Friday, 13 September 2013

11/9 the oz - ANU faces rage over conference

ANU faces rage over conference

AUSTRALIAN National University officials have gone to ground in the face of Jewish community outrage for hosting Middle East hardliners at a Human Rights in Palestine conference this week.
The ANU was included in the international top 30 institutions in the QS World University Rankings released yesterday, but the conference has led to questions being asked about the university's academic credibility.
Keynote speakers at the conference, which begins today, include Richard Falk, the UN's special rapporteur for human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories, who was publicly rebuked by UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon in 2011 for "preposterous" remarks questioning whether the September 11 terror attacks were orchestrated by the US government.
Another is Hanan Ashrawi, who was among a few Palestine Liberation Organisation members who in 1996 voted not to remove clauses in the PLO charter calling for Israel's destruction.
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A third, Jeff Halper, claimed in 2011 that Israel has developed a "spectral dust" it could spray over wide areas of land, every grain of which was a sensor programmed with a person's DNA to track, locate and kill that individual.
Executive Council of Australian Jewry head Peter Wertheim questioned the rigour of the gathering. "A conference that features fringe conspiracy theorists and ideologues and omits recognised scholars in the field has no academic credibility," he said.
"It is appalling that one of our top universities, the ANU, seems no longer to understand the difference between genuine scholarship and political advocacy."
Australian Union of Jewish Students political affairs director Dean Sherr said the conference threatened the welfare of his members, pointing to some of Professor Falk's past remarks.
"It is highly concerning to see someone with such a history of anti-Semitic slurs invited on to Australian university campuses," he said. "We repeatedly come up against extreme anti-Israel groups on campus that blur the line between attacking Israel and attacking Jews. Our fear is Falk will only inflame this. It would belittle the importance of student welfare to ignore his history of offensive conduct and links to anti-Semitism to welcome him with open arms."
The ANU declined to say who organised the conference, their association with the university, what support it had offered the conference or to comment on whether it was regarded as a serious exercise in scholarship.
Instead, it issued a statement: "The . . . conference, supported by funding from the British Academy, is an academic conference exploring issues that are at times controversial for different groups. It brings together a wide array of knowledge from 15 speakers from around the world. The university holds no views on the issues the conference explores. Academic freedom means researchers have the right to challenge and discuss in their areas of expertise."

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