I ask why
This week, I had my first real experience with Israel advocacy. Since I was 14 or 15 I have described myself as a Zionist; I took a course on Israel advocacy when I was 16; I spent a year in Israel at a Religious Zionist seminary; I worked in a Bnei Akiva camp in the USA for a few summers; but I never really had to fight for my belief in Israel as the homeland for the Jewish people. But this week, I did.
On Monday, I found out that the BME (Black and Minority Ethnic) officer of my student union, who wanted to implement a BDS(Boycotts, divestments and sanctions against Israel) policy as one of her manifesto points, had decided to make good on her promise. She had proposed a policy to be discussed at the Student Union (SU) Annual General Meeting (AGM), which asked the SU to promote BDS and devote resources to its promotion. In her motion, she also called for a space for open dialogue on Israeli-Palestinian issues. We, the Jewish society, and the Jews at the university, were very upset by this. We investigated our options, the best of which was obviously opposing the motion at the AGM. We contacted all the Jews and Israelis at the university and asked them to come along to the AGM and to bring anyone they knew from their course who they were sure would be sympathetic to our cause. We also arranged for five people to speak. We didn’t know how many speakers we would be allowed, but we prepared for several one minute speeches. In the end, four of us spoke. I, the president of the Jewish Society, gave a passionate speech, explaining why BDS is an antisemitic and would effectively destroy any existing dialogue between Israel and the Palestinians and threaten any new dialogue. Others spoke about why BDS is bad for the Palestinians, using the example of the closure of the Soda Stream factory in Maale Adumim, and about a co-existence program that already exists at our university.
The last person who spoke emphasised that this policy would bring division, not unity, to the university, extended her hand for the BME officer to shake and offered to start a co-existence society together. The BME officer just stood there with her arms crossed, wouldn’t shake hands and said nothing.
When it came time to vote, it wasn’t obvious that there was the required two-thirds majority, so they counted the show of hands. Right now I don’t know the numbers, but the policy passed. My Student Union, of which I am a proud member, through which I run our Jewish Society, for which I am one of the NUS delegates… my Student Union which is always so friendly and welcoming when I visit, which helps me with my cultural and religious requests (like building a sukkah on campus), now has a policy that makes me feel unwelcome and which disparages my religious beliefs.
The BME officer in response to my speech about BDS being anti-Semitic, attempted to tell me what Judaism is. She said that Judaism and Zionism are not connected. I ask you, why then, do 82% of Jews in the UK feel that Zionism is essential or important to their Judaism? Why then, was the AGM attended by 25-30 Jews (a higher turnout than many JSoc events) many of whom cancelled evening plans or skipped lectures to attend and vote against the policy? Why then, do increasing numbers of Jews each year, from all over the world, make Israel their home? Why are prayers said for Israel in synagogues?
Everyone keeps telling me that we did a great job, that the policy was always going to pass, that we showed that Jews have an opinion and a voice, that the fact that the SU president and one of the vice-presidents abstained is a testament to our speeches and relationship with them, that we educated a few people, that we will repeal the motion, that we should be proud of ourselves. But I want to know why it is a given that our universities, our student unions, our National Union of Students, that many of us put time and effort into improving, and many others have no quarrels with, should have antisemitic policies like BDS, and that they should be able to justify them with anti-Zionism? Why do these people care so much about the plight of the Palestinians and so little about the Israelis’? Why did the policy pass even though the proposer of the motion merely read off the “About Us” page from the BDS website, and the opposers didn’t sleep all week preparing speeches? Why were there so few non-Jewish people who realised the truth, that BDS is a bad thing, that it will not help the Palestinians, that it causes division and hate, and fewer still who cared enough to turn up and vote? Why did the BME officer chose the Palestinian ethnic minority rather than the Jewish one?
Why is it that if we do overturn this policy, we will have to use a legal technicality, and not the truth?
Why is it that the only consolation I have for the society members is that we will do everything we can to overturn the motion? That I hope there is no increase in antisemitism on our friendly, open, multi-cultural campus, but that I cannot guarantee it?
Why do I have to fight for Israel?
The only answer I can come up with is antisemitism.