The moral void of our institutions

13 October 2023

By: John Roskam

What occurred was not an ‘escalation of hostilities in the Middle East’

This was written by Allison Pearson in the UK Telegraph on Tuesday.

Several years ago, I was chairing a panel of writers talking about motherhood when an Orthodox Jewish author made an observation I have never forgotten.  Twins were not viewed as a blessing in her community, Sally said.


‘Because when they come for you, it’s too hard to pick up both of them and run.’

The other mums on the panel were stunned into silence.  When they come for you, the Jewish mother said – not if.

On Saturday, October 7, Itay and Hadar Berdichevsky realised that ‘they’ had come for them.  Gunmen were breaking down the door of their house in a kibbutz not far from the border with Gaza.  The couple, both aged 30, placed their 10-month-old twins in a secure place.  In their panic and dread, with seconds to spare, the parents locked away their treasures for safekeeping.

Itay and Hadar were murdered by Hamas thugs.  Twelve hours later, Israeli soldiers found the two babies in their hiding place.  They were alive, but they were orphans; their mother and father, who spent their last minutes on earth protecting them, were gone.

In Sydney the New South Wales police escorted a mob celebrating mass murder to the forecourt of the Opera House.  The police made a single arrest – of a man carrying an Israeli flag.  The following day the NSW Police Assistant Commissioner, Tony Cooke said the man, Mark Spiro was arrested ‘to prevent a breach of the peace for his safety’.  The police also told members of the Jewish community to stay home for their safety and not come to the see the Opera House lit in the colours of the Israeli flag.  You wonder when police officers say it’s not safe for Jews to walk the streets of Sydney whether those police officers realise what they’re saying and whether they have any knowledge of history.

The suggestion from some Voice supporters that the world is watching the referendum result is just wrong.  If the world was watching and No succeeds then the world will see that a majority of Australians will have voted to endorse the fundamental principle of liberal democracy – that we are all equal.  It’s not the referendum the world is watching.  The world has seen what happened at the Opera House.  But as so often happens what the ABC managed to see was something quite different.  This is the headline from the ABC – ‘Crowds gather to protest Opera House lighting up in Israeli colours.  Chants of ‘Free Palestine’ were heard at the peaceful gathering in front of the Sydney Opera House.’

I went back through my files this morning and found this from what I said in my AFR column in 2015.  The revulsion so many Australians felt at what they saw at the Opera House was absolutely justified but we must understand this sort of thing has been taking place for some time. It’s just that the media and the authorities have chosen to ignore it because they’re afraid to think about what it says about Australia.

At the MCG in Melbourne in 2013, when a 13 year-old girl yelled ‘ape’ at [AFL footballer] Adam Goodes she was taken away and questioned for two hours by police.  At a protest march in Hyde Park in Sydney in 2012, children held up placards advocating the beheading of ‘infidels’.  Interestingly, there’s no record of police detaining or interrogating any of those young people.  Meanwhile, at anti-Israel rallies around the country, Jews are routinely subjected to epithets no less offensive [and much worse] than what was shouted at Goodes.

It was the Victoria police, not privately-employed security guards, that questioned the 13 year-old for two hours. In New South Wales the police would rather arrest a man with a flag than challenge children waving signs advocating murder.  Given the potential for more ‘protests’ in the next few days the NSW Police acting Commissioner David Hudson said ‘We can’t stop a thousand people all gathering at the same place, it would also depend on their behaviour.  We don’t have the powers to stop [thousands] of people convening at Town Hall.’  The NSW police didn’t seem to have that problem during COVID.

Something else not new is the stupidity of privileged young people.  Although ‘stupidity’ doesn’t do justice to the self-righteousness, callowness, callousness of the students at Harvard University who belonged to one of the 31 student organisations who put out a statement saying they ‘hold the Israeli regime entirely responsible for all [the] unfolding violence’.  Which prompted this response as reported by CNN:

Billionaire hedge fund CEO Bill Ackman and several other business leaders are demanding Harvard University release the names of students whose organisations signed on to a letter blaming solely Israel for the deadly attacks by Hamas.  The CEOs want the students blacklisted.  But some of those students have since distanced themselves from the letter.

‘One should not be able to hide behind a corporate shield when issuing statements supporting the actions of terrorists,’ Ackman said in a post on X.  If the members support the letter, the names of the signatories ‘should be made public so their views are publicly known,’ Ackman said.  The CEO of Pershing Square Capital Management said he wanted to ensure his company and others don’t ‘inadvertently hire’ any students belonging to Harvard groups that signed the letter…

Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, told CNN on Wednesday he doesn’t know about the wisdom of releasing the names of the students but called for them to take responsibility on their own.

‘It is an outrageously offensive piece and anyone who signed it should either stand behind it and face the consequences in life or step up and apologise and explain themselves,’ Greenblatt said.  ‘This is what we learn in elementary school. It’s hard for me to understand why it’s complicated for people at Harvard University.’

Bari Weiss at The Free Press has written powerfully about the tacit, and not so tacit support of terrorism, by so many in higher education in the United States.  This is an excerpt of her article yesterday – ‘Campus Cowardice and Where the Buck Stops.  Microaggressions are met with moral condemnation  But actual violence is tolerated – even glorified.’

American universities are places of exquisite sensitivity.  Just ask Greg Patton.  Patton is a USC professor who was suspended from his job a few years ago because he said a Chinese word – a filler word, like the word ‘uh’ – that happened to sound like an English slur.

Or ask Leslie Neal-Boylan.  She is dean at the nursing school at the University of Massachusetts.  Or she was, until she was fired when she wrote the following sentence in an email: ‘BLACK LIVES MATTER, but also EVERYONE’S LIFE MATTERS.’  A maths professor at the University of North Texas lost his job for disparagingly joking about microaggressions.  NYU fired a lecturer because students complained his chemistry class was too hard…

None of these people actually did anything wrong.  But according to the prevailing ideology that rules American colleges campuses, violent acts include ‘misgendering’ and ‘harmful language’ and so these acts must be condemned publicly in the strongest possible terms, the perpetrators punished.

When it comes to the mass slaughter of Jews in Israel by a genocidal terrorist organisation, however, such condemnations and consequences are curiously absent.

Contrast what colleges tolerate with what they won’t  Microaggressions are met with moral condemnation.  Meanwhile, campuses will tolerate – even glorify – the wanton murder of Jews – actual violence.

And what of ‘safe spaces’ for Jewish students?  Since the Hamas attack on Israel, in which terrorists carried out an orgy of violence that included the decapitation of babies and the burning alive of families, this is a sampling of what universities had to offer:

– The president of Cornell University described her statement as a ‘Response to World Events’, lamenting it is ‘impossible’ to respond to all of the world’s tragedies.

– The president of Northwestern University said: ‘Northwestern does not intend to make an institutional statement.’  This, about the largest single-day slaughter of Jews since the Holocaust.

– Sian Leah Beilock, Dartmouth’s president has yet to explicitly condemn Hamas.  Same with Columbia president Minouche Shafik.

The campus administrators – so quick to offer statements on climate change and the war in Ukraine and Roe v Wade – offered silence or equivocation this week in the face of mass murder.  Meanwhile, student groups at some of the most elite college campuses in the country were positively gleeful.

The satirical news site The Bablyon Bee pretty much hit the nail on the head in a single headline:  ‘Harvard Student Leaves Lecture On Microaggressions To Attend ‘Kill The Jews’ Rally.’

That’s America.  Here in Australia it is not very different.  University of Sydney academic Nick Reimer tweeted ‘No progressive should feel the need to publicly condemn any choices by the Palestinian resistance.  Doing so just adds to the perception that their cause is unjust.’  Reimer is a senior lecturer in the ‘Discipline of English and Writing’.  You might recall his name.  In 2018 Reimer led that University of Sydney staff campaign against the university establishing the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation.  At the time he wrote:

Universities should stand up unequivocally to European cultural supremacism.  That means saying no to Ramsay.  Of course, doing so will draw criticism from the right – but confidently making the rational and progressive responses those criticism demand and justifying the rejection of Ramsay’s divisive political agenda gives universities the opportunity to be what they so often claim they already are: principled and fearless thought-leaders, committed to defending the values of pluralism, diversity and inclusion.

It would be interesting to know whether Reimer believes ‘the Palestinian resistance’ embodies the values of pluralism, diversity and inclusion which he says he cares so much about.  It was to people like Reimer that the University of Sydney capitulated when it refused to accept a donation of $50m to establish a course in Western Civilisation funded by the Ramsay Foundation.  (The university does however have a Confucius Institute funded by the Chinese government.)

Then there’s the University of Sydney Student Representative Council that promoted the ‘protest’ at the Opera House declared it ‘stands in solidarity with Palestine’.  Last year the Council passed a motion endorsing the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel and claimed ‘To champion the cause of Palestine is a basic anti-imperialist and anti-racist act’.  It was a motion the university administration was forced to repudiate.  ‘The SRC’s motion does not represent the position of the University of Sydney’ said the vice-chancellor Mark Scott.

But that was last year.  The statement Scott made this week was shameful.  If he wasn’t willing to speak the truth and describe what occurred as mass murder and condemn it he should have said nothing.  This is the relevant part of the University of Sydney statement:

Message of support on the conflict in the Middle East – 9 October 2023

Support available for our staff and students

The University of Sydney’s Vice-Chancellor and President, Professor Mark Scott, has expressed the University’s deep sympathy for those affected by the conflict in the Middle East.

The recent escalation of hostilities in the Middle East has shocked and dismayed many members of our University community.  We extend our deepest sympathies to all those affected by the conflict.  Our thoughts are with them and their families.

‘Now more than ever it is important for us to be guided by our values of diversity, inclusion, and the principle of disagreeing well.  Our campuses must continue to be a welcoming and safe space for all, and we do not tolerate anti-Semitic or anti-Muslim language or behaviour,’ said Vice-Chancellor and President, Mark Scott.

I know many in our community hold strong views on this conflict and consistent with the principles of academic freedom and free speech, I encourage you to express those views in a way that considers the impact on other members of our campus community.’

To describe the worst anti-Semitic massacre in 78 years as ‘the recent escalation of hostilities in the Middle East’ is utterly craven.  The University of Sydney’s statement reveals the moral void in which Australia’s universities exist.

In conclusion, compared to this the referendum tomorrow almost seems unimportant.  It isn’t, but since last weekend it’s felt like it is.  During the week I’ve been on the polling booths in Melbourne and tomorrow I’ll be on a booth in Launceston – I’m going to the state where volunteers are most needed.  I look forward to talking with you next week.