By NAOMI LEVIN, Australian Jewish News
LA TROBE University Vice Chancellor Professor Paul Johnson and senior university officials have pledged to make the university campus a more welcoming place for Jewish students.
Prof Johnson, student services director Michael Torney and equity and student support services director Gary Thomas met with Rabbi Yankel Rapp from Merkos on Campus on Monday, June 29.
Rabbi Rapp shared his concerns with the university leaders about aggressive anti-Israel and anti-Jewish sentiment on campus. He said the behaviour of some students demonstrated intolerance and a lack of respect towards their Jewish peers.
The rabbi said Prof Johnson believed students learnt more effectively when they were in a happy and positive environment, and incidents where students burst into lecture halls denouncing the Israeli government and its defence forces were unacceptable.
“It was a very successful meeting,” Rabbi Rapp said. “It was a fantastic outcome.”
To help Jewish students feel more at home on the Bundoora campus, Torney urged Rabbi Rapp to build up the La Trobe branch of the Australasian Union of Jewish Students (AUJS). He also offered the use of an on-campus office and chaplaincy facilities to Merkos on Campus.
“I believe we achieved a big thing here,” Rabbi Rapp said.
At the conclusion of the meeting, the rabbi presented the vice chancellor with a copy of a book about the seven Noachide laws, written by Melbourne-based rabbi and academic Shimon Cowen.
AUJS Victoria president Stefan Oberman said Jewish La Trobe students have also approached him with concerns. He said AUJS had also been trying to address the matter and had approached the student union and held information sessions at lunch times.
Oberman also praised Rabbi Rapp. “We support the work he is doing, we need all the help we can get.”
Rabbi Rapp requested the meeting with La Trobe leadership after Jewish students told him they had felt intimidated by pro-Palestinian groups on campus.
They reported being told that Zionism was wrong by the groups, which also accused Israel of serious crimes. They spoke of students bursting into science classes and delivering impromptu speeches against Israel and its citizens.