her case on Italian Renaissance painter Jacopo Tintoretto's Susanna & the Elders - also had been screened for whether she had a visa, and how this was done. Associate Professor Lynch said: 'The university should clarify whether it is operating a general policy of checking for itself whether intended visitors to the university have visas to enter Australia or whether Mr Abunimah was singled out. If it is the latter, the university should explain why'." (Sydney fails to clear air over activist ban, Ean Higgins, The Australian, 23/3/16)
"I refer to your article 'Sydney fails to clear air over activist ban' (23/3). It implies that Sydney University's short-lived decision to cancel a speaking event by anti-Israel campaigner Ali Abinimeh was as a result of my comments criticising him. Neither I nor anyone in my organisation has had any contact with anyone at Sydney University at any time in connection with Abunimah. My statement was about Abunimah's repugnant views, and makes no mention of his visa application." (Letter to editor, Robert Goot, Executive Council of Australian Jewry, 24/3/16)