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Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

Academic Anti-Zionism in Australia

Filed under: Anti-Semitism
Publication: Post-Holocaust and Anti-Semitism

Academic Anti-Zionism in Australia

From Manfred Gerstenfeld ( ed.) Academics against Israel and the Jews

When it comes to radical trends including anti-Zionism, Australian campuses are like most other Western universities, only even more extreme. The ubiquity of left-wing politics in Australian academia means that writing about campus Israel-phobia requires discrimination since the range of subjects is so large. The focus here will be on just a few of Australia’s most egregious academic anti-Zionists.

Evan Jones

The most virulent is the University of Sydney’s Evan Jones. Although his field is economics, he maintains a political web-log called Alert and Alarmed.[1] Its name is a play on the slogan of an Australian government public awareness campaign on terrorism-“alert, but not alarmed.”

Jones detests the Bush administration and the Australian government of John Howard. His hostility toward Israel runs so deep as to apparently render him unaware of the anti-Semitic overtones of his rhetoric.

For example, Jones often claims that the Jews dominate press coverage on issues relating to Israel. In a blog posting called “The Wall and ‘topographical considerations,'” he asserted: “All university programs in politics should have a compulsory unit on propaganda, and all such units should include a compulsory component on Israeli propaganda. The Israeli propaganda machine makes the Nazi apparatus under Geobels [sic] look like amateur hour.”[2]

The Israelis are not very skilled at public relations. The opinion pages of Australia’s newspapers regularly feature leftist critics of Israel. ABC, the country’s main publicly funded broadcast network, models itself on the BBC, with predictable results in its Middle East coverage.

Nevertheless, Prof. Jones upholds the idea that pro-Israeli Jews dominate journalism. He refers to the “reactionary war-mongering Zionist Wall Street Journal.”[3] The British writer of a pro-Israeli letter to the editor of The Independent is nothing more than a “lobotomised Zionist.”[4]

A further example concerns the Cronulla Beach disturbances of December 2005, which received considerable attention from the world media. These riots were the culmination of longstanding ethnic tensions between the Anglo-Australian residents of the seaside area and Australians of Lebanese Muslim extraction who were from the southwest Sydney suburbs.

Concentrated some twenty kilometers north of this area, the Sydney Jewish community was not a factor in the interethnic violence that erupted in Cronulla. Evan Jones, however, seized on a handful of letters to the editor by Jews that highlighted the genuine problem of jihadist radicalism in the Australian Muslim community. He wrote: “The respectable press is at the centre of respectable racism. Our friends of Israel are at the centre of the raw material for the respectable press. Zionists have carte blanche to display their gut prejudices in public….”[5]

Jones further declared: “Some differences are irreconcilable. And Australian Jewry’s belligerent support of the unsupportable Israel is a depravity that attracts perennial support, even admiration.”[6]

Jones also constantly equates Zionism with Nazism. In his view, Israel was established through conscious collaboration with Hitler’s Germany. In support, Jones cites an assertion by the radical Israeli anti-Zionist Uri Davis: “Zionist leaders made themselves accomplices by default, and sometimes by deliberate design, to the mass murder of Jews by the Nazi annihilation machinery.”[7]

When Melbourne’s left-leaning daily The Age found an editorial cartoon comparing Israel and Auschwitz too objectionable, Jones protested. He lauded cartoonist Michael Leunig for having “juxtaposed the hypocrisy erected on the degradation that was Auschwitz and its gas chambers with the hypocrisy of contemporary Israel.”[8] Jones went on to ask: “are Leunig’s representations anti-semitic as claimed? No. Are they anti-Israel? Yes certainly. As is appropriate.”[9]

Amin Saikal

Other academics cloak their animus toward Israel in a pseudosophistication that facilitates their access to the media as commentators. One such anti-Zionist op-ed contributor is Amin Saikal, who heads the Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies (CAIS) at the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra.

Founded in 1994 as the Centre for Middle East and Central Asian Studies, CAIS assumed its current name six years later. This reflected a radical shift in orientation that stemmed from an influx of funding from various Middle Eastern sources.

In December 2000, the Centre announced the receipt of an A$2.5 million donation from Sheik Hamdan bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the Emir of Dubai and brother of the prime minister of the United Arab Emirates.[10] This sum not only purchased the name change but also the creation of a Chair of Arab and Islamic Studies that was eponymous with the Centre’s new title. The government of Iran contributed another US$350,000,[11] which underwrote the establishment of the Centre’s perpetual foundation in Persian Language and Iranian Studies. In both these cases, the ANU’s Endowment in Excellence provided matching funds for these foreign donations, bringing the total amount generated in support of the CAIS to almost A$6 million.[12]

Centre director Amin Saikal’s view of both U.S. and Israeli policies is profoundly negative. But if the Americans can at times be excused for their folly because of naïveté, Israel receives no such leniency.

Saikal takes a “less is more” approach that is more pernicious because it seems reasonable on the surface. At first glance he appears simply to be deploring the violence that plagues the Middle East. But a closer look reveals that his regrets are selectively applied to serve his anti-Zionist views.

Saikal’s crafty polemical strategy sins more by omission than commission. He argues, for instance, that Israeli strikes against terrorist targets should be condemned on both moral and practical grounds, since they only make things worse.

Thus, when Israel assassinated Hamas leader Ahmed Yassin, Saikal responded in Brisbane’s daily, the Courier Mail, that this “will most likely drive more Muslims to identify with the positions of extremists such as Osama bin Laden.” He went on to warn: “Israel and its international backers may find this assassination returns to haunt them.”[13] He had nothing to say, however, about Yassin’s role in inspiring and orchestrating suicide bombings against Israeli civilians.

This reticence to condemn Palestinian violence against Israelis is so deeply ingrained in Saikal’s worldview that it infuses his vocabulary. Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, he accused Israel of using disproportionate force “to contain what it calls terrorism, including suicide bombing.”[14]

Saikal demonstrates ignorance of simple geostrategic matters. Again in the Sydney Morning Herald, he asserted that the Israeli navy has deployed “nuclear-powered submarines” to launch preemptive strikes against Iran.[15] The Israeli submarine fleet, however, consists of three German-built Dolphin-class diesel boats. Although the Germans’ submarines are world-class, their own navy does not possess nuclear vessels.

Saikal also praises the Islamic Republic of Iran as “a sort of democracy which may not accord with Western ideals, but provides for a degree of mass participation, political pluralism and assurance of certain human rights and freedoms which do not exist in most of the Middle East.”[16] He has nothing to say about the reign of terror that is inflicted on political opponents, and the many other human rights abuses.

Instead, he further lauds Iran as a buttress against American imperialist designs in the Middle East, and goes so far as to defend its quest for nuclear weapons. “[D]espite insisting on the peaceful nature of its nuclear program,” he remarks, “ultimately Teheran may not be averse to the idea of acquiring a nuclear deterrent.”[17] This, however, is understandable since “Teheran lives under a perceived serious US and Israeli threat.”[18]

Moreover, Saikal referred in the Sydney Morning Herald to the “neo-conservatives who dominate the [Bush] Administration.”[19] Eight months later in that newspaper, he placed the onus for the war in Iraq on “a small group of neo-conservatives in the Bush administration who wanted to reshape the Muslim Middle East and radical political Islam according to their vision and geopolitical preferences.”[20]

The term neoconservative has recently inspired controversy, some arguing that it has become a politically correct euphemism for Jew.[21] As Saikal stated in a column in the International Herald Tribune: “The efforts of the neoconservatives dovetail all too effectively with the aims of the radical Zionists who push for more and more Jewish settlements on Palestinian land.”[22]

Saikal’s views largely echo the recent controversial thesis of American academics John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt,[23] characterized as anti-Semitic by Eliot Cohen in the Washington Post.[24]

During a telephone conversation with this author to solicit Saikal’s response to the points made in this chapter, he explicitly praised Mearsheimer and Walt’s essay but denied having an ideological agenda. He defended his description of Iranian “democracy” by asserting that the Teheran regime was “pluralistic within an Islamic context.”

Scott Burchill

In Melbourne, as in other venues of Australian academia, there are many anti-Zionist academics. A notable example is Scott Burchill, who teaches international relations theory at Deakin University.

In the wake of 9-11, Burchill argued in the Sydney Morning Herald that any American military reaction would constitute a “myopic and undemocratic” exercise of extrajudicial injustice.[25] Moreover, he claimed in the Australian Financial Review that these were “not irrational, cowardly or random attacks”; instead, “the rational logic of cause and effect” made 9-11 an understandable response to “US aggression.”[26]

In October 2003, The Age published Burchill’s thoughts on the first anniversary of the Bali bombing, which killed eighty-eight Australian tourists among others. It was, he wrote, an inevitable reaction to “Washington’s support for Israel’s brutal occupation of Palestine,” and to a “Western collective of terror whose leaders had bombed Islamic states such as Afghanistan and Iraq.”[27]

Yet, however profound Burchill’s hostility toward the United States, he does not challenge the legitimacy of its existence. He does, however, in the case of Israel. Burchill describes the Palestinians as a “looted people” who justly refuse to “reconcile themselves to occupation and humiliation, regardless of the odds stacked against them.”[28] Israel, then, is a “thief” who must return the “stolen property” of Palestine to its rightful Arab owners.[29]

This raises the question of whether Burchill’s demand applies only to the West Bank and Gaza or to the Jewish state as a whole. He refers in a contemptuous way to any offer of Israeli territorial concessions.

Burchill summarily dismissed the Clinton-Barak offer in January 2001 that would have established a Palestinian state in 97 percent of the West Bank and all of Gaza. He contended that Arafat was right to reject this because it represented “a mere 12 percent of the land from which the Palestinians were driven in 1948”; the actual figure is 22 percent of the territory west of the Jordan. It is not surprising, Burchill continues, that “the Palestinians have resented being told how much of their land Israel was generously prepared to return to them.”[30] The implication seems to be that all of Israel exists on Palestinian land.

Although Burchill occasionally makes allowances for the American and Australian victims of al-Qaeda terror, describing the 9-11 and Bali attacks as atrocities, he makes no such concession to the Israeli victims of Palestinian terror.

Burchill did assert in The Australian that: “UN Security Council Resolution 242 (1967) ‘land for peace’ requires a ‘full Israeli withdrawal behind pre-June 1967 borders.'”[31] In fact, neither of the phrases in quotation marks appears in the text of that UN resolution. Its authors, including former British UN ambassador Lord Caradon, remarked that it was carefully crafted to avoid any such demand for a complete Israeli withdrawal.[32] Burchill’s tendentious presentation of 242 also ignores its requirement that the Arabs must grant Israel the “right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.”[33]

Burchill responded to the author’s request for comment with an email declaring he would ignore the “gross characterisation [sic] of my position.” He then denied that he was hostile to either the United States or Israel.

Andrew Vincent

A final example is Prof. Andrew Vincent, who heads the Centre for Middle East and North African Studies at Sydney’s Macquarie University. Last year in the Macquarie University News, he put forward a viewpoint  that: “the Israelis quite possibly murdered Yasser Arafat.”

Typically, in the wake of Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, Vincent wrote an apology for this aggression in Melbourne’s Herald newspaper. Citing Iraq’s small coastline and Kuwait’s historic association with Baghdad, Vincent argued that Saddam’s expansionism was legitimate.[34]

More recently, Vincent invited blogger Antony Loewenstein – a far-Left freelance writer – to join the board of the Centre that he heads.

Antony Loewenstein

It was “bigotry, hatred and intolerance,” Loewenstein suggested, that motivated Jewish opposition to Palestinian spokeswoman Hanan Ashrawi’s receipt of the Sydney Peace Prize in 2003.[35] He apparently could not conceive of honest opposition based on Ashrawi’s statements and deeds.

In Loewenstein’s view, Israel is a nation of “apartheid-like policies.”[36] This author, after publishing an article in The Australian on the impact of Ariel Sharon’s stroke, was characterized by Loewenstein as one of the “dutiful Zionists who are already lining up to praise the unindicted war criminal.”[37]

Loewenstein’s superficial knowledge of the Middle East was evident last December when he referred to a senior female Israeli cabinet minister as a man. In an article for the leftist online magazine New Matilda, he wrote:

Yet more evidence of Israel speaking the language of “peace” but acting entirely differently came from a senior ally of Sharon, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni. He [sic] told a legal conference in early December that, despite years of Israeli denials, Sharon himself imagines the 425-mile separation barrier as the future border between Israel and a potential Palestinian state.

One does not have to be a genius to see that the fence will have implications on the future border, he [sic] said.[38]

As one commentator on his blog pointed out: “if Loewenstein can’t even get the gender of an Israeli cabinet minister right, then what does it say about the quality of his analysis of the Israeli political scene? Nothing good.” When confronted with evidence of his gaffe, Lowenstein pleaded that he was “rushed” and that “mistakes do happen.”[39]

Loewenstein’s position with Prof. Vincent’s Centre seems to stem from a combination of ethnic tokenism and political conformism. As Vincent told the Australian Jewish News: “We wanted a Jewish person on the board. We didn’t have any Jews on the board and it seemed to be an absence.”[40] But with the great majority of Australian Jewry being pro-Zionist, Vincent managed to find a Jew who fit his own ideological preferences.[41]


In their anti-Zionism, Evan Jones, Amin Saikal, Scott Burchill, and Andrew Vincent[42] are some examples among many in Australian academia where radical Leftist ideology is monolithically predominant. A core element of the far-Left doctrine is a relentless hostility to Jewish national self-determination. With Australia’s youth being exposed to this outlook during their university years, it remains to be seen how this will affect the next generation of Australian leaders.

Ted Lapkin is a commentator on public affairs whose work has appeared in leading U.S. and Australian newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times, The Australian, and the Sydney Morning Herald. He has also written for Quadrant Magazine (Australia) and has appeared as an analyst on Australian TV and radio. He earned a bachelor’s degree in history from Tel Aviv University and a master’s in government administration from the University of Pennsylvania.


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[2] Evan Jones, AlertandAlarmed, “The Wall and ‘Topographical Considerations,'” 23 July 2005.

[3] Ibid., “Cartoons and Context,” 9 February 2006.

[4] Ibid., “Israel Reaps the Wind,” 28 January 2006.

[5] Ibid., “It’s Get Muslims Month,” 21 December 2005.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Uri Davis, Apartheid Israel: Possibilities for the Struggle Within (London: Zed Books, 2004).

[8] Evan Jones, AlertandAlarmed, “Leunig Holds a Mirror to Israel,” 14 February 2006.

[9] Ibid.

[10] ANU Press Release, 12 December 2000, (viewed 10 May 2006).

[11] ANU, “Endowment for Excellence 2000 Annual Report,” 6, (viewed 10 May 2006).

[12] Ibid.

[13] Amin Saikal, “A Killing That May Haunt Israel’s Future,” Courier Mail, 24 March 2004.

[14] Amin Saikal, “Voting Alone Cannot Bring Peace to the Palestinians,” Sydney Morning Herald, 10 January 2005.

[15] Amin Saikal, “A Regime of Parity for the Region Is the Only Way Iran Will Disarm,” Sydney Morning Herald, 13 October 2004.

[16] Amin Saikal, “Try Again George-‘Axis of Evil’ Is Definitely on the Turn,” Sydney Morning Herald, 15 January 2003.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Amin Saikal, “US Policy Has Isolated Only One Extremist Group: Its Own,” Sydney Morning Herald, 31 October 2003.

[20] Amin Saikal, “Futility of War Set to Haunt US for Years,” Sydney Morning Herald, 29 June 2004.

[21] Julia Gorin, “Blame It on Neo: Don’t Call Me a ‘Neocon’ Unless You Are a Friend,” Wall Street Journal, 23 September 2004, (viewed 10 May 2006).

[22] Amin Saikal, “How Three Threats Interlock: A Mission for Moderates,” International Herald Tribune, 29 December 2003.

[23] John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, “The Israeli Lobby,” London Review of Books, 28 March 2006, (viewed 11 May 2006).

[24] Eliot A. Cohen, “Yes It’s Anti-Semitic,” Washington Post, 5 April 2006.

[25] Scott Burchill, “Asking Why Is Not to Excuse the Terrorists’ Actions,” Sydney Morning Herald, 6 October 2001.

[26] Scott Burchill, “What Matters Is Why,” Australian Financial Review, 21 September 2001.

[27] Scott Burchill, “A Year On, the Question Remains: Why?” The Age, 11 October 2003.

[28] Scott Burchill, “Betrayal of a Looted People,” The Australian, 12 October 2000.

[29] Scott Burchill, “Why Arafat Can No Longer Read from the Thief’s Script,” Sydney Morning Herald, 18 October 2000.

[30] Scott Burchill, “An Offer Too Easy to Refuse,” The Australian, 10 May 2002.

[31] Burchill, “Betrayal.”

[32] Lord Caradon, television interview, McNeil/Lehrer Report [PBS USA], 30 March 1978.

[33] UN Security Council Resolution 242.

[34] Andrew Vincent, “Arrogant, but Hussein Has a Case,” Sunday Herald, 5 August 1990.

[35] Antony Loewenstein, “Hanan Ashrawi and the Price of Dissent,” Znet, 23 October 2003, (viewed 12 May 2006).

[36] Antony Loewenstein, “The Rise of Fascism,” Antony Loewenstein, 8 August 2005, (viewed 12 May 2006).

[37] Antony Loewenstein, “Some Legacy,” Antony Loewenstein, 6 January 2006, (viewed 12 Mar 2006).

[38] Antony Loewenstein, “A Future for Israel/Palestine?” New Matilda, 21 December 2005, After his mistake was pointed out, Loewenstein subsequently corrected his New Matilda column. But see n. 44 for his admission of error.

[39] (viewed 10 May 2006).

[40] Mark Franklin, “NSW Education Department Dumps Mid-East Simulation,” Australian Jewish News, 27 January 2006.

[41] Philip Mendes, “Jews and the Left,” in Geoffrey Brahm Levy and Philip Mendes, eds., Jews and Australian Politics (East Sussex: Sussex Academic Press, 2004).

[42] Jones, Vincent, and Loewenstein did not respond to the opportunity for comment that was offered them.

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Ted Lapkin is a commentator on public affairs whose work has appeared in leading U.S. and Australian newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times, The Australian, and the Sydney Morning Herald. He has also written for Quadrant Magazine (Australia) and has appeared as an analyst on Australian TV and radio. He earned a bachelor’s degree in history from Tel Aviv University and a master’s in government administration from the University of Pennsylvania.