POLICE OFFICERS speak to a demonstrator holding a Palestinian flag in London ahead of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit in June. .
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Jewish students returned to their campuses this autumn to an intellectual battlefield far more divisive than we’ve seen for some time. Just as Jewish and Zionist student leaders attended conferences and training across the world to train and prepare for the year ahead, so too had their counterparts.
This semester saw some push-back against pressure on the University of Leeds to divest from Israeli firms, although the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement claimed a small victory when the University decided to divest from Airbus, United Technologies and Keyence Corporation. In Birmingham, at an event regarding antisemitism in the Labour Party, the Guild of Students excused antisemitic remarks made by Palestinian activists. This talk culminated in the singling out of the Jewish Society’s president in the audience. He was subjugated to a stream of prearranged smears, in an attempt by the organizers to dodge his pertinent question on the scourge of Labour antisemitism.
At my own institution, there has been a continuous anti-Israel presence on campus this term. Promoting BDS at the University of Nottingham, the Palestinian society has been tabling in the student union building, while disseminating keffiyehs and literature from Friends of Al-Aqsa and Islamic Human Rights Commission, infamous for its backing of the Iranian state and for organizing the Hezbollah-affiliated Al-Quds day march in London every year. Funding from such sources should raise red flags for anyone. I am shocked that intellectual leaders at our renowned academic institutions fail to grant the same caution to these foreign benefactors.
Anti-Israel activism at this level is unprecedented and one must question what has motivated this increase. Student societies do not have the time to organize widespread campaigns such as the Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s national day of action, “Apartheid Off Campus” – their first nationwide campaign outside of “Israel Apartheid Week.” It is evident that extremist external parties are now more involved than ever in Palestinian activism in the UK.
At the University of Nottingham, the elected representative of minority students has been entangled in another scandal. After the words “F*ck Israel, Free Palestine” were heard at an unrelated gender liberation event, the Student Union officer Malak Mayet then took to Twitter to announce her delight at this rhetoric, in what she dubs “the most Zionist campus in the country.” Nottingham has been one of the least active Jewish Societies for some years, only recently being revived by the 2018 committee. It is certainly not “the most Zionist campus” in the country. However, it does have the largest population of Jewish students outside of London.
With both the University of Nottingham and Nottingham Trent attracting thousands of Jewish students each year, Mayet’s comments were not merely a poor choice of words. They serve as a clear insight into the thought process of Palestinian activists in elected offices. For Mayet, there is no distinction between Jew and Zionist – and we know she is not alone.
The organizations that help to facilitate the dissemination of anti-Israel propaganda across the country do not make this distinction, either. It is no surprise that there has been an increase in activity on what are usually seen as friendly campuses for Jewish students. It can only be part of a systematic plan to target what the PSC deems the most contentious battlegrounds.
We should demand that our community take a stand and consolidate a real plan to tackle these problems. With this in mind, no effort has been more beneficial to pursuing our Zionist activity than CAMERA’s recent tour with Shai DeLuca-Tamasi.
After having the ticket platform attacked by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) – which used the familiar tactic of blocking ticket sales by booking large quantities under names like Yasser Arafat – the event saw Jewish and non-Jewish students alike finally reject their fear of being associated with Zionism and engage with a unique and well-received speaker. With a non-partisan message, Shai explored and dissected every fallacy about Israel. From decimating the myth of pink-washing to outlining why anti-Zionism is antisemitic, many in the audience took away pride for their beliefs and their Zionism. The very fact that a celebrity designer, TV personality, and LGBT activist was preaching a bipartisan and accepting approach to Zionism allowed students to publicly identify with their beliefs to a far greater extent than if they had heard from a journalist or politician.
Shai addressed questions surrounding Israeli social policy with passion, explaining his hopes for how the liberal democracy can become a leader in LGBT rights. As an Israeli citizen, his attitude is an exemplar to us all here in the British-Jewish community. He does not allow his disagreements with the Israeli government to cloud his love and support, both for its success and its right to self-defense. We should see this as a model for future engagements and events across the country with Zionism.
With a BDS motion being put to the University of Nottingham’s Student Union council in January 2019, now is the time to reactivate our Israel engagement and unite as a community to fight these motions up and down the country. The institutions of our community must pool together in an apolitical effort to make sure no Jew and no Zionist is ever intimidated into silence and fear on any University campus – for there is no greater response to those blinded by hatred and motivated by division than unity.
The writer is the Israel and Campaigns officer at Nottingham Jewish Society and a 2018/19 CAMERA Fellow.
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