Why Penny Wong And Academic Elites Are Wrong On Gaza

Written by:
14 December 2023
Why Penny Wong And Academic Elites Are Wrong On Gaza - Featured image
Originally Appeared In

This article was originally published in Australian Financial Review on or about 14 December 2023 and was written by the author in their capacity as a contributor for that publication. 

It has been republished on the IPA website with permission. The views expressed are those of the author alone.


Foreign Minister Penny Wong demonstrated the moral corruption of the UN and the opinion of many of its members, and Harvard president Claudine Gay the intellectual corruption of higher education.


Penny Wong and Claudine Gay are both very smart and very successful. The first is Australia’s minister for foreign affairs and the second the president of Harvard University, on many assessments the top-ranked university in the world.

As George Orwell noted, though, it’s a not uncommon characteristic of smart people, secure in their supposed intellectual superiority over everyone else, to ignore what is “bang in front of their faces”. So it is with Wong and Gay.

Both revealed the truth of Orwell’s observation as they each spoke about Israel and the war in Gaza, Wong at a press conference in Adelaide this week and Gay at a US congressional hearing in Washington last week.

Wong demonstrated the moral corruption of the United Nations and the opinion of many of its members, and Gay the intellectual corruption of higher education.

Wong was defending the Australian government’s decision to vote for a UN General Assembly resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza; 153 countries voted for it, 10 against, and 23 abstained.

Wong said that Australia was standing “alongside” most of the world in supporting a ceasefire. But if the history of the 20th century teaches anything, it is that most of the time, the opinion of most of “the world” is wrong.

The Coalition’s Andrew Hastie responded to Wong with a press release of only a few lines. It was as accurate as it is brief: “A ceasefire gives Hamas time to regroup, mass and strike Israel again. It leaves them in power. When locked in combat, you don’t allow your enemy to rest. You finish the job.”

Blame Gaza suffering on Hamas

A truth bang in front of the face federal Labor minister Ed Husic, Australian cricketer Usman Khawaja and every other person speaking about the suffering in Gaza is that the war would end tomorrow if Hamas surrendered.

There’s an irony in Husic discovering a commitment to freedom of speech and fearing that those showing concern for Palestinians faced “our generation of McCarthyism” at the same time as one of his ministerial colleagues is pursuing legislation that would give the government the power to order the censorship of exactly the sort of sentiments Husic currently has the freedom to express.

Then there’s Claudine Gay. She was one of three US college presidents being questioned about antisemitism on university campuses. She was asked whether a student calling for the genocide of Jews would breach the university’s code of conduct, and in simple terms she said, “it depends on the context”.

Liz Magill, the president of the University of Pennsylvania, and Sally Kornbluth, the president of MIT, were asked the same question and gave similar answers. Within days, Magill and the head of her board of trustees had resigned.

Albert Bourla, the chief executive of Pfizer, summed up much of the reaction to the presidents’ testimony as “one of the most despicable moments in the history of US academia”. Bourla’s grandparents, aunt and uncle died at Auschwitz, and he asked: “I was wondering if their deaths would have provided enough ‘context’ to these presidents to condemn the Nazis’ antisemitic propaganda.”

On Wednesday, the US House of Representatives voted 303 to 126 for a resolution condemning the testimony of the three presidents and calling for Gay and Kornbluth to resign immediately; 84 Democrats voted for the resolution, 125 voted against it, and all but one Republican voted for it.

None of the presidents could bring themselves to state unequivocally that calling for genocide is so wrong as to be beyond reprehensible – regardless of whether it technically does or doesn’t breach any code of conduct. They displayed zero moral clarity.

The presidents also shows themselves to be hypocrites. Their relaxed attitude to calls for genocide against Jews sits uncomfortably with the attitude of their institutions and of the entire higher education sector in America that, for example, “words are violence” and all students are entitled to feel “safe”.

The historian Niall Ferguson, reflecting on all of this, wrote a few days ago: “It might be thought extraordinary that the most prestigious universities in the world should have been infected so rapidly with a politics imbued with antisemitism. Yet exactly the same thing has happened before.”

Related Research

NA -
This article was original published in The Australian Financial Review and was written by the author in their capacity as a contributor for that publication. It has been republished on the IPA website with permission. The views expressed are those of the author alone.

Support the IPA

If you liked what you read, consider supporting the IPA. We are entirely funded by individual supporters like you. You can become an IPA member and/or make a tax-deductible donation.