The ANU Conference on Human Rights in Palestine; an Academic Farce

Many of you would have read about the ‘Conference on Human Rights in Palestine’ currently being hosted and sponsored by the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra. Self-acclaimed ‘academics’ in the field of Palestinian Human Rights have flocked to Australia’s capital to lecture on the crushing impact of the “Israeli occupation on the civil and political rights (CPR) and economic, social and cultural rights (ESCR) of Palestinians.”

This excerpt has been taken directly from the conference website which can be accessed here.

The site stipulates that “in line with the broader marginalisation of ESCR within the international human rights field, very little of the literature on the human rights situation in the Palestinian territories addresses issues specifically from the ESCR framework.” 

It continues “the impact of the occupation on Palestinian ESCRs has been considerable: including restrictions on movement (as a result of the Security/Separation Wall, checkpoints, curfews and closure policies) and the resultant impact on the Rights to Education and Health; de-institutionalisation of the Palestinian economy; expropriation of Palestinian land and resources (including water); forced evictions and house demolitions and destruction of land and property.” 

Universities are supposed to pursue truth and knowledge, free from political or religious bias. However, this program is dominated by political advocates and advocacy groups working under the guise of human rights.

Let’s take a look at a few of the key note presenters. The full list can be found here.

Professor Hanan Ashrawi 

Claim to fame; PLO executive member, Member of Palestinian Legislative Council and Head of the PLO Department of Culture and Information. Hanan Ashrawi was a key leader during the First Intifada, and became well known for being among a few PLO members who voted in 1996 not to remove clauses in the PLO charter calling for the destruction of Israel.

In September 2009, in an interview on Al Jazeera English, Ashrawi defined her current role in the following way: “I think of myself essentially as a human being with a multidimensional mission. Basically, I am a Palestinian, I am a woman, I am an activist and a humanist, more than being a politician. And at the same time I feel that quite often things are thrust upon us rather than come as a result of a calm and deliberate choice.”

However, her history proves otherwise. In September 2012 columnist for the Jerusalem Post and Huffington Post, David Harris, wrote a telling article called Hanan Ashrawi Is to Truth What Smoking Is to Health.

Harris wrote Ashrawi “has just earned a gold medal in historical revisionism” for asserting “there were no Jewish refugees from Arab countries. Instead, according to her, there were only ’emigrants’ who left their ancestral homes voluntarily. Jews were not singled out for persecution, and if they were, it was, in reality, a plot by ‘Zionists’.”

Professor Jeff Halper

Jeff Halper is co-founder and director of the Israeli Committee Against Housing Demolitions (ICAHD) which functions under the banner “to challenge and resist the Israeli policy of demolishing Palestinian homes in the occupied territories and to organize Israelis, Palestinians and international volunteers to jointly rebuild demolished Palestinian homes.” This includes advocating for the rebuilding of the homes of terrorists, responsible for murdering Israeli civilians.

In an interview with Al Jazeera in 2012, Halper declared “we’ve gone way beyond apartheid.”

In the same interview, when asked to comment on “what people now often refer to as the ethnic cleansing of Jerusalem” Halper replied “Well let me give you a broader picture about the whole thing and then we can go back and put it into context. I think what’s coming down the pipeline is that Israel today has basically finished this. We’ve gone beyond the occupation. The Palestinians have been pacified and from Israel’s point of view the whole conflict, the whole situation has been normalised.”

Professor Richard Falk

And last but certainly not least, Professor Richard Falk- the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Palestinian Human Rights. Richard Falk’s rap-sheet is far reaching. Falk, as the UN Palestine expert, was tasked by the Human Rights Council to investigate “Israel’s violations of the bases and principles of international law.” In this role he posted a cartoon on his blog depicting a bloodthirsty dog wearing a Jewish religious head covering.

Falk is also known for his vile conspiracy theories. Earlier this year he was denounced by Secretary-General of the UN, Ban Ki-Moon, for his comments blaming the Boston Marathon bombings on “the American global domination project” and “Tel Aviv.” Most perplexing is that this was published by the United Nations as an official document.

In a 2008 op-ed in the UK-based The Journal, entitled “9/11: More than meets the eye,” Falk speculated on American complicity in the attacks, writing that it “is not paranoid under such circumstances to assume that the established elites of the American governmental structure have something to hide, and much to explain.”

The Times of Israel reported that in the annual report for the UN Falk writes; “Israel continues to annex Palestinian territory; Israel persists in demolishing Palestinians’ homes and populating Palestine with Israeli citizens; Israel maintains a policy of collectively punishing 1.75 million Palestinians through its imposition of a blockade on the Gaza Strip; and Israel prosecutes its occupation with impunity, refusing to accept the world’s calls to respect international law.”

You can see Falk’s full repertoire here.

Other speakers at the conference are involved with organizations such as the ‘Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories Project,’ (Dr Victoria Mason) and ‘The Task force of the Emergency Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Group in the Occupied Palestinian territories’ (EWASH) (Ziyaad Lunat).

This week The Australian has featured several articles questioning the credibility of The ANU for bringing out speakers notorious for conspiracy theories linking Israel to some of the most heinous atrocities.

Gerald Steinberg, head of the NGO Monitor Research institute, and political commentator on the Middle East, had a bold opinion piece published in The Australian.

He articulated that “it is up to the ANU to decide how best to deal with this scholarly farce, which threatens to tarnish its reputation. Even respected universities are not immune from fringe political campaigns or indulging in nonsense.”

In another article ANU faces rage over conference; journalist Christian Kerr quoted Executive Council of Australian Jewry head, Peter Wertheim who said “a conference that features fringe conspiracy theorists and ideologues and omits recognized scholars in the field has no academic credibility.”

“It is appalling that one of our top universities, the ANU, seems no longer to understand the difference between genuine scholarship and political advocacy.”

At a time when shocking human rights abuses are being committed by Syria and Egypt, a conference on Palestinian human-rights should not focus exclusively on the West Bank. At best this seems naive and insular, and at worst, ill-intentioned.

Despite being delicate territory, the study of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has every place in the university sphere. However, the ANU has crossed the line from historical study, to political advocacy with a prejudicial agenda. This decision may very well be costly for the university’s reputation. 

Wishing you all a Gmar Chatima Tova and well over the fast,

Gabrielle Debinski

Media and Advocacy Director

Zionist Federation of Australia