Open letter: UMSU should not back down over Palestine

Three weeks ago, students at the University of Melbourne passed a motion in solidarity with Palestine and with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Since then, the student union (UMSU) and the students involved with drafting and passing the motion have come under sustained pressure from Zionist individuals and organisations, including a class action lawsuit threatening to take the union to court if it does not retract the motion.

We are seriously concerned that UMSU will now rescind this motion. We strongly oppose retreating in this way.

The arguments made in the lawsuit are cynical and dishonest, conflating criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. This is an attempt to undermine solidarity with the Palestinians. The Israeli occupation of Palestine denies Palestinians basic civil and human rights. It is a militarised apartheid regime.

Since the motion passed, the world witnessed the cold-blooded murder of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh by an IDF sniper as she reported on Israeli violence in the Jenin refugee camp. Videos circulated of Israeli police assaulting casket-bearers at her funeral, denying Palestinians the basic dignity of mourning their dead. For a student union in Melbourne to walk back their commitment to Palestinian liberation at this moment spits in the face of both the suffering endured by Palestinians every day and their courage in continuing to resist.

Every major institution in Australia backs Israel. Both major parties routinely express their commitment to diplomatic relations with the occupying power. Our university quickly moved to distance itself from the union and smear the motion as anti-Semitic.

This makes it even more important that UMSU, one of the few organisations willing to criticise Israel, stands firm. Since the UMSU motion passed, student unions at the University of Sydney and the Australian National University have passed similar motions. This is a welcome development, and UMSU should be pushing for more organisations to express solidarity with Palestine, not withdrawing their own.

If UMSU rescinds the motion, it will be a concession to all the cynical and right-wing arguments made in the lawsuit. It will be an admission that expressing solidarity with Palestine is somehow inherently oppressive of Jewish people.

It will also establish the precedent that any right-wing individual or organisation with enough money and legal backing can strike down the democratically adopted positions of a student union. This would represent a major attack on the independence and progressive politics of student unionism. What is to prevent individuals or organisations using the threat of lawsuits to force student unions to back down on their support for other oppressed peoples or other progressive causes?

An important part of student unionism is standing up for progressive causes even when it is difficult and you are met with threats and intimidation from universities, governments or powerful political organisations. University of Melbourne students resisting conscription during the Vietnam War had their union building smashed up by police trying to intimidate them into submission – but they put up a fight against this intimidation, because they stood up for what they believed in and knew they were on the right side of history.

We, the undersigned, urge UMSU to take a stand against the Zionists’ intimidation by holding the line on its support for Palestinian resistance and BDS. To do otherwise would be a capitulation on basic student democracy and progressive politics.



Hiba Adam, People of Colour Officer, UMSU
Shirley Killen, Student Councillor, UMSU
Mohamed Hadi, Student Councillor (People of Colour), UMSU
Jeanine Hourani, University of Melbourne staff member and alumni
Alec Ferguson, Free Palestine Melbourne member and University of Melbourne student
Bella Beiraghi, Free Palestine Melbourne member and University of Melbourne student
Dana Alshaer, University of Melbourne student
James Gallagher, University of Melbourne student
Isi Ogwu, People of Colour Committee Member, UMSU
Jordana Silverstein, Senior Research Fellow, University of Melbourne
Dr. Randa Abdel-Fattah, DECRA Research Fellow, Macquarie University
David Brophy, Senior Lecturer and NTEU delegate, University of Sydney
Nick Riemer, Senior Lecturer, University of Sydney
Tasnim Sammak, PhD candidate, University of Melbourne
Brendan Laws, Education (Coursework) Officer at the Graduate Student Association Melbourne University
Monica Sestito, Education (Research) Officer at the Graduate Student Association Melbourne University
Wajeehah Aayeshah, Lecturer in Curriculum Design, University of Melbourne
Kristin Diemer, Associate Professor, University of Melbourne
Dave McDonald. Lecturer in Criminology, University of Melbourne
Joshua Pocius, Senior Tutor in Gender Studies, University of Melbourne
Ben Gilmour, Liaison Support Librarian, University of Melbourne
Hamilton Kennedy, Academic, University of Melbourne
Bina Fernandez, Associate Professor, University of Melbourne
Graham Schaffer, Professor, University of Melbourne
Marijke Davey, Sessional Tutor (School of Design), University of Melbourne
Aleks Michalewicz, Staff, University of Melbourne
Grace Torcasio, Subject Coordinator in Cultural Studies, University of Melbourne
Nick Thieberger, Associate Professor, the University of Melbourne
Tim Wright, Casual Academic, the University of Melbourne
Nicholas Sgro-Traikovski, Teaching Associate, the University of Melbourne
Jemima Amery-Gale, PhD candidate and NTEU delegate, University of Melbourne
Keagan Ó Guaire, PhD candidate and tutor, University of Melbourne, and Cairde Sinn Féin Melbourne organiser
Priya Kunjan, PhD candidate, University of Melbourne
Elyssia Bugg, PhD candidate, University of Melbourne
Farnaz Shahimi, PhD candidate, University of Melbourne
Claire Zammit, PhD candidate, University of Melbourne
Jack Melton, PhD candidate, University of Melbourne
Juan Jose, PhD candidate, University of Melbourne
Carol Que, Tutor, University of Melbourne
Faith Oguzhan, Sessional Academic, University of Melbourne
Moosa Raza, University of Melbourne student  
Maxwell Rea, University of Melbourne student
Annie Toller, University of Melbourne student
Janise Sam, University of Melbourne student
Julian Petito, University of Melbourne student and staff member
Rosanna Watts, University of Melbourne student
Ben Fritch, University of Melbourne student
Ada Pascoe, University of Melbourne student
Liza Stephens, University of Melbourne student
Sam Rathnaweera, University of Melbourne student
Oskar Martin, University of Melbourne student
Frankie Kennedy, University of Melbourne student
Jaan Schild, University of Melbourne student
Alex McKay-Trezise, University of Melbourne student
Xavier Dupe, University of Melbourne student
Raphael Duffy, University of Melbourne student
Sam Karabogias, University of Melbourne student
Claire Mckeown, University of Melbourne student
Maryam Hessami, University of Melbourne student
Caitlin Larcombe, University of Melbourne student
Omar Yuusuf, University of Melbourne student
Juliette McKeown, University of Melbourne student
Daniel Weber, University of Melbourne student
Edith Pope, University of Melbourne student
Benjamin Jarick, University of Melbourne student
Esra Benserai, University of Melbourne student
Matthias Radja, University of Melbourne student
Amos Gibson, University of Melbourne student
Jacob Andrewartha, University of Melbourne student
Julien Macandili, University of Melbourne alumni
Daniel Bennett-Spark, University of Melbourne alumni
Ken Blackman, University of Melbourne alumni
Sophia Graley, University of Melbourne alumni
Chloe Sinclair, University of Melbourne alumni
Hakim Mume, University of Melbourne alumni
Maeve Scannell, Library Assistant, Rowden White Library (UMSU)
Alana Lentin, Professor, Western Sydney University
Chelsea Watego, Professor of Indigenous Health, Bond University
Dr. Stephen Pascoe, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Laureate Centre for History and Population, UNSW
Liz Walsh, Assistant Secretary, Victorian Socialists
Julia Dehm, Senior Lecturer, La Trobe University
Naama Carlin, Lecturer, University of New South Wales
Lorel Thomas, Free Palestine Melbourne member
Erica Millar, Senior Research Fellow, La Trobe University
Timothy Jones, Associate Professor of History, La Trobe University
Daniel Lopez, Commissioning Editor, Jacobin Magazine
Katie Wood, Former General Secretary, UMSU
Adam Elyousef, Ethnocultural Co-Officer, University of Western Australia
Samuel Adams, Councillor, University of Queensland Student Union
Alicia Griffiths, councillor at the Latrobe Student Union
Dr. Elliot Dolan-Evans, Assistant Lecturer, School of Medicine, Monash University
Beth Jackson, Uni Students for Climate Justice Co-Convenor
Deaglan Godwin, Education Officer, Student Representative Council, University of Sydney
Dr. Liam Ward, Lecturer in Media and Communications, RMIT University
Peter Slezak, Honorary Associate Professor, University of New South Wales
Emma Dynes, Former Student Councillor, UMSU
Andrew Brooks, Lecturer, University of New South Wales
Zora Simic, Senior Lecturer, University of New South Wales
Natalie Acreman, Former National LGBTI Officer, National Union of Students
Dr. Catherine Orian Weiss, Tutor, RMIT University
Dr. Crystal McKinnon, Indigenous Research Fellow, RMIT University
Jake Lynch, Associate Professor, Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Sydney
Kelly Cvetkova, National Executive member, National Union of Students
Ana Obradovic, Student Representative Council President, University of Adelaide
Nix Herriot, Environmental Officer, Student Representative Council, University of Adelaide
Cyma Hibri, PhD candidate, University of Sydney
Stanley Zhang, PhD candidate, Griffith University
Dr. Caitlin Biddolph, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of Sydney
Jamal Nabulsi, PhD candidate, University of Queensland
Joshua Garfield, Research Fellow, Monash University
Jarrod Hore, Postdoctoral Fellow, University of New South Wales
Ella Marchionda, Student Councillor, RMIT Student Union
Ben Milne, Student Councillor, RMIT Student Union
Cormac Mills Ritchard, Former Student Councillor, RMIT Student Union
Owen Marsden-Readford, Students for Palestine President, University of Sydney
Mikaela Pappou, Vice-President at the Student Representative Council, University of Sydney
Fahad Ali, Research and Teaching Assistant, University of Sydney
Vinil Kumar, Former Ethnocultural Officer, National Union of Students
Mutu Yolbulan, ASU delegate at Shine Lawyers
Fletcher O’Leary, Former President of the Adelaide University Union  
Thomas Williams, Former Education Officer, University of Sydney
Yasmine Johnson, Welfare Officer, Student Representative Council, University of Sydney
Gina Elias, Councillor, Student Representative Council, University of New South Wales
Simon Upitis, Social Justice Officer, Student Representative Council, University of Sydney
Dashie Prasad, Women’s Officer, Student Representative Council, University of Sydney
Joseph Pugliese, Professor, Macquarie University
Van Rudd, Former Campus Coordinator, VCA Student Union
Michelle Ryan, Free Palestine Melbourne member and NTEU member
Melani De Alwis, Access Department Co-Officer, University of Western Australia
Nachshon Amir, former Israeli IDF officer
Rebecca Hynek, Jewish Anti-Zionist
Nicole McEwen, Guild Councillor, University of Western Australia
Phoebe Burrage, Climate Action Network Coordinator
Damian Ridgwell, Palestine Action Group member
Elliot Downes, staff member, Australian National University
Helen Bayes, Quaker Peace and Social Justice Committee, Victoria
Luka Kiernan, Committee Member, Monash Student Association
Fleur Taylor, Former Education Vice-President, UMSU
Zena Cumpston
Alexander Bastiras
Emily Hubbard
Babs Rapeport
Mazin Abogodah
Nasser Mashni
Nadav Franckovich
Gideon Polya
John Pike
Danil Matthews
Ella Haid
Nic Anderson
Michael Shaik
Seyed Sadaghiyani
Dale Sheehan
Rob Narai
Jumana Bayeh
Jamie Tyers
Tyler Hutchinson
Jayesh Maharaj
Greg Giannis
Muzna Dakakni
Priya Chacko
Otto Grodach
Phoebe Kelloway
Benjamin Fok  
Carla Falvo
Ruby Healer
James McVicar
Deitra Kanellos
Muayad Ali
Ban Hasanin
Bayejeed Hasan
Helen Bayes
Lillian Kopschewa
Lucas Brunning-Halsall
Yasmin Jenkins Gunn
Rory Gee
Zoe Lyle
Bronwyn Murphy
Oscar Sterner
Lucas Barakat
Heather Maltby
Maeve Riches
Annabel Pettit
Nevine Salama
Brendan Tate
Hamish Bruce
Renuga Inpakumar
Amiriya Dorian
Sophia Munro
Mary-Anne Gale
Phoebe Autumn
Jack Howard
Madeleine Clark
Benjamin Richmond
Alice Cleveley
Mark Berthold
Daniel Dadich
Samuel Forbes
Lewis Moore
Ellie Hall
Kirill Smelov
Emma Black
Tully McEwen
Laurence Lacoon
Bill Swannie
Brad Reich
Dr. Tom Grace
Patrick Dommisse
George Quinlan
Oliver Woodrow Kyle
Thomas Knowles
Raymond Sestito
Ana Valentino
David Ng
Raghad Rihan
Zinnia Bath
Youssef Elsawi
Briana Symonds-Manne
Nicholas de Voil
Sara Saleh
Reham Elzeiny
Amal Naser
Lachlan Stewart
Fiona Johnston
Madeline Curkovic
Alex Contos
Hannah Purdue
Isaac Stewarr
Nikita Vanderbyl
Johnny Gerdes
Nish Morris
Wen Zheng
Matt Lazaridis
Hajar Chlihi
Rosie Joy Barron
Sophie Rudolph
Phil Allen
Therese Shay
Michael Clune
David Williams
Gillian Duncan
Ava Jackson
Sivan Barak
Chloe Rafferty
Ethan Gandler
Fariha Zaima
Bruce Francis
James Pulbrook-Flynn
Bakir Al-Fettawi
Donna Lorenze
Callum Stewart
Amanda Lourie
Channa Wickremesekera
Jack Williams
Dzenana Vulcic
Daniel Wolfers
Vanessa Born
Ella Sjodin
Akio Tamura-Ho
Shimaa Nasr
Atticus Banks
Rowland Thomson
Ashleigh Newnham
Christine Lai
Hala Khartabil
Brooke Werleman
Zeina Myles
Paul Muscat
Haleema Ismail
Rachel Myles
Tuesday Atzinger
Dasha Tan
Jos Downey
Colin Myles
Louise Hanna
Ella O’Keefe
Jacina Tyer
Jesse Radovic
Claire Machiri
Melissa O’Donnell
Michael Sigal
Olivia Reynolds
Daniel Werst
Lina Koleilat


Sign the letter here

Students for Palestine

More by Students for Palestine ›

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

If you like this piece, or support Overland’s work in general, please subscribe or donate.

Related articles & Essays