AN Israeli legal group’s racial discrimination law suit against Sydney academic Jake Lynch over his support for boycotting Israel is so broad and unwieldy that it could stretch the court’s time and resources, a judge said this morning. The Australian
Justice Alan Robertson told the lawyer for plaintiff Shurat HaDin, Andrew Hamilton, to work with Professor Lynch’s solicitor Yves Hazan, to try to simplify the case to avoid it dragging on for a considerable period of time at huge expense.
“This is unlikely to be heard this year on the current rate of progress,” Justice Robertson told the court.
Shurat HaDin launched the action in the Federal Court against Professor Lynch over his support for the pro-Palestinian international Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions campaign against Israel.
Shurat HaDin’s case focuses in the first instance on Professor Lynch’s decision to decline a request for support from Hebrew University of Jerusalem academic Dan Avnon in his application for a visiting fellowship to Sydney University.
But Shurat HaDin’s application extends to several other Israelis, and suggests Professor Lynch is culpable for contributing to the effect of the global BDS campaign on all Israelis.
“It seems to me at the moment that the proceedings are remarkably complex,” Justice Robertson told yesterday’s directions hearing in Sydney.
Justice Robertson asked Mr Hamilton, who participated in the directions hearing by telephone, why this was the case.
“Why so many actions, why a class action, isn’t there a simpler way,” Justice Robertson asked.
Mr Hamilton responded that it was a “class action against a group of people discriminated against” who were “not able to bring their class action themselves”.
Mr Hamilton started to say Shurat HaDin argued that Professor Lynch’s stand adversely affected not just individuals but whole categories of people when Justice Robertson cut him off.
“I don’t want speeches, I just asked you a question, and the answer is no,” Justice Robertson said.
Justice Robertson set down a yet to be decided day in mid-March for an interlocutory hearing of applications by both sides.
Shurat HaDin claims the one-page document filed by Professor Lynch’s lawyers in response to its 30 page statement of claim does not constitute a defence.
Professor Lynch’s lawyers have applied to have the case struck out.
Professor Lynch has also made moves to ensure that if he wins the case Shurat HaDin and the other plaintiffs including Mr Hamilton will meet his legal costs if ordered to do so by the court.
Mr Hamilton, who informed the court he has a property in the Sydney beachside suburb of Coogee, said he would be happy to provide a statement of his own assets and liabilities, which he said were about $3 million and $1 million respectively.
The law suit is seen as a test case of whether the BDS campaign is racist and discriminatory under Australian law, and comes at a time when the Israeli government has expressed concern about the international boycott and is developing plans to fight it.
Shurat HaDin describes itself as an independent non-profit organisation that fights terrorism and anti-Semitism through courts around the world.
While it has admitted working with Mossad in the past, it denies claims from its critics that it carries out the will of the Israeli government.
Shurat HaDin has submitted a sweeping statement of claim to the Federal Court alleging Professor Lynch has directly discriminated against academics, but also helped deprive all Israelis of cultural, educational, and professional opportunities.
In what is likely to be a landmark case revolving around conflicting interpretations of freedom of expression, Shurat HaDin will claim Professor Lynch, by refusing to support a fellowship application by Professor Avnon, deprived him of his professional rights in an act of racial discrimination.
But Shurat HaDin’s case extends to claiming all Israeli academics are adversely affected by the BDS policy of Professor Lynch, who is head of the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Sydney.
The statement of claim also says that, by calling for boycotts of Israel, Professor Lynch also contributes to the wider international boycott campaign that disadvantages owners of Israeli-related businesses, and adds to Israelis being deprived of cultural opportunities such as seeing big acts ranging from Santana to Pink Floyd.
In its Federal Court action, Shurat HaDin will not seek financial penalties, but orders that Professor Lynch renounce BDS and apologise for supporting it.
Professor Lynch is a vocal advocate of the international BDS campaign against Israel, which argues that Israeli government policies claimed to be illegal under international law discriminate against Palestinians.
He made headlines a year ago when Professor Avnon sought permission to use his name as a supporter for an exchange program visit under an agreement between Sydney University and the Hebrew University.
Professor Lynch turned down the request, citing his centre’s support of BDS.
Professor Lynch strenuously denies he discriminated against Professor Avnon and points out he wrote him a polite letter saying that his work sounded interesting, but the centre had adopted a principled policy of boycotting Israeli academic institutions with links to the Israeli military-industrial complex.
Professor Avnon is regarded as progressive within the Israeli academic community on Arab-Israeli issues, and designed a civics curriculum that could be taught under the same roof to Arab, and secular and orthodox Jewish schoolchildren.
Shurat HaDin’s statement of claim alleges Professor Lynch’s actions had the effect of “impairing the recognition, enjoyment and exercise of Professor Dan Avnon’s rights to education; freedom of association; freedom of expression; academic freedom, and work”.
“The distinction, exclusion or restriction or preference was based on the fact that Professor Dan Avnon was a Jewish person of Israeli national or ethnic origin,” the statement of claim alleges.
Shurat HaDin claims Professor Lynch has breached not only the Racial Discrimination Act, but also international conventions.
Several prominent Australian Jewish academics, some of whom are against the BDS campaign, have spoken out against Shurat HaDin’s action, arguing it works against academic independence and freedom of speech, while the Executive Council of Australian Jewry has distanced itself from the move.