Israel’s war machine, Australian Universities, and why students are protesting

May 5, 2024
Protesting students occupy an area of the quadrangle at the University of Sydney in Sydney, Friday, May 3, 2024. Encampments have sprung up at colleges in major Australian cities as participants protest over the Israel-Hamas war in solidarity with student demonstrators in the United States. Image:AAP/AP/Rick Rycroft

Australian university students are setting up encampments in universities across Australia. They are not only calling for an end to the war on Gaza and freedom for Palestinians, they are calling for key changes needed in Australian universities’ relationships with Israel, including divestments in weapons research and development and sales and the cessation of links to Israeli Universities involved in the Israeli military complex.

The Australian National University encampment spokesperson Skye Predevac told me that at their university they are calling for an end to the war on Gaza and the occupation of Palestine, but also they want the university to disclose their investments in weapons companies and to end all ties with Israel weapons development. The ANU has an investment fund of $480,000 in Lockheed Martin and possibility other companies with links to weapons development. The students want the university to provide full disclosure and cessation of such investments. They are also calling on the University to cut ties with Israeli universities involved in weapons research and development, noting especially the Hebrew University located on Palestinian land in East Jerusalem.

So why the call to cut ties with Israeli universities?

Israeli universities are increasingly an integral part of Israel’s Military Complex working in collaboration with the arms industry.Universities such as the Technion in Haifa, the Weizman Institute in Rehovot, the Hebrew University and Ben Gurion University and Tel Aviv University are all involved. For example The Haifa Technion helped to develop the D9 remote-controlled bulldozer, used in the destruction of Palestinian homes in particular in the West Bank. It also has a research partnership with Elbit Systems Ltd., a weapons company that Australia has close links with. This company, among other military weapons, provides electronic detection devices used in the Israeli Separation Wall in the West Bank. It also supplies drones to the Israeli army.

Elbit works with Technion University that has now become the key research and development University for the Israeli military. The university has developed the so called ‘Scream’, a ‘non-lethal’ acoustic system that ‘creates sound levels that are unbearable to humans at distances up to 100 meters’, according to its own promotion material. This crowd-control weapon is mainly used to suppress peaceful demonstrations in the occupied Palestinian territories. Bar-Ilan University has also participated in joint research with the army, specifically in developing artificial intelligence for unmanned combat vehicles widely used in Gaza. Technion courses teach students how to brand and market Israel’s defence industry to global audiences.

The Washington Jewish Week in April 2024 boasted of Israeli Universities, in particular the Hebrew University’s, collaboration with the Israeli military.

“Havatzalot, a three-year program established by the Israeli Military Intelligence, has been at Hebrew university since 2019. This program allows young students who are also cadets to complete a double-major bachelor’s degree with a combination of Middle-Eastern studies and one other science like mathematics, computer science, economics and sometimes philosophy, They finish their training, and they serve basically as the backbone of Israeli intelligence.”

The Tzameret program aims to increase the number of career military physicians. The number in training, including those that have already finished training, exceeds 850.

Like many of their other programs, Tzameret has a global reach. Up to 20 students in their sixth year of study are selected to participate in a one-month exchange program with other military-oriented medical programs around the world.

Talpiot, involves the training of people who develop technologies like the Iron Dome and is the most prestigious academic and military program in Israel. “Many graduates of this program go on to have a successful military career and later make their way into civilian life as successful entrepreneurs. They’re idea generators.”

The Hebrew University and the wider community are receiving critical support through the We Are One campaign, a special initiative organised by American Friends of Hebrew University along with the international chapters of the organisation.

Israel through these types of programs and other university research and development programs uses Palestine as a laboratory for exporting an entire model of terrorising, controlling, suppressing and/or murdering recalcitrant populations.

In the European Union universities have also been protesting against the EU’s relationship with the Israeli military complex. For example the EU funds the Law Train project, that develops interrogation techniques through collaboration between KU Leuven and Israeli police. The Ghent University professors have also been demanding that the institution end its collaboration with Israeli research partners which have close ties with the Israeli army: ‘This collaboration makes the university complicit in war crimes and crimes against humanity’, they argued. The same must surely apply in Australian Universities. The protest emphasised UGent collaboration with the Israel Institute of Technology and Israel Aerospace Industries because they work with Elbit Systems, which develops the Hermes drones used in the 2014 attacks on Gaza.

Such examples highlight how Israel’s military-security-industrial complex depends on its universities and research institutes. Academic staff and students have a responsibility to stop or prevent such collaboration.

In Australia universities other than the ANU also have links to Israelis military complex. Queensland University student protesters want the university to close ties with Boeing research and technology Australia Centre including BAE and Northrop Grumman, and University of Melbourne protesters are calling on the university to cut ties with Lockheed Martin, Northrup Geumman and Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Australian universities have a long history of peaceful protesting such as the protests and encampments against the war in Vietnam, and there have been other protests such as actions against climate change. Students are now setting up encampments protesting the war on Gaza, Israeli occupation of Palestine and Australian government and Universities ties with Israelis military. These encampments exist across a number of Australian universities starting with Sydney and Melbourne Universities, the ANU, Curtin University in Western Australia, Adelaide University and Queensland University.

In general these encampments have been peaceful although at the University of Melbourne the Age reported that “more than a hundred people and a DJ gathered on Thursday afternoon on the edge of its Parkville campus, blasting Israeli dance music before some attendees waving Israeli flags confronted the pro-Palestinian student camp; The Israel supporters harassed a student encampment newly set up at Monash University in Clayton, appearing after midnight blasting music and calling campers “rapists … hiding in your tunnels like Hamas, your terror cells” before rummaging through the camp’s food supplies and shaking tents.”

Even though such violent protests have been perpetrated by people carrying Israeli flags the Vice President of the Australian Union of Jewish Students NSW Zac Morris said that Jewish students are scared to come to campus. In contrast these student protests are strongly supported by The Jewish Council of Australia which in a recent statement has said that “Attempting to silence or censor these protests by deceitfully accusing them of antisemitism is a dangerous overreach that, if acted upon, risks stifling free speech on campuses. Universities must be places where diverse perspectives can be voiced and debated openly.” “We need to distinguish between genuine racism and political discomfort. These protests may make some students uncomfortable because they politically disagree, but that is not grounds to shut them down – it is a reality of life in a democracy.”

To date all Australian universities administrators have made it clear that they support the right of students and staff to protest so long as they stay within the law. As can be seen, the students have much to protest about, not only Australian universities’ collaboration with Israel’s war machine – but also to end the horrific war on Gaza and the appalling loss of life including now nearly 15,000 children and the total destruction of Gazan civilian life that will take decade to reconstruct.

The Australia government and some universities may well be found complicit in these war crimes and genocide of the Palestinian people by the International Court of Justice. The students are peacefully now calling them out.

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