"The NSW Jewish Board of Deputies has been successful in pressuring the NSW Department of Education to cancel Middle East simulations for high school history students (AJN 27/1). These simulations had been run with the help of the Centre for Middle East and North African Studies at Macquarie University, of which I am the director.
"The simulations for high school students have been popular among students and praised by teachers and parents alike for helping students understand the issues in an imaginative and highly-effective manner. We have not received a single complaint about the conduct of the simulations from any student, parent or teacher. The NSW Jewish Board of Deputies action will be seen by many as heavy-handed and unfair. It has stifled legitimate discussion of the issues in the Middle East.
"I would urge the Board of Deputies to take great care in this matter. Australians expect open, fair debate of issues such as the Middle East. Just because my centre examines all points of view does not mean we have an 'anti-Israel bias', as claimed by Michael Danby MP. Of the 10 speakers we had on campus last year no less than three were Israelis. Only one was an Arab.
"In my opinion, one of the best speakers we have had was Professor Eli Salzberger from Haifa University. We invited him at the suggestion of the Jewish chaplain at Macquarie. That’s hardly displaying an anti-Israel bias.
"In its haste to push a pro-Israel line and stifle debate, the Board of Deputies has needlessly limited the educational opportunities for NSW high school students. It is also wrong to smear this centre with the label 'anti-Israel bias' when it is patently untrue."
Dr Andrew Vincent
Director, Centre for Middle East & North African Studies
Macquarie University, NSW