Across a university moat, pro-Israel and pro-Palestine groups face off

The Sydney Morning Herald – May 2, 2024, By Sherryn Groch


A narrow moat in the heart of the University of Melbourne became the scene of an uneasy stand-off between its pro-Palestine student encampment and Jewish groups on Thursday.

Tensions were already running high on campus – overnight, pro-Israel supporters harassed another student encampment newly set up at Monash University in Clayton to protest against university ties to weapons companies. Footage shows a group appearing after midnight blasting music and calling campers “rapists … hiding in your tunnels like Hamas, your terror cells” before rummaging through the camp’s food supplies, while waving Israeli and Australian flags.

 The Pro-Palestine student camp faces off a visit from
Israel supporters and Jewish students. DARRIAN TRAYNOR

Students say they were woken in the middle of the night by the intrusion, and claim the group of about 12, “mostly middle-aged men”, also shook tents with people still inside them and destroyed some of the campsite. Police confirmed they moved the group on, but no arrests were made.

Monash said it would continue to work with organisers to ensure everyone’s safety, but “as this is a matter Victoria Police are actively investigating it would be inappropriate to comment further”.

On Thursday, the Victorian Greens demanded universities and police step up security for the camps, but Opposition Leader Peter Dutton called university chancellors and vice-chancellors “weak” for tolerating the encampments, which he branded as antisemitic, a charge rejected by the protesters.

The Palestine camp was encircled by Jewish groups on

While US universities have called in riot police to break up their own student camps, leading to ugly clashes, Australian campuses are largely leaving protesters alone, but warning that any violence, racism or property damage will not be tolerated.

At the University of Melbourne more than a hundred people – and a DJ – gathered on Thursday afternoon on the edge of its Parkville campus, blasting Israeli dance music and rallying against antisemitism in solidarity with Jewish students who say they feel intimidated on campus as tensions over Israel’s war in Gaza run high.

Noah Loven of the Australasian Union of Jewish Students, who organised the rally and is a Monash student, told this masthead the pro-Israel group who appeared overnight at the Monash camp were “rogue actors” and “we don’t support provoking” the encampments.

On Wednesday, footage seen by this masthead showed a handful of men – some wearing Israeli flags and Zionist T-shirts – walking through the Melbourne University camp and singling out a Palestinian student for questioning.

Protesters face off at Melbourne University


Students who have been camping around-the-clock
at the University of Melbourne face off against a group
rallying in support of Jewish students on Thursday. DARRIAN TRAYNOR

Speaking to the rally on Thursday, Loven said the pro-Palestine encampment was eerily reminiscent of those sweeping through US universities, accusing them of fomenting extremism.

Sophie Schwartz was just out of high school on a gap year in Israel when she spent three terrifying days in a lockdown during the October 7 attacks by Hamas. Now a first-year arts student at the University of Melbourne, she told the crowd she’d felt very uncomfortable earlier this year when her lecturer expressed support in class for students leaving early to attend a pro-Palestine protest.

Then, as Thursday’s rally dispersed into the afternoon sun, some walked on with Israeli flags down the short way to the pro-Palestinian student camp. One man called a young woman draped in a flag back to avoid “riling things up”, but others came to gather outside the university’s south lawn, where more than 50 tents have sprung up since last Thursday.

Students at the camp had vowed not to come near the Jewish student rally or engage, stressing they also stood against antisemitism and didn’t want anyone to feel unsafe.

As the crowds slowly moved in, campers turned out to face them under the eye of police.

After a tense few minutes, each side filming the other, a cry went up from the camp: “Palestine will be free!” And traditional music and dancing – dabke – broke out on the lawn. People clapped and chanted but around the edges of the camp was one long unbroken line of protesters.


People dancing at the protest camp as crowds gather outside. 

“We were worried they’d come through again,” said Cooper Forsyth, a fourth-year history student who helps run the camp. Many of his fellow protesters had covered their faces to avoid being targeted online by Zionist groups, he added.

As crowds grew around the lawn’s narrow moat, shouting competing chants, a student in the camp declared: “We are not here for hate!” And the campers moved back from the edge of the lawn.

A few men draped in Israeli flags or holding banners shouted out to them to “show their faces” or “go fight with Hamas”. But soon both sides were moving away without incident.


Police speak to Jewish rally members yelling at the pro-Palestine

A University of Melbourne spokeswoman said “the activity on campus concluded peacefully”.

Forsyth said the camp had spent the day hosting Jewish speakers discussing why people should not conflate concern about the Israeli siege of Gaza with antisemitism. But they would spend the night reassessing the camp’s security.

“Since the Monash camp were invaded, we’re on edge,” he said. “This has always been about being safe and peaceful.”

pro- Palestine protest

People dance at the pro-Palestine student protest as pro-Israel supporters encircle the camp. DARRIAN TRAYNOR