“Attack on free speech”: Students condemn universities’ disciplinary action for pro-Palestinian views

“Attack on free speech”: Students condemn universities’ disciplinary action for pro-Palestinian views
Image: The Pro-Palestine encampment at the University of Sydney (AAP Image/Dean Lewins)



Students across Sydney have spoken out against their universities taking disciplinary action for expressing pro-Palestinian views.

Since early April, tertiary students have set up encampments and organised protests and class announcements, calling for their universities to cut ties with weapons manufacturers and Israeli universities.

Angus Demody, a student at the University of Sydney, was given an immediate one-month suspension for making announcements at the start of classes about Palestine and encouraging students to get involved.

In a statement, activist group Students Against War (S.A.W.) said the suspension was an attempt by university management to “silence students exposing USYD’s ties with genocide, and an attempt to reinforce support for Israel as it commits genocide in plain sight.”

“This attack on free speech and the right of students to expose USYD’s support for genocide goes against the principles of open debate and learning that USYD supposedly holds so dear,” the statement continues.

University of Sydney management had also reportedly sent an all-staff email encouraging teachers to refuse the right to make announcements in classes about Palestine.

Announcements are typically made before teaching begins, and have been made regarding several political issues in the past. They are considered “a routine part of campus life”, according to S.A.W..

Similarly, Grapeshot, a student-run magazine at Macquarie University, has suffered setbacks of free speech as a result of University involvement.

Deputy Editor Holly Mitchell told City Hub, “They have stopped us publishing anything to do with Palestine, whether that be opinion or fact pieces.”

“It’s really backlogging our system, we’ve had to publish weeks and months later than we would have liked to.”

University response to pro-Palestinian activism has sparked protests across Sydney. And despite University of Sydney Vice Chancellor Mark Scott previously defending students’ right to free speech, he apologised for the students’ behaviour and said that he would rather the encampments and protests “not be here”, on a live 2GB Broadcast earlier this week.

Macquarie University Vice Chancellor Bruce Dowton had also sent an email to all students earlier this week to remind them that there will be no toleration of “antisemitic or anti-Islamic hate speech or acts of intimidation”

On Wednesday, students from Macquarie University marched from Central Courtyard to Vice Chancellor Bruce Downton’s office to “Stop the Genocide”, a demonstration organised by MQ Students for Palestine.

S.A.W. also met the same day to discuss the encampment, an upcoming rally, and next steps to build the movement.

According to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Australia is continuing to send arms and munitions to Israel, already having sent $3.25 million since early 2022, when Anthony Albanese entered office.

Over 1,000 academics and professional staff at Australian universities have signed an open letter in support of the student encampments.

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