Principal Marc Light looks at the camera, he is wearing a grey suit and smiling. The King David School's logo is behind him, silver on a wood background.

No place for antisemitism on campus

At last year’s Presentation Evening I said the following to our VCE graduates:

The world since October 7 is a different one. As you, our graduating students, stand at the threshold of a significant transition, I want to share with you some ideas that I hope will help fortify you for the future and particularly for the challenging discourse that dominates contemporary tertiary education. As many of you will soon be attending university, I wish to challenge you to maintain the critical thinking dispositions that we have nurtured in you.

It is my view that the failings that many noticed in the tertiary sector prior to October 7, have now become impossible to ignore. I hope that the ideas I will share with you help you to stand firm in the place of the group think and anti-intellectualism that have overtaken what should be places of deep learning.

Unfortunately this week, polarisation, lack of nuanced thinking and extremist attitudes have turned many Australian university campuses into hostile and conflict-ridden places where I fear that many of our graduates would feel intimidated and uncomfortable.

The disturbing scenes from Columbia University, UCLA and many other American tertiary institutions have spread to Australian universities as encampments have been set up demanding that their institutions sever links with Israeli companies or educational institutions.

For generations, universities have been sites of protest and have been locations that have led to significant societal changes. There is no doubt that good hearted people hope and pray for peace and the end of suffering that war inevitably brings. However, often the protest movements are hijacked by those with niche or extremist views.

This is indeed the case with the current situation. At Columbia University students shocked onlookers with cries of “We love you Hamas” and “We are Hamas”. Likewise, in a radio interview with ABC Radio Canberra, an organiser of the protest movement at Australian National University, Beatrice Tucker, expressed that “Hamas deserves our unconditional support”. She went on to deny the extent of Hamas’ October 7 terrorist rampage, to blame the IDF for “murder[ing] a lot of their own people” and to say that when considering Hamas’ actions “it is important to hold the political context.”

Such statements do little to promote humanitarianism or even to elevate the cause of the Palestinian people. Rather, the mindsets of the organisers seem so deep set in their hatred of Israel that they are willing to justify the basest terrorist actions against its people.

It is therefore no surprise that campuses in the USA have become hotbeds of antisemitism where Jewish students have been threatened, blocked from entering their classes and even subject to physical violence.

I fear that this too will be imported into Australia if our tertiary leadership does not confront this form of extremism. This week, the Zionist Federation of Australia issued a statement of support for the actions of the Australian Union of Jewish Students, echoing its demands for university leadership to do more to protect Jewish students. CEO Alon Cassuto said “Student union representatives openly support Hamas. Students are singled out in classes. Jewish students are scared to complain for fear their marks will be affected. They are staying away from campus and transferring away from the worst universities.” He continued to call for action stating that “every student deserves to learn in a space free from fear and intimidation.”

I echo this sentiment and hope that steps are taken so that our tertiary institutions remain places of discussion and learning and not of division and hatred.

Shabbat Shalom,

Marc Light