‘Student Camps Are Anti-Genocide, Not Anti-Semitic’, Says UniMelb for Palestine’s Dana Alshaer

Information on this page was reviewed by a specialist defence lawyer before being published. Click to read more.
Anti-Genocide, Not Anti-Semitic

Right now, it would be difficult not to be aware that students at numerous Australian universities have set up campsites on campuses, with the aim of opposing the Israeli government perpetrated genocide against the Palestinians of Gaza.

Another aspect to these protests, most of us have been informed, is that they are antisemitic in nature.

And as major news outlets, those at the highest level of politics and even certain faith leaders are propagating the idea that antisemitism is behind these protests, this would appear to be a coordinated falsehood.

Anyone who has taken part in the seven-month-long nationwide and ever-swelling demonstrations against the genocide in Gaza can confirm that these are not antisemitic demonstrations, as they are led by Palestinians and Jews, of whom both are Semitic peoples.

Indeed, one would be hard pressed to find someone amongst the hundreds of thousands who’ve taken part in recent pro-Palestinian protests that isn’t aware that since the demonstrations began, they’ve falsely been charged as being prejudicial against Jewish people in order to supress them.

A dangerous conflation

The encampment at the University of Melbourne is a case in point. Led by Palestinian, Jewish and other Australian students of various ethnicities, the multicultural protest stands charged as being antisemitic, and hence, making Jewish students feel unsafe, while it opposes a mass slaughter.

Melbourne University council member Mark Leibler has been leading the charge against the camp at that tertiary institution, as well as those at all other Australian unis, yet instead of the camping students posing any threat, the camp was attacked by counterprotesters last Sunday night.

Sky News then ran a report on the “Tsunami of Antisemitism” on Monday, which featured a US expert decrying the Jewish hate spawned at Australian university encampments, and then it showed a brief clip of those who attacked the Melbourne uni camp on Sunday, throwing objects at students.

The charge of antisemitism carries weight, and rightly so, as this Jewish hate spawned the Holocaust of World War II.

Yet, to knowing apply the gravity of the charge to deflect from a genocide on a military and technological scale never seen before, is difficult for those not complicit in the deception to witness.

For a free Palestine

UniMelb for Palestine organiser Dana Alshaer is a key member of the Free Palestine movement in Naarm-Melbourne.

Hailing from the occupied West Bank, the Palestinian woman helped broach the unofficial prohibition against speaking out against the genocide early on.

And the footage of Dana approaching the vice chancellor of her university, Duncan Maskell, in early December – to call out the University of Melbourne’s $13 million research partnership with weapons manufacturer Lockheed Martin – went viral.

Sydney Criminal Lawyers spoke with Dana on 14 May, a day before the Nakba Day protest – which by evening involved a standoff, as student’s occupied a main building for hours on end and UniMelb management had called in police  and she confirmed, as expected, that protests aren’t antisemitic.

UniMelb for Palestine organising member Dana Alshaer
UniMelb for Palestine organising member Dana Alshaer

The University of Melbourne protest camp was attacked by a group on the night of 12 May.

This isn’t the first time an Australian university Gaza solidarity encampment had been attacked by those opposing it, while the mainstream media would have the public consider that such attacks are more likely to be committed by the camps themselves.

Dana, what happened at the University of Melbourne Gaza solidarity camp on Sunday evening?

First of all, we don’t know if this attack was pro-Israeli, as they didn’t identify themselves as Zionists.

But they did shout “F – Palestine”, “F – you” and “Go Back to Iraq”: these kinds of things. So, it was definitely politically motivated. However, we don’t know how these individuals identify.

The attack was surprising and intense. They opened two fire extinguishers. The first incident saw the fire extinguisher opened, while they shouted at campers.

And the second time saw them open another fire extinguisher and attack some of our members with an unknown substance, some kind of liquid, and they threw a chair and garbage bins at students.

Later that night, these individuals were then seen walking around just outside the university walls with glass bottles and bats.

So, the attackers allegiance at Melbourne uni has not been identified, although it was politically motivated, while a recent attack at Monash University, does seem to have been carried out by pro-Israeli actors?

At Monash, the individuals were wearing Israeli flags. As for us, the attack on Monash would appear to have motivated this attack as well.

But we can’t make a clear judgment on whether they were pro-Israelis here.

But in looking at the bigger picture, I would say they are definitely motivated or affiliated with Zionism and pro-Israeli activists.

The pro-Palestinian university encampments have been charged as antisemitic actions by Australian politicians and the mainstream media.

This conflation of genocide opposition with antisemitism is being propagated by senior figures in Australia.

Anthony Albanese met with a council of Jewish leaders a few weeks back to discuss this, and other politicians and some chancellors have jumped on board as well.

How are Melbourne University students reacting to these charges? And why would you say these encampments that are campaigning against genocide are being charged as prejudicial acts against Jewish people?

Last week, we did have an Israeli counterrally come to our encampment, with 70 police officers present. And they tried to infiltrate the encampment.

We have had several incidents when Zionist and pro-Israeli students on campus have harassed our pro-Palestinian students inside the encampment.

At the same time, there is this attempt to paint the encampments as antisemitic, which is completely false.

When the counterprotesters showed up, we were having our anti-Zionist Jewish solidarity session with Palestine being delivered by some of the most acclaimed anti-Zionist Jewish academics.

And Jewish students are camping out with us right now. So, of course, these claims are false.

Our university sent a general email today stating that they stand against antisemitism and xenophobia of all forms. It said that peaceful protest is okay, but you cannot disrupt classes.

The stance taken in the email was fairly watered down. The uni has not taken an actual stance from the beginning of the genocide.

There was one email sent by the vice chancellor, where he said that students have the right to protest, but they cannot inflict harm on other students.

This is completely racist. There is an assumption that Palestinian and pro-Palestinian students are violent and a threat to others.

The entire encampment, whether at Melbourne, or across Australia or across the world, has one goal, which is to highlight the fact that there is a genocide taking place in Gaza, and that our universities are complicit.

There is institutional complicity from our universities in the genocide and ethnic cleansing that is now taking place in Gaza. This is through their weapons manufacturing ties.

The goal of the encampment is to highlight this complicity. And all of the attempt to divert that attention away from the encampment by trying to paint it as antisemitic are calculated systematic attempts.

These are calculated to divert attention away from the genocide in Gaza, the complicity of the Australian government and Australian universities in that genocide and the oppression of Palestinian people in Gaza and across Palestine.

So, us discussing this matter and trying to establish that the encampments are not antisemitic is designed to deflect attention away from the Gaza genocide and Australian government support of it?

Yes. These are calculated attempts to shift attention away from the slaughter of Palestinian students in Gaza and the destruction of every single university in Gaza.

This is Day 20 of our encampment. We have people from all religions: Muslim, Christians and Jews, as well as atheists. And we have students for all different backgrounds and from all walks of life.

It has been one of the most peaceful gatherings to ever happen at Melbourne University. And like I said, we are camping next to our Jewish sisters and brothers here at the camp.

So, the claims of antisemitism are completely false. They conceal the complicity of the university and undermine the cause of the encampment in the first place.

University of Melbourne council member Mark Leibler is concerned that University of Melbourne chancellor Jane Hansen has refused to condemn your protest as antisemitic. And she counters that she rather condemns all racism on campuses at this moment.

How are students considering Hansen’s reaction to Leibler’s calls?

Unfortunately, she’s reacting to what a council member has said. She is not giving a clear moral and ethical stance on the genocide in Gaza or on our encampment here.

Mark Leibler can say whatever he wants to say. He can say this is antisemitic. But the fact is on the ground we have Jewish students camping with us right here.

We are the ones who are facing attacks. We are the ones who are feeling unsafe. We are the ones who have been attacked by different individuals whether affiliated or unaffiliated with the university.

We had students harassing Palestinian students at the encampment and then we had Zionist activists coming to the encampment and trying to disrupt it.

We had to marshal and protect ourselves, while there were 70 police officers with the counterrally that showed up to our encampment.

So, Leibler can try and paint it as antisemitic. He can try and vilify and demonise us. But at the end of the day, he is one of the staunchest Zionists in Australia.

So, whatever he says is not necessarily relevant to us. And we definitely don’t consider anything he says as having any value regarding what is really happening on the ground.

The deputy vice chancellor of Deakin University ordered its Gaza encampment at her institution to be dismantled on Monday. And former treasurer Josh Frydenberg is now calling on all other universities to follow suit.

The deputy vice chancellor says the right to freedom of speech doesn’t extend to unauthorised camps.

However, other universities, such as Sydney, have supported the right of students to demonstrate. So, how do you see this playing out from here?

The email we just received from the university says that students have the right to protest but at the same time, there was the warning against all forms of racism and antisemitism.

The underlying meaning of the language and the words that they use throughout the email is extremely racist, as it’s being applied just to pro-Palestinians, as no email of warning was sent out when there was a counterrally run by the Jewish student society here.

But for some reason when anything is related to our encampment there is always an assumption that we could be a threat and we could become violent, because we are Palestinians and pro-Palestinians.

So, even as they try to paint it as a general and neutral statement respecting the right of all to protest, the language used is extremely vilifying to us as Palestinians and pro-Palestinian students.

And lastly, Dana, we spoke last in December. At that time, you were raising an issue with your university’s partnership with weapons manufacturer Lockheed Martin.

So, five months on, how would you say the movement for Palestine has developed?

The movement has grown significantly. The success of our encampment, the biggest in Australia, really does speak volumes to how the Palestine solidarity movement has grown on and off campuses here in Australia.

We’ve reached a point where we have been exposed to the most horrific scenes that any of us could have ever imagined, and we are at a point where we cannot afford to be silent.

We are watching institutional complicity. You mentioned Lockheed Martin, but Lockheed Martin is just one out of many weapons manufacturers that UniMelb is benefiting from and researching for.

We have BAE Systems, Boeing and Rosebank Engineering. We have a long list of weapons manufactures.

So, as long as they remain complicit in the genocide in Gaza, the oppression of Palestinian people in Palestine and the oppression of all people across the world – as these technologies and research lead to the killing and oppression of oppressed people around the world – we will remain steadfast in our fight against this institutional complicity.

Main image: Still take from UniMelb4Palestine clip of students occupying a University of Melbourne building at the 15 May Nakba Day protest

Receive all of our articles weekly


Paul Gregoire

Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He's the winner of the 2021 NSW Council for Civil Liberties Award For Excellence In Civil Liberties Journalism. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, Paul wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.

Your Opinion Matters