Someone remarked once that academic disputes are so toxic because the stakes are so small. They may have added that they often arise because people have too much time on their hands. There is a dispute in the University of Queensland. It is tailor made for those readers of the press that feast on the reaction of Rupert Murdoch to this kind of thing.
A student complained about a critique of his work. Somehow, he managed to bring in the teaching of Nietzsche in Israel. Well, there go two red lights. The primary recipient, who is Jewish, took offence. People lawyered up, as the saying goes, and a federal agency that the Murdoch people love to hate got involved. There is even talk of a possible application to the Federal Court.
The agitated academic says that the student’s complaint was ‘anti-Semitic’. There is another red light – that charge is one of infinite width, depth or breadth, and it is very often abused. Its generality often bespeaks desperation – like an allegation of ‘conspiracy’ – in civil or criminal proceedings.
The university was not moved. The academic says that its response was ‘inappropriate.’ There is another red light. That is the weasel term that sent the Rush libel action clean off the rails. But the parties now await some form of government intervention. All, it seems, on my pay-roll.
Three things occur to me.
First, it is hard, to put it softly, to imagine this kind of eruption at a body that is well managed and where people have to work for a living – like BHP or Westfarmers – or the law firm acting for the academic. If the agitator remained agitated, he might be politely asked if he might be happier grazing in another paddock. As it is, this public brawling will do nothing to enhance the employability of the aggrieved – nothing – whatever the result.
Secondly, with the best will in the world, I cannot see anti-Semitism in anything in the report I have seen. That may be because I am so sceptical about that kind of charge for the reasons that I have given.
Thirdly, the report I have quotes the lawyer for the aggrieved as follows:
Considering the atrocities and the sheer horror of what Jewish people have had to suffer in the past 100 years, it is astonishing to think that a university would think it is fine to make a Jewish person deal with an anti-Semitic complaint.
I suspect that this opinion is common, but you rarely see it articulated – with or without the time limitation. The opinion is that because of the history of an ethnic group, it, and every member of it, should be treated differently.
And that is the original sin that gave rise to the whole bloody problem.
Labels – anti-Semitism – Israel.