University of Sydney Provost, Stephen Garton
by Evan Jones, former Chair of the Political Economy Department, University of Sydney

Original post:

On 4 December 2018, Sydney University suspended academic Tim Anderson from his position – banning him from university grounds and demanding no contact with staff or students. The suspension is a prelude to having Anderson sacked.

His crime? Purportedly offensive comments and misconduct. According to Provost Stephen Garton, Anderson has failed his obligation to his employer by remarks claimed to be “intemperate … not fair and reasonable”, etc.

Anderson outlines here the background to this affair with select excerpts from relevant correspondence.

Any association with Tim Anderson would confront that he is anything but intemperate. He is uncompromising in his views but sober in their enunciation and forthcoming with grounds in their defense.

The quality of Anderson’s teaching and of his writing has not been canvassed. Rather, Anderson’s crime is that he has the wrong views.

Anderson is supportive of Syrian sovereignty. Heavens! This stance is unacceptable in the freedom-loving West.

Anderson travelled to Syria in late 2013 as part of an Australian delegation. Incidentally the delegation met President Bashar al Assad. The Murdoch press went ballistic. In April 2017, Anderson and others organised a conference on Syria at Sydney University. Other media joined in with condemnation.

Here is an academic using his privileges to support a ‘brutal dictator’. Anderson has responded thus: “I have always made it clear that solidarity is always with people, not governments.”

The media has led the attack on Anderson. Provost Garton’s attribution to Anderson of offensive statements and misconduct refers to Anderson’s setting the record straight regarding the errors of facts in the journalistic reporting, and to Anderson privately taking to task the then Dean of Arts for divulging private information to the media.

The Australian mainstream media is addicted to reproducing the conventional wisdom regarding global affairs manufactured by the American-Anglo media. Its emphasis and its content (Russia-gate, Skirpal, Ukraine, MH17, Syria, Venezuela, etc.) constitutes essentially fake news. Those allergic to the Murdoch press can find little solace in the alternative mainstream media outlet Fairfax/Nine Entertainment (‘Independent. Always’) whose reporting of international affairs has been appalling – glibly reprinting rubbish from the New York Times, Washington Post, AP & Reuters, etc. The public ABC television station, under financial and direct political pressure, has also fallen into line, if less strident.

Thus if the mainstream media claims that Assad has initiated numerous chemical attacks it must be true. No matter that various authoritative sources highlight that no evidence to date supports that claim.

Since 2011, Syria is experiencing not a civil war but a foreign invasion. What domestic weaponised opposition exists is minor compared to the occupation of foreign forces and their sponsored jihadi militias – the latter given financial, logistic and materiel support by the former.

The permanent Syrian representative to the United Nations, the eloquent Bashar Ja’afari, makes perennial speeches highlighting the hypocrisy of endless anti-Syrian resolutions by UN member bodies and calling for respect for Syria’s sovereignty. Thus his speech to the UN Security Council, 7 September 2018, here (p.21). Regarding the essence of Syria’s experience, Ja’afari notes:

“It has become common practice for three Western countries that are permanent members of the Security Council to use their presidency of the Council to rally others against my country and Government. … For the thousandth time, we underscore in this Chamber that the Governments of those three Western countries and their tools in the region are the main and direct cause of the suffering of our people inside and outside the country. They fuel the conflict in Syria and do their utmost to perpetuate by investing in the takfiri, Wahhabi and Saudi terrorism that they invented in the 1980s. … They use such groups as a tool of their foreign policy to exact revenge from countries that reject their diktats.”


Then there’s Israel, of which Tim Anderson is not fond – another significant black mark.

The pro-Israel lobby has Anderson in its sights and the media is happy to oblige. Thus we have Michael Koziol, Fairfax’s Sydney Morning Herald, 5 December, describing Anderson as ‘controversial’ (a sub-editor has added ‘notorious’ to the title of the digital version, a label typically reserved for drug-dealers and bent cops). Representative of Koziol’s partisan and inaccurate coverage, Koziol accuses Anderson, during visits to Syria and North Korea, of expressing “… solidarity with their dictatorial regimes”. An exemplar of gutter journalism.

Anderson is condemned for a graphic supposedly depicting a swastika imposed on an Israeli flag. There is artistic license in interpretation here, while ignoring the substantive import of the graphic that highlights the civilian casualties of a representative massacre by Israel of the Gazan population.

In any case, should anyone want to find some parallels with Nazi racism and the intrinsic racism of the Israeli apartheid state (not in inverted commas), they would be in respectable company. Thus the letter published in the New York Times in December 1948, signed by 28 prominent Jewish citizens (including Albert Einstein), denouncing the emergence in Israel of the Freedom Party of Menachem Begin, then visiting the US, as having fascist and murderous origins. The letter writers’ fears were subsequently fully justified.

Sydney University has no problem with Israel. It has links with Hebrew University (through the annual Sir Zelman Cowen award) and the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology (through student placements), although both institutions are implicated in the Occupation.

The links these days, previously trumpeted, are low key. Jake Lynch, chair of Sydney University’s Centre (now Department) for Peace and Conflict Studies, pushed to have these links severed, to no effect.

The principled Lynch was left to hang out to dry by the University when he was sued in 2014 by the Israeli law firm Shurat HaDin for presumed racial discrimination after he declined to support an application for a visiting fellowship by a Hebrew University academic. By default, a crowd funding campaign assisted Lynch in the litigation, with the Court deciding in his favour, partly because it was not in his power to decide.

In 2015, Sydney University experienced the heated Kemp affair. Some staff had invited British Colonel Richard Kemp to speak, Kemp being then in Australia courtesy of sponsorship by the United Israel Appeal. Kemp’s topic was ‘Ethical Dilemmas of Military Tactics in Relation to Recent Conflicts in the Middle East: Dealing with non-state armed groups’. Kemp had previously expressed unqualified confidence in the IDF’s claimed success in minimising civilian casualties in its customary devastating Gazan onslaughts. Predictably, Kemp’s appearance aroused protest (the University had only recently barred several invited speakers from appearing on campus).

An all-staff email sent by Vice Chancellor Michael Spence characterised the University’s investigation into the incident as a response to ‘concerns over anti-Semitism on campus’. At the same time, an online petition, calling on the University to sack prominent protester Jake Lynch (falsely claiming Lynch to be anti-Semitic), was organised by the Australasian Union of Jewish Students (AUJS), with the petition text claiming that its authors were acting ‘in close liaison with the Vice Chancellor of the University of Sydney’. The University made no public statement refuting the AUJS claim of ‘close liaison’ with the Vice Chancellor or his office.

Sydney University never confronted the moral dilemma of extending the right of free speech to one militantly committed to a rogue state’s ongoing ethnic cleansing. The University ultimately laid all opprobrium for the fracas on the protesters. I wrote a four-part series on the controversy, here.

Professor Suzanne Rutland, head of Sydney University’s Department of Hebrew, Biblical and Jewish Studies, retired in 2015. A gathering at the University celebrated her contribution. Provost Stephen Garton praised Professor Rutland’s moral courage. Garton continued:

“Even more noteworthy her effort (sic) to engage the Centre of Peace and Conflict Studies the heartland of the BDS movement on this campus. In a sometimes hostile environment Suzanne certainly at some cost to herself has braved the environment to seek tolerance and respect at the Centre.

If we’re looking for intemperate expression, this statement surely qualifies. The gratuitous denigration of the Centre of Peace and Conflict Studies is abrasively partisan. If one sought to construct an index of moral courage at Sydney University CPACS would be in the forefront. Promoting cultural understanding, tolerance and respect was and is its modus operandi.

On 15 September 2009, CPACS hosted a meeting as part of an ongoing process involving interested University staff and students responding to the Israeli massacre of Gazans at the turn of 2008-09.

Rutland turned up with a handful of, to my mind, brainwashed charges. Taking advantage of the formal tolerance of meeting procedure, Rutland’s student flock disarmed the meeting from productive exchange on its purpose. Finding intolerable a brash declamation of various hasbara catechisms from one of these ill-informed students, male, I walked out in disgust.

It takes a great deal of moral courage, it seems, to defend poor put-upon Israel.

The fundamental problem is how a university deals with the state of Israel – an apartheid state by construction. It is supported globally by a powerful multi-tentacled lobby with a massive propaganda apparatus (c/f the 2016 documentary The Occupation of the American Mind).

The propaganda comprises, of necessity, an aggregation of lies which thus runs directly counter to everything a university stands for. It is to be expected that the odd academic might feel compelled to take issue with the propaganda, using the principles by which s/he became and acts in that role.

This the pro-Israel lobby cannot tolerate. Thus the perennial pressure by the lobby to have sacked or discredited those critics privileged with an academic post who expose the nature of the beast, of which locally Jake Lynch and Tim Anderson. The lobby has had considerable success in this regard (Norman Finkelstein’s fate as salutary), which merely fuels its fervour.

I have followed comparable events in France. The academic and research institute director Pascal Boniface is an important witness, both as analyst and victim. I summarised in ‘The Israel Lobby and French Politics’ (2014) a Boniface book on the hold that the pro-Israel lobby has on French politics and society. I outlined in ‘France and the Antisemitism Canard’ (2018) Boniface’s experience as a long term victim. The lobby has been trying to discredit Boniface and have his research institute dismantled ever since 2001 – a salutary lesson in dishonesty and villainy.

In a note written for internal distribution by Boniface within the Parti Socialiste in 2001, which spawned his victimisation, Boniface wrote:

“The intellectual terrorism that consists of accusing of anti-Semitism those who don’t accept the politics of Israeli governments (as opposed to the state of Israel), profitable in the short term, will prove to be disastrous in the end.”

I have summarised elsewhere the draconian implications:

“Genuine anti-Semitism has been instrumentalised by ersatz anti-Semitism. The state of Israel is the beneficiary and the Palestinians the immediate victims. The defenders of truth are secondary victims – the Bonifaces of this world scapegoats in this ongoing comedy. Jewish communities in general, including the French community, are also victims of their unsolicited inclusion in Israel’s criminality and in its institutionalised protection which hides behind the canard of ersatz anti-Semitism.

“But the hasbara, an attack against facts, reason, humanity, language – even sense itself – is a crime against all.”

What is a conscientious academic to do but point out the obvious. For following academic principles, preserving one’s integrity in the process, the lobby wants such individuals comprehensively silenced.

The corporate university

Tim Anderson is also an irritant as an active critic of the corporate university.

Anderson has been a long-time critic of Sydney University’s United States Studies Centre (vide Australian Universities Review, 2010, No.2). The USSC was created in 2007, following concerns with anti-American sentiment in Australia after the 2003 Iraq invasion. Allegedly via intercession by the ubiquitous Rupert Murdoch, the then Howard Government handed over $25 million as a kick starter (meanwhile initiating the strategic underfunding of the university system in general). The USSC is an arm of American ‘soft power’. The Australian media expresses alarm about Chinese soft power while ignoring its precedents.

Anderson also expresses concern with Sydney University’s 2017 Memorandum of Understanding with Thales Australia. Thales is Australia’s largest defence contractor, having acquired the privatised (the Howard Government again) Australian Defence Industries partially in 1999 and fully in 2006. It happens that the University’s Chancellor, Belinda Hutchinson, is currently Board Chairman at Thales Australia. Meanwhile the reigning Australian federal government (son of Howard) wants to dramatically escalate the scale of Australia’s military exports.

In this context, Sydney University has had a long-term interest in acquiring the cashed-up Ramsay Centre’s offer of a program in ‘Western civilisation’ to select students. Private hospital magnate Paul Ramsay built a fortune from his Ramsay Health Care corporation, cherry picking the routine and profitable medical procedures that piggy-back the take-all-comers public health system. Profit-driven Ramsay appears to have had a late-in-life conversion to matters intellectual. The Australian National University said no thanks to the Ramsay Centre offer. At Sydney University, it has fallen to Provost Stephen Garton to manage the negotiation process.

Although some staff are supportive, the overwhelming majority of relevant staff have been opposed to the project in toto. Considerable internal exchange has taken place, recently bursting back into life. A Government Department member highlighted that a sometime colleague had published a work titled The Eastern Origins of Western Civilization (John Hobson, 2004). Well I never! Who would have thought it? Others have highlighted, naturally, that a good deal of Western ‘civilisation’ is undeserving of the epithet.

In a letter to staff, 22 October 2018, Garton acknowledged concerns, and claimed that subsequent modifications to the Memorandum of Understanding had been effected. Garton claimed that the university will control all aspects of any program. Garton concludes:

“My own view is that it would be very difficult, in reputational terms, to justify the refusal of funding, otherwise than on the grounds that doing so would compromise our academic freedom. It has never been University policy to reject funding from a donor simply on the basis that we did not like the politics of the people on the Board of the funding body. No reputable university in the world would conduct its philanthropy campaign on such a basis.”

There is no doubt about ‘the politics of the people on the Board’ – centred on the reactionary and anti-intellectual twosome John Howard (Prime Minister, 1996-2007) and Tony Abbott (Prime Minister, 2013-15). Howard and Abbott’s original unbalanced intent has been made clear, so others have subsequently been added to the Board to muddy the waters. Meanwhile, Wollongong University senior management has jumped the gun, bypassing staff consultation. Will all the money ultimately go to the most opportunist recipient?

Regardless, the Ramsay proposal is, in its essence, insulting to university staff. ‘Western civilisation’ is already being taught, in context and thus critically.

Tim Anderson (and others) is a conscience of the University. But the corporate university doesn’t want a conscience. Indeed, it can’t afford a conscience if it is to maintain ‘respectability’ and to ensure that the dough keeps rolling in.

So Anderson is expendable.

Anderson’s suspension is a scandal. University management can’t hope to implement his sacking without permanent damage to the reputation of Australia’s oldest university.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email