Australian Court Overturns Dismissal Of Anti-Israeli Professor

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There is an important ruling on academic freedom out of Australia where one of the most controversial academic figures in the country secured a ruling from a federal court to overturn his dismissal by Sidney University. Professor Tim Anderson was fired after inserting a swastika in the middle of an Israeli flag and posting a picture of a lunch in which one of the guests wore badges that said “Death to Israel” and “Curse the Jews” written in Arabic.  The lower court found that the academic freedom promised Anderson upon his hiring was unenforceable and largely aspirational. The ruling (below) found an enforceable standard, though this does not end the long controversy over Anderson’s status.

Anderson, a political economist, is an extremist voice in Australian political debates. He has criticized for pro-Iranian and anti-Israeli statements as well as remarks deemed anti-Semitic. He appears to have a tolerance for some of the most blood-soaked authoritarian regimes in the world with controversial visits to places like Syria and North Korea.

Anderson has been repeatedly accused to violent crimes in support of his views. In 1979, he was convicted and sentenced to 16 years for an alleged conspiracy to bomb the house of a far-right political figure as part of Ananda Marga, a socio-spiritual organization.  After seven years in prison, he was released and later pardoned. In 1989, he was arrested again and convicted of three counts of murder for planning the Sydney Hilton Hotel bombing. However, that conviction was overturned on appeal in 1991.Despite his radical and allegedly violent past, Sidney University hired Anderson and, as part of the “Enterprise Agreement,” the university agreed to Clause 317 to “uphold the principle and practice of intellectual freedom in accordance with the highest ethical, professional and legal standards.”

That brings us to Anderson’s latest controversy.  Anderson caused an outrage when he posted an image that included an Israeli flag with a swastika over it. It is a deeply offensive and disgraceful image. Anderson deserved to be roundly condemned for the posting but the Court correctly noted that this is still the expression of his view Israeli policies:

“Consider the PowerPoint presentation in more detail. It is the Israeli flag superimposed with the swastika which is the issue. Everything else in the PowerPoint presentation involves the expression of a legitimate view, open to debate, about the relative morality of the actions of Israel and Palestinian people. Dr Anderson is making a public comment asserting that the concept of moral equivalence between Israel and Palestinian people who attack Israel is false, in part, because of an asserted higher number of deaths of civilian Palestinians in Gaza from purportedly “precision attacks” by Israel compared to an asserted far lower number of deaths of people in Israel from purportedly “indiscriminate” attacks by Palestinians. He is including Israel within a long history of colonial exploitation by one political entity over another weaker entity or people. It does not matter whether this comparison may be considered by some or many people to be offensive or insensitive or wrong. As discussed, offence and insensitivity cannot be relevant criteria for deciding if conduct does or does not constitute the exercise of the right of intellectual freedom in accordance with cll 315 and 317.”

What is most notable for American civil libertarians is the references to academic freedom rather than free speech. In the United States, this would be viewed as a free speech question, particularly if committed by a state school. However, the construct is due to the contractual promise of academic or intellectual freedom afforded to faculty. That leaves an issue for renewed litigation as made clear by how the court addressed the lunch issue:

“277    The contrary submissions for the appellants are not persuasive. Insofar as the issue is one of connection to employment, it does not matter that Dr Anderson was not under any duty to post photographs or anything else on social media. He chose to do so in the described circumstances which create the sufficient connection to his employment. It does not matter that the posting of a social event does not “obviously” constitute public debate. The photo was made public and includes Mr Tharappel, an academic colleague of Dr Anderson’s at the University (see J [17]), wearing a jacket with the badge saying, in Arabic, “Death to Israel”, “Curse the Jews” and “Victory to all Islam”: J [220]. These are political comments connected with Dr Anderson’s academic work as an employee of the University. It does not matter that Dr Anderson was on leave or on about to be on sabbatical. He was still an employee of the University. It does not matter that the lunch photo was not captioned. The badge worn by Mr Tharappel spoke for itself. It does not matter that Dr Anderson made no comment about the badge. Dr Anderson chose to post the lunch photo on his Facebook account. It does not matter that in attending the lunch and posting the lunch photo Dr Anderson was engaging in a personal social activity. A person can be both engaging in a personal social activity and conduct themselves in a manner connected to their employment.

278    The question whether the University gave Dr Anderson a lawful and reasonable direction to remove the lunch photo depends on whether the lunch photo in fact constituted misconduct or serious misconduct which the primary judge did not decide. If it was in fact misconduct or serious misconduct to post the lunch photo, the University’s direction to remove the lunch photo was lawful and reasonable. If it was not misconduct or serious misconduct to post the lunch photo, the University’s direction to remove the lunch photo was unlawful and unreasonable.”

While condemning Anderson’s views, academic groups have rallied behind the case as an exercise of academic freedom. The ruling is a major win in that regard given the lower court’s view that this guarantee is effectively unenforceable. Yet, the court is sending the case back to define the limits of academic freedom. The notion that a professor could be canned for posting a picture of a third party wearing an anti-Israel badge is breathtaking. The picture can be seen in the opinion below.

Many however condemned not just Anderson but his use of free speech. The Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC), Ron Porat is quoted as saying Anderson is a mouthpiece for Iran and he and others are “exploiting the right to freedom of speech in this country, the Al-Tajamu network promotes support for murderous regimes and terrorists, and in some cases, also disseminates antisemitic tropes.”

This is not exploiting free speech. It is the essence of free speech. We do not need free speech protections for popular speech. It is a protection that guarantees that even the least popular among us will be allowed to speak. Anderson is the price we pay for free speech. His views and conduct are often repellent and hurtful. However, the same rights protect Porat and others in condemning his views and associations. Ironically, Anderson is enjoying not just free speech but due process that is utterly absent in places like North Korea and Iran.  Yet, we do not protect Anderson because we agree with him. We protect him despite our disagreement with him in order to defend this fundamental right.

I am admittedly a free speech dinosaur.  I believe in largely unfettered free speech, particularly for statements made off campus or outside of a classroom. I have defended faculty who have made similarly disturbing comments “detonating white people,” denouncing policecalling for Republicans to suffer,  strangling police officerscelebrating the death of conservativescalling for the killing of Trump supporters, supporting the murder of conservative protesters and other outrageous statements. We previously wrote about academic freedom issues at University of Rhode Island due to its Director of Graduate Studies of History Erik Loomis, who has defended the murder of a conservative protester and said that he saw “nothing wrong” with such acts of violence.

Anderson was engaged in public discourse over his views of Israel and other matters. Such viewpoint expression must be protected if we are to maintain the needed bright line rule that protects us all. We are living in an age of rage where people often spend more time trying to silence opposing voices than responding to them. In this case, a court was willing to reduce academic freedom itself to a mere aspirational consideration for universities in yielding to campaigns for termination. While the continued litigation brings continued concerns over how speech could be curtailed in this case, this was a major victory for Australian academics despite their overwhelming disapproval of the views of Professor Anderson.

While condemning Anderson’s views, academic groups have rallied behind the case as an exercise of academic freedom. The ruling is a major win in that regard given the lower court’s view that this guarantee is effectively unenforceable. Yet, the court is sending the case back to define the limits of academic freedom. The notion that a professor could be canned for posting a picture of a third party wearing an anti-Israel badge is breathtaking. The picture can be seen in the opinion below.

Many however condemned not just Anderson but his use of free speech. The Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC), Ron Porat is quoted as saying Anderson is a mouthpiece for Iran and he and others are “exploiting the right to freedom of speech in this country, the Al-Tajamu network promotes support for murderous regimes and terrorists, and in some cases, also disseminates antisemitic tropes.”

This is not exploiting free speech. It is the essence of free speech. We do not need free speech protections for popular speech. It is a protection that guarantees that even the least popular among us will be allowed to speak. Anderson is the price we pay for free speech. His views and conduct are often repellent and hurtful. However, the same rights protect Porat and others in condemning his views and associations. Ironically, Anderson is enjoying not just free speech but due process that is utterly absent in places like North Korea and Iran.  Yet, we do not protect Anderson because we agree with him. We protect him despite our disagreement with him in order to defend this fundamental right.

I am admittedly a free speech dinosaur.  I believe in largely unfettered free speech, particularly for statements made off campus or outside of a classroom. I have defended faculty who have made similarly disturbing comments “detonating white people,” denouncing policecalling for Republicans to suffer,  strangling police officerscelebrating the death of conservativescalling for the killing of Trump supporters, supporting the murder of conservative protesters and other outrageous statements. We previously wrote about academic freedom issues at University of Rhode Island due to its Director of Graduate Studies of History Erik Loomis, who has defended the murder of a conservative protester and said that he saw “nothing wrong” with such acts of violence.

Anderson was engaged in public discourse over his views of Israel and other matters. Such viewpoint expression must be protected if we are to maintain the needed bright line rule that protects us all. We are living in an age of rage where people often spend more time trying to silence opposing voices than responding to them. In this case, a court was willing to reduce academic freedom itself to a mere aspirational consideration for universities in yielding to campaigns for termination. While the continued litigation brings continued concerns over how speech could be curtailed in this case, this was a major victory for Australian academics despite their overwhelming disapproval of the views of Professor Anderson.

Here is the opinion: NTEU and Anderson v University of Sydney [2021] FCAFC 159.

36 thoughts on “Australian Court Overturns Dismissal Of Anti-Israeli Professor”

  1. There are still Nazis around the world. Trump’s father was a member of The German American Bund. And a member of the KKK.

    1. This comment is a good example of why you should be skeptical of audacious claims made on internet – especially when the source is anonymous. When you see such a claim, check it out yourself before passing it on.

  2. I consider myself a libertarian but I wonder where the line is between free speech and punishable speech. Would Professor Turley say Charles Manson was unjustly convicted of murder? He never actually murdered anyone. Just told others to murder. Colorful rhetoric? Protected speech?

    1. What if one posted a copy of Obama being lin efigy lynched, or a picture of him and a pictured of a noose? I know nothing happened when one was posted of Geo W Bush hanging in efigie. So free speech depends, on if it is by a Democrat or Repub. By MSM and Facebook.

  3. “Despite his radical and allegedly violent past . . .”

    I think you mean: “*Because* of his radical . . .”

    And since when does a conviction require “allegedly”?

    1. Truly, “Does that Star-Spangled Banner yet wave, O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave?”

  4. I had an online encounter with Tim Anderson a few years ago on FB, during the height of the war in Syria. He posted a picture of boxes of ammo captured by the Syrian army from Islamist rebels and wrote that they were proof “the Zionists” were supplying weapons to these rebels. He claimed they had Hebrew writing on them too. I pointed out the boxes – post WWII ammo for machine guns – had Russian writing and they were just the standard weapons used by the army in Syria, which probably fell into the hands of the radicals in battle or shipped to them from Eastern Europe where most of their weapons came from. He simply wouldn’t admit he was lying or that his claims are unfounded. The guy is completely unhinged; I don’t understand how such unstable characters become tenured professors.

    1. And that is the core issue. Anderson should be free to speak as he pleases.

      But any university that granted him tenure or even a position has screws loose.

      Further it would be easier for the more libertarian among us to defend Anderson – if the voices opposite Anders were not being supressed in academia throughout the west.

    2. I don’t know anything about him, but he’s not unhinged if he claims Israel is a terrorist state. It is, Oh, and I’m a republican. but my eyes are wide open and I can think for myself.

    3. Communazis like Anderson are fired PRECISELY because they are Communazis, who are beloved by all Leftist Indoctrination Entities (LIEs”)–which have replaced all schools in Australia and most in the United States. When the objective is to force the Globalist One-World-Government on the pubic, programming impressionable young minds to become obedient servants of Authoritarianism is a key part of the process.

  5. What do you mean Anderson is the price we pay for free speech? First of all he’s not an American. Second of all, HE’S RIGHT. I’m one of those rare conservative republicans who see Israel for what they really are, a TERRORIST STATE. How anyone can claim they are victims is ridiculous. 98% of these people are toeing the line and no nothing about the Israel Palestine conflict and it’s history.

    1. Israel is no saint, but if you honestly think they are a terrorist state you clueless. Nor do you appear to have any meaningful grasp of history.

      1. No one can deny that the Israeli actions against Palestinians are acts of terrorism and that the occupation of Palestine, Killing Palestinians, and imprisoning them is not acceptable by all nations worldwide. Not to mention the siege on Gaza and the Hidden siege on the West Bank as well.

        Based on the above, Most countries in the world do support Palestinians rights and condemn Israeli Actions, Bolivia, Iran, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, and Yemen to name but a few. I DO know my history, do you?

  6. I couldn’t read the entire piece because it was too maddening, but I ask if the guy would still have a job if he said “death to abortionists” or “outlaw trans people from public bathrooms”? How about if he wore a MAGA hat?

    Now how was the guy hired in the first place?

    1. Unfortunately if you wish to defend liberty you MUST defend the liberty of those you hate as well as those you do not.

      You correctly point out the hypocracy of those on the left – they expect protections of their own liberty, but have no problem destroying the same liberty in others.

      How Anderson got hired is a legitimate question.

      I would further note that the Court here has missed a relatively important problem with Academic freedom as distinct from Free Speech. The lower court is likely closer to correct. Unlimitted accademic freedom is essentially academic welfare. If the courts allow Andersen’s outspokenness to preclude firing him.

      I was tangentially involved in an IRS conflict several decades ago. At the start we dealt with a black female agent professionally dressed. Over time her demeanor and attire changed, to highlight her culture. My lawyer noted that she was facing discipline for non-performance and she was trying to build a counter claim of racial discrimination.

  7. Jonathan: It’s funny how you are willing to defend the “free speech” rights of an Australian professor but apparently unwilling to show similar concern when the free speech rights of teachers are being threatened right here at home every day. In states like Georgia, Texas, Alabama and elsewhere white dominated legislatures and school boards are muzzling teachers–telling them they can’t tell school children about the real racial history of this country. In these same states white governors are signing bills to limit the ultimate form of “free speech”, the right to vote by Black citizens. It’s Jim Crow redux. You have nothing to say on these egregious limitations on free speech. You are not the “free speech dinosaur” or “free speech originalist” you claim to be in your columns.

    1. Dennis McIntyre, I am a senior citizen. When I was in school we learned that slavery was a part of America’s history. We learned about German history. We learned to not hold the German history against the German people forever. Those teaching CRT in the schools want to hold the white man responsible for slavery forever. If you look far enough back in your lineage you will find a supporter of oppression. Are you even today responsible for the sins of your forefathers. You point your finger at those who came before you but you refuse to turn your finger toward yourself. Your thinking refuses to take into account the changes in America that have been made against racism. Your response is only an attempt to recruit us into another camp built on the principle of hate. Yours is a thinly veiled disguise of answering hate with hate.

    2. What? lol. Professor Turley defends free speech here at home on a DAILY BASIS. What on earth are you talking about?

    3. Dennis McIntyre, you are completely clueless about CRT if you believe it tells the “real” history of America. The 1619 Project has been discredited by professional historians for its lies and omissions. CRT doesn’t teach history, or anything else. What it does is blame and accuse. It tells kindergarten students and grade school students that they are oppressors if they’re white, and victims if they’re black. It totally denies agency to both, and reduces people to skin color. This isn’t teaching — it’s child abuse. And if you think that blacks or any other minority are being subjected to Jim Crow, you have really drunk the kool-aid. Black votes put Biden in the WH, and the minority Squad in Congress are alive and kicking — although, at all the wrong targets. We had a black president and now VP; blacks are in every level of the military, civil service, justice system, politics and academia. Ask Kendi, Presley, Omar or AOC how “oppressed” they are, and then check out their bank accounts. Open your eyes and stop mouthing Democratic lies.

  8. The students should sing this song in his classroom:
    We’re Rednecks! Rednecks!
    We don’t know our ass from a hole in the ground…
    We’re Rednecks!
    We are keeping the Nazis down!

  9. “Intellectual freedom”. We are free to have an intellect? What is “intellectual”?
    People who promote the Nazi symbol are “beyond the Pale”. They should be locked up. They are promoters of holocaust or mass slaughter of Jews and gypsies. Twenty years in prison is about right for this dork.

  10. I wonder if the court would have been so tolerant if he had called for the death of aborigines?

    It was only a Jewish ox being gored and therefore tolerably.

    1. I was thinking exactly the same thing, MC. I doubt even a mainstream right-winger would have a prayer of getting his job back. Given the current state of human rights in Australia, it looks more like a win for blatant, violent, leftwing hypocrisy.

  11. Turley condemns Anderson. Is that it? Just words? May his friends shame him by giving him the cold shoulder? May his colleagues ostracize him by refusing to invite him to academic conferences? May his family turn their back on him? May his students demonstrate their condemnation in his classroom?

    Or are we limited just to merely say, “We condemn you,” but any conduct against him beyond speech would be an infringement of his freedom of speech?

    1. Jiffy in on support of the racist slag, But seeing since this guy is a real human worm and espouses race virulent hate and Marxist love I can see why jiffy doles out the atta boys here.

  12. I agree with the free speech argument. Interesting, however, that his peers in Iran, North Korea, and similar places would not be granted the same privilege, even under the guise of academic freedom.

  13. He does 7 years on a 16 year bit for a bombing, then allegedly involved in another bombing where people died and he’s hired to teach at a university? Hopefully his next job offer will be bait on the Barrier Reef.

    1. The college/university industry is a club, more so for lefties. Then you have the contradiction that non-whites can blab their mouths off and whites
      and whites have to just sit there and take it (as one example).
      I appreciate Mr. Turley”s views and have done so for years but I do fear the man will give himself a major heart attack carrying the water for the
      club. Many no longer feel intellectually enriched after hearing the antics of narcissists and mentally aged children running amok in adult bodies.

      1. While I agree with much of what you say, the solution is to quit sending our children to these crappy indoctrination clubs.

        What sane person would send a student to a college that allowed Andersen to teach ?

  14. This isn’t a victory for freedom of speech. It’s one more W for the bad guys. When Australia actually allows its people to leave their homes then maybe I’ll believe that they care about freedom.

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