Friday, December 07, 2012
Sydney University 'peace centre' rebuffs Israeli teacher
Jake Lynch, Director of the Centre, is a Pom and former BBC broadcaster. Hatred of Jews and Israel is endemic among the British intelligentsia (See the sidebar at EYE ON BRITAIN) so transplanting a bit of that to Australia was most unfortunate
THE Sydney University's Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies [which should be renamed the Centre against Peace and for Conflict], which has thrown its support behind controversial Palestinian leaders, has cited its boycott of Israel for refusing to help an Israeli civics teacher who has designed programs for both Jewish and Arab children.
Hebrew University of Jerusalem academic Dan Avnon is credited with developing and implementing the only state program in civics written for joint Jewish-Arab high schools.
He approached the head of the Sydney University centre, Jake Lynch, for assistance with studying civics education in Australia under a fellowship agreement between the two institutions.
But Associate Professor Lynch rebuffed the request, citing the centre's support for the anti-Israeli Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.
The centre helped establish the Sydney Peace Foundation, which awards the Sydney Peace Prize. Past recipients include the controversial Palestinian activist Hanan Ashrawi.
The centre's website says it "promotes interdisciplinary research and teaching on the causes of conflict and the conditions that affect conflict resolution and peace".
Professor Avnon contacted Associate Professor Lynch, expressing interest in spending time at the centre and meeting him.
Associate Professor Lynch emailed in reply: "Your research sounds interesting and worthwhile. However, we are supporters of the campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, and that includes the call for an academic boycott of Israeli universities."
The BDS movement explicitly equates the Jewish state with apartheid-era South Africa. The campaign was started in 2005 by 171 Palestinian non-governmental organisations as a form of "non-violent punitive measures" against Israel until it "complies with the precepts of international law".
The BDS campaign has included protests outside the Max Brenner chain of coffee shops, which are Israeli-owned. The boycott was led in Australia by Greens council members in Sydney's inner-west, including former Marrickville mayor Fiona Byrne, whose council voted to support the boycott in 2010. It was dropped after widespread criticism from the federal and state governments, business leaders and the Jewish community.
In 2003 the awarding of the Sydney Peace Prize to Dr Ashrawi provoked fierce debate and protests, arising from her role as a Palestinian spokesperson in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israeli hard-liners loathe Dr Ashrawi, branding her a propagandist and an apologist for terrorism.
Professor Avnon - who has written on moving beyond the Jewish-Palestinian divide to develop a new sense of citizenship in Israel - said of the centre's decision: "I find it ironic that you promote a policy of boycott that does not distinguish one individual from another. It is ironic because, like myself, many (probably most) intellectuals and scholars in relevant fields are doing our best to effect change in Israeli political culture. We pay prices for going against the institutional grain. And then we turn around and meet such a 'blind to the person' policy."
Professor Avnon continued: "One common tendency that must be changed if we ever want to live sane lives is to debunk categorical and stereotypical thinking when dealing with human beings." He received no response from Associate Professor Lynch.
University of Sydney vice-chancellor Michael Spence rejected a call from Associate Professor Lynch in 2009 to cut links with the Hebrew University and a second Israeli institution, the Technion, in the city of Haifa. "I do not consider it appropriate for the university to boycott academic institutions in a country with which Australia has diplomatic relations," he wrote in response at the time. A spokesman for Dr Spence said his position had not changed.
The spokesman said Associate Professor Lynch was "entitled to express a public opinion where it falls under his area of expertise", but added, "on this particular matter he does not speak for the school, the faculty or for the university".
The Australian was unable to contact Associate Professor Lynch yesterday.
Professor Avnon said he had received "heart-warming, collegial and positive responses" from other staff at Sydney University. "I look forward to associating with them and learning from and through them about Australia's policies in civic education and other issues," he said.
The world's most imcompetent immigration bureaucracy can't keep out the bad guys so kicks out a good one
AN Australian who suffered knife wounds while protecting an elderly women on a London bus has been refused the right to remain in the UK.
Tim Smits, 33, from Melbourne, was stabbed and punched when he stood up to thugs on a bus in September 2011, Britain's Evening Standard newspaper reported.
His actions earned him a local council citizenship award and an honour from the Carnegie Hero Trust Fund.
However, the UK Border Agency has rejected the graphic artist's application for a compassionate extension to his visa.
Mr Smits spent months recovering from the violent attack for which two men were jailed.
"What needs to happen before it's compelling and compassionate?" Mr Smits told the Standard on Thursday of his visa extension application.
"The refusal letter was a massive hammer blow - a kick in the balls I just didn't need. ... I had dealt with so much already.
"All the appreciation I have had from the community has really kept up my spirits, but the coldness of the Border Agency and lack of compassion has made me sick.
"It's made me question if I want to live in a country that wants to kick me out, even though I love it here. It doesn't give you much faith in humanity."
Mr Smits, who has appealed the rejection of his visa application, stood up to two 19-year-old men who began abusing fellow bus passengers on a suburban London route. He was knifed by one of the teens and punched by another.
Unions on the rampage again
A SURGE in days lost to strikes in construction has lifted the level of industrial disputation in Australia to its highest level since 2004 as the Gillard government again blamed the conservative states for the rise.
The latest increase - which saw days lost to industrial action reach 301,800 in the year to September - has renewed attacks on Labor's Fair Work Act. Days lost to strikes are now more than double the level of the 2008/09 financial year - the year before the Fair Work Act took effect.
The Workplace Relations Minister, Bill Shorten, blamed state public sector disputes for the rise and also said the days lost to strikes were low by historical levels. "Working days lost under the Fair Work Act are around one third the rate of the Howard government," Mr Shorten said. "The recent examples of ongoing public sector disputes with state conservative governments show you can't trust the Liberals with IR."
But while state wage disputes were a factor, the Grocon confrontation in central Melbourne in August and September appears to have been even more significant with a five-fold rise in days lost in construction for the September quarter.
Master Builders Association of Victoria executive director, Brian Welch, said there was a "massive problem" in the industry and said the "white flag" was raised to unions when the powers of the Australian Building and Construction Commission were watered down.
The Grocon dispute shut down part of central Melbourne after the dispute flared over the appointment of shop stewards at Grocon and the right to display union paraphernalia on sites.
The opposition workplace relations spokesman, Eric Abetz, said the eight year highs in days lost to strikes showed there were "clear militancy problems that need to be addressed" but said Labor and Mr Shorten would "never turn against their trade union mates".
The Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary, Dave Oliver, said industrial action came in "peaks and troughs" affected by factors including the number of agreements up for renewal. Mr Oliver said one or two disputes can affect the figures.
"In this recent period, the disputes in the Victorian state school system and Queensland public service that are largely responsible, he said. "In each case the blame rests with a government that refuses to negotiate fairly and honour its promises."
The other sectors to record high numbers of days lost from strikes in the September quarter was education, healthcare and social assistance.
University research towards top end of world standard
These assessments all have a considerable element of subjectivity but it is interesting that Australia seems to show up well regardless of the methodology
When it comes to world-class research, more than half of Australian universities' overall performance is at or above world standards.
MORE than half Australian universities' overall research performance is at or above world standards, analysis by the federal government shows.
The Science and Research Minister, Chris Evans, said the number of disciplines in which Australian universities perform above the world standard had doubled.
At the same time the number of disciplines with research rated at or above the world standard has increased by 18 per cent, from 385 to 455, since the last analysis. Research outputs were up by 24 per cent.
He said the report "shows Australia is on track to have 10 universities in the world's top 100 by 2025" - the target set in the government's Australia in the Asian century white paper.
But in the fields of education and human society, economics, commerce and maths, and information and computing sciences, average research performance falls below international benchmarks.
The Australian National University scored the highest ratings overall. On a five-point scale, where one is well below the world standard, three is equal to the world standard and five is well above the world standard, the ANU scored an average of 4.3 for 62 disciplines. The universities of Sydney, Queensland and Melbourne ranked an equal second, with average scores of 4.1, followed by Monash University, the University of NSW and the University Western Australia, each with 3.9.
In NSW, the universities of Newcastle and Wollongong scored better on average than Macquarie University and the University of Technology, Sydney.
Although there were one-third more research discipline strengths in Victoria than NSW, the rankings give NSW four spots in the national top 10, but Victoria only two.
The Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) evaluation of research performance looked at the work of more than 60,000 university staff, $8.7 billion in external research funding and 413,000 publications and other research outputs between 2005 and 2010. Research active disciplines at each university were rated by expert panels.
The biological sciences, health and medical sciences, and language, communications and culture were the three strongest performing areas overall. Education, economics, and commerce management tourism and services - most of which have experienced big enrolment increases under the federal government's policies to widen access to universities - were comparatively low performers.
"There are some core fundamental disciplines where Australia is not shining as brightly as we might wish it to be," the deputy vice-chancellor of research at the University of NSW, Professor Les Field, said, nominating maths, chemistry, education and economics. The assessment "is probably pointing to the need for further investment and resources to be directed to these areas", he said.
The assessment is useful in providing a more solid base for strategic planning in research investment, said Emeritus Professor Frank Larkins of the University of Melbourne. He said the national averages masked pockets of true excellence, but the basis of the "world standard" benchmarks was not sufficiently clear.
Australia is "not a large enough country economically to invest in all disciplines at a high level in all 41 universities, therefore we do have to concentrate our resources to maximise performance against national needs and international benchmarks", he said.
A consultant and independent analyst of Australia's research system, Thomas Barlow, said the ERA confirmed other evidence "Australian research in the social sciences is weak relative to the top performing institutions internationally".
The federal government's target to have 10 per cent of the world's top 100 universities within 13 years was an "extraordinarily disproportionate" target for a small economy such as Australia's.
The chief executive of Universities Australia, Belinda Robinson, said: "With such significant amounts of funding stripped from research programs this year, a key question will be how long this strong research performance can be maintained." .