FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Lawfare, Boycotts and Israel

by BINOY KAMPMARK

The Israeli law centre Shurat HaDin has proven to be rather aggressive in its campaign against the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement globally. It has taken Australia as one its focal points, where one academic has particularly piqued their interest. Jake Lynch, director of the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at Sydney University is accused of not sponsoring University of Jerusalem academic Dan Avnon. The two have quite a history.

 

That refusal, argue the members of the Tel Aviv-based Shurat HaDin, constitutes an act of racial discrimination and hence a violation of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 of the Australian Commonwealth. First came a complaint to the Human Rights Commission. Then came a legal suit in the Federal Court of Australia seeking that Lynch apologise and renounce his BDS campaign, arguing that it has led to “adverse distinction, exclusion, restriction and adverse preference based on the Jewish race, descent, national and ethnic origin of goods, services, persons and organizations”.

Law has become a matter of war, a struggle over legal supremacy. Lawfare, that poorly minted term, has become de rigueur, a means of getting to undesirable causes and targets. If war is the continuation of politics through military means, then law is the continuation of grievance by writ, claim and sanction.

Let us look at what Shurat HaDin wish to accomplish with their gritty deployment of legal weapons. Their Twitter profile claims that they are a “civil rights org and worldwide leader in combating terror through lawsuits. We seek to bankrupt terrorism – one lawsuit at a time.” Andrew Hamilton, who works at the centre, argues that the BDS is “racist and discriminatory by attacking private individuals and organizations based on their racial background or ethnic national background of being Israeli and being Jewish” (ABC, 7.30 Report, Oct 30).

How far will Shurat HaDin go? The argument by Lynch and others is that the legal effort is a concerted gagging campaign. This is the quintessence of using law as the blunt weapon of an establishment. A dull, sterile thing, laws are clubs to be picked up when relevant, with courtrooms being the battlegrounds to fight the good fight.

The reverse may also be claimed: that the BDS campaign is a systematic attempt to alter Israeli policy and fundamentally shift the posts within the country by means of targeted practice. Nothing is particularly new in that, other than the old hoary chestnut of what, or whom, it targets.

An argument made by Stuart Rees from the University of Sydney, director of the Sydney Peace Foundation, is that, is that, as Avnon was from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, he was associated with a campus sitting on occupied land, a university having contracts with the armaments industry, and an institution hosting a military college “in which it trains officer who are part of the occupation and oppression of a people.”

This is evidently an ongoing business. In December last year, Avnon met the barricade in similar fashion when he was seeking sponsorship on a fellowship. Lynch was instrumental there as well, and received a scolding from the dean of the university’s arts and social science faculty, Duncan Ivison. Lynch did “not speak for the faculty on visiting scholars and cannot make decisions about who comes here” (The Australian, Dec 8, 2012).

Few universities can claim to be exempt from having shares in arms companies, or being participants in shadowy armaments deals and foreign regimes. Oxbridge colleges are notorious for cashing their dividends from well performing arms shares. A life of education, and an education that serves the lifeless, are not inconsistent in those sacred halls.

Sadly, what tends to happen in such cases is that boycotts, notably academic ones, have the effect of targeting the very people who might be on the side of the boycotters, certainly in principle. Starve the mind, and the body is bound to avoid following the cause. Hamilton’s point, which should not be sneered at, is that Avnon has been one of the Israel government’s great critics. He has also been an avid participant in creating learning environments for Jews, Christians and Muslims, struggling against poor finances and support.

But to force Lynch to divest himself from participating in the campaign is an extended bridge too far. Nothing would justify his refusal to endorse Avnon if it was anti-Semitic and based on the man’s own ethnic resume. But in the world of ideas, skulls will be cracked. The stronger, more durable ones will win. Avnon’s own point is that he is the victim “of groupthink at its worst. My attitude to peace and conflict is ‘go and meet your enemy.’” Lynch would be foolish to personalise the business.

Shurat HaDin must also be wary. The flipside of lawfare is that the law courts are never too crowded to hear the other side of legal process. What is good for the BDS goose is good for the Shurat HaDin gander. Palestinians have, for example, been filing civil lawsuits against American organizations arguing that they support acts of terrorism on the part of Israeli settlers in the West Bank. In June this year, two U.S. citizens sued under the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1991, allowing American victims of international terrorism to claim damages in US courts (Al Arabiya, Jun 24).

This stands to reason: in 2008, members of the Holy Land Foundation, the largest Muslim charity in the United States, were found culpable for providing material support to Hamas. As Abed Ayoub of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) explained, “We have to use the laws we have here in the United States to our advantage. There are laws out there, for example, that say you deceptively fundraise.”

The Australian legal case on Lynch provides a test case, probably a poor one, but relevant nonetheless. The limits of how free speech can be expressed and duly quashed is a matter relevant to all sides in this debate. The thrills will lie more with the solicitors and the barristers. But there can hardly be any surprise with that.

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.  He ran for the Australian Senate with Julian Assange for the WikiLeaks Party.  Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

More articles by:
July 26, 2016
Andrew Levine
Pillory Hillary Now
Kshama Sawant
A Call to Action: Walk Out from the Democratic National Convention!
Russell Mokhiber
The Rabble Rise Together Against Bernie, Barney, Elizabeth and Hillary
Jeffrey St. Clair
Don’t Cry For Me, DNC: Notes From the Democratic Convention
Ellen Brown
Japan’s “Helicopter Money” Play: Road to Hyperinflation or Cure for Debt Deflation?
Angie Beeman
Why Doesn’t Middle America Trust Hillary? She Thinks She’s Better Than Us and We Know It
Paul Street
An Update on the Hate…
Fran Shor
Beyond Trump vs Clinton
Richard W. Behan
The Banana Republic of America: Democracy Be Damned
Binoy Kampmark
Undermining Bernie Sanders: the DNC Campaign, WikiLeaks and Russia
Arun Gupta
Trickledown Revenge: the Racial Politics of Donald Trump
Sen. Bernard Sanders
What This Election is About: Speech to DNC Convention
David Swanson
DNC Now Less Popular Than Atheism
Linn Washington Jr.
‘Clintonville’ Reflects True Horror of Poverty in US
Deepak Tripathi
Britain in the Doldrums After the Brexit Vote
Louisa Willcox
Grizzly Threats: Arbitrary Lines on Political Maps
Robert J. Gould
Proactive Philanthropy: Don’t Wait, Reach Out!
Victor Grossman
Horror and Sorrow in Germany
Nyla Ali Khan
Regionalism, Ethnicity, and Trifurcation: All in the Name of National Integration
Andrew Feinberg
The Good TPP
400 US Academics
Letter to US Government Officials Concerning Recent Events in Turkey
July 25, 2016
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
As the Election Turns: Trump the Anti-Neocon, Hillary the New Darling of the Neocons
Ted Rall
Hillary’s Strategy: Snub Liberal Democrats, Move Right to Nab Anti-Trump Republicans
William K. Black
Doubling Down on Wall Street: Hillary and Tim Kaine
Russell Mokhiber
Bernie Delegates Take on Bernie Sanders
Quincy Saul
Resurgent Mexico
Andy Thayer
Letter to a Bernie Activist
Patrick Cockburn
Erdogan is Strengthened by the Failed Coup, But Turkey is the Loser
Robert Fisk
The Hypocrisies of Terror Talk
Lee Hall
Purloined Platitudes and Bipartisan Bunk: An Adjunct’s View
Binoy Kampmark
The Futility of Collective Punishment: Russia, Doping and WADA
Nozomi Hayase
Cryptography as Democratic Weapon Against Demagoguery
Cesar Chelala
The Real Donald Trump
Julian Vigo
The UK’s Propaganda Machinery and State Surveillance of Muslim Children
Denis Conroy
Australia: Election Time Blues for Clones
Marjorie Cohn
Killing With Robots Increases Militarization of Police
David Swanson
RNC War Party, DNC War Makers
Eugene Schulman
The US Role in the Israeli-Palestine Conflict
Nauman Sadiq
Imran Khan’s Faustian Bargain
Peter Breschard
Kaine the Weepy Executioner
Weekend Edition
July 22, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Good as Goldman: Hillary and Wall Street
Joseph E. Lowndes
From Silent Majority to White-Hot Rage: Observations from Cleveland
Paul Street
Political Correctness: Handle with Care
Richard Moser
Actions Express Priorities: 40 Years of Failed Lesser Evil Voting
Eric Draitser
Hillary and Tim Kaine: a Match Made on Wall Street
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail