Sunday, 29 December 2013

GREAT The OZ ..27/12 - Academic hints at link between BDS campaign and rejected research grant

Academic hints at link between BDS campaign and rejected research grant


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 Dr Jake Lynch. Pictured at Sydney University.
Dr Jake Lynch. Pictured at Sydney University. Source: News Limited
ACADEMIC Jake Lynch has instigated a union investigation into whether his support for the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel influenced the Australian Research Council to reject a grant.
The Australian can reveal that earlier this year senior AusAID officers secretly considered blocking a $580,000 grant destined for Professor Lynch's Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Sydney.
Documents obtained under Freedom of Information show then AusAID assistant director-general Rebecca Bryant said she feared approving the grant might "compound" media attention surrounding BDS, even though the proposed research program had nothing to do with the international boycott campaign seeking improved rights for Palestinians.
Bob Carr, who was foreign minister at the time, has told The Australian he is surprised by the action by Ms Bryant, that he would not have approved any move to sanction academics for supporting BDS, and that it could have been a reaction "down the bureaucratic food chain that was their doing".
"I had not the remotest idea why a grant to a project about violence against women in Africa would have been considered controversial," Mr Carr said.
Professor Lynch has been in a public battle with the Coalition since May, when then opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman Julie Bishop said a Coalition government would ensure "no grants of taxpayers' funds are provided to individuals or organisations which actively support the BDS campaign".
Professor Lynch's support for BDS became headline news last year when he boycotted Israeli academic Dan Avnon, refusing to help the Hebrew University academic with his application for a Sir Zelman Cowen fellowship.
This year Professor Lynch submitted an application to the federally funded ARC for $290,000 to study the work of journalists in South Africa, Nepal, Australia and Britain.
The ARC recently rejected his application. "It could be, of course, that it was simply adjudged not quite good enough by the assessors," Professor Lynch told The Australian. "But the Bishop statement, and the earlier evidence that AusAID ... improperly took my support for BDS into account, leaves me with suspicions that this has happened with the ARC too.
"I have verbal agreement from the National Tertiary Education Union that they will launch a Freedom of Information request to see if there is any correspondence showing a possible link."
Labor MP Michael Danby, a fierce opponent of BDS, said he found it ironic Professor Lynch was whinging about not getting a research grant when he had refused to help Professor Avnon get one. Rather than being the result of a "political conspiracy", Mr Danby said, the ARC would have made its decision based on academic rigour. "Jake Lynch is not a very highly regarded academic, he's just basically an ex-BBC journalist," he said.
A spokeswoman for the ARC said grant applications were confidential, but ministers had not told the council to reject grant applications from BDS supporters.
Education Minister Christopher Pyne has final sign-off on ARC grants; however, a spokesman denied he had intervened in Professor Lynch's application. But Professor Lynch drew an analogy to the AusAID case, where senior officers were in contact with Mr Carr's office concerning the grant application led by researchers at CPACS. A Carr office staff member, Claire McGeechan, sought assurances that previous grants to CPACS had not been used to support BDS. AusAID wrote to the applicant asking for assurances that CPACS "is not in any way associated with the BDS campaign".
The independent selection panel recommended approval, but Ms Bryant wrote to a colleague expressing concern and seeking advice. "The centre has been in the media recently because a) its director, Jake Lynch, is a vocal supporter of the BDS campaign and b) we provided the organisation with two grants," she wrote.
"So the question now is whether we proceed to approve a grant ... possibly compounding the existing media focus on this issue. A broader question is whether we have any grounds to deny them a grant given they are not a proscribed organisation."
Ms Bryant declined to comment, except to say: "I have nothing to hide." A Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokeswoman did not answer written questions from The Australian, but said "the former AusAID followed relevant guidelines".

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