UK Jews, Muslims form rare alliance

Unite to thwart anti-Israel resolution at London's Kingston University.

cross magen david 88 (photo credit: )
cross magen david 88
(photo credit: )
When a new student organization tried to push six anti-Israel bills through the student union at London's Kingston University over the weekend, Muslim and Jewish students banded together to vote them down. In a rare alliance, they argued that if their campus supported one political position over another, the university's ideal of diversity would be damaged. British universities have become increasingly known for taking action against Israel, either in student unions or through academic boycotts, and it seemed last week that Kingston would become yet another school on the growing list of anti-Israel institutions. When the freshly-founded Friends of Palestine (FOP) set out a package of six anti-Israel resolutions for the student union to adopt, the 15 members of the university's Jewish society thought they had no chance at fighting the legislation on a campus with thousands of Muslim students. "I heard that the motions were put forward only 36 hours before the vote," Sammy Kalmanowicz, an International Law student and president of the Kingston Jewish Society, told The Jerusalem Post. "I read through the whole student union constitution. The whole day we were trying to bring people along because we knew that the FOP had been organizing these motions for weeks." Kalmanowicz contacted the campus chaplaincy and the Union of Jewish Students to ask for help. Help also came from a less expected quarter. Shermarke Salah, Kalmanowicz's Somali-born, Iraqi-raised Muslim flatmate decided to join in the struggle. "It was the underlying principle of the proposals which I opposed," said the soft-spoken Salah. "Me and my flatmate Sammy have political differences, but we didn't feel that the student union was the right forum to discuss them. The SU is there to serve the student body in a neutral position," he said. Salah characterized Friends of Palestine's initiative as "a campaign from people outside of the university to impose politics on the campus." Salah, whose family left Somalia for Iraq, and then fled Iraq immediately prior to the first Gulf War, said he had strong views about diversity. "Right now we have a good university. It's tolerant and it's calm, but it just takes one spark to set off an explosion. We must make it clear that we won't accept such attitudes on campus," he said, adding that his father had frequently reminded him that "the difference between tolerance and intolerance is just two letters." Salah's message eventually carried the day. In the end, even the head of the university's Islamic Society opposed the propositions because of the possibility that they would divide the student body. "In the beginning, we had the better arguments, but we didn't have the majority," said Kalmanowicz. "I was so pessimistic, I was surprised that we got even one proposal defeated," he said. Kalmanowicz described his campus as "culturally diverse" and without much racial tension. That very diversity, he said, was what brought many of the campus's Muslim student body as well as the Christian Society to vote against the proposals. "It was the argument that we shouldn't bring a political view into the student body. We don't want any politics in the student body because they segregate our student union," Kalmanowicz said. One proposal called for the university to mark November 29 as the International Day of Solidarity Action for Palestine and contained a plan to "put up our own 'wall' on university premises with 'soldiers' and 'Palestinian civilians.'" It said the aim of this "stunt" was to raise awareness of the "disruptiveness of checkpoints" and "to show just how disruptive the apartheid wall is to the everyday lives of Palestinians, especially Palestinian students." According to another resolution, "The systematic obstruction and destruction of education in the West Bank and Gaza by the Israeli military occupation not only violates the human rights of individuals, it is an attack on the development of Palestinian society." Richard Budden, a member of the National Executive Committee of the National Union of Students who was on campus to oversee the Kingston vote Thursday evening, said it had been a victory for campus democracy. "All the democratic processes were utilized," he said. "The students exhausted the opportunities for democratic debate on campus. Each campus is different, and Israel-Palestine is a hot topic. Today the students at Kingston University decided that there was no place for this discussion."