I’m often asked whether Israel/Palestine is discussed a disproportionate amount on UK campuses. The answer to this is complex, as university is a time for students to engage in a range of different topics, and I believe foreign affairs is one of these important topics. With the debate around Israel and Palestine filling our newspapers on a daily basis, it is only right that students are spending time discussing it. There is however, a significant distinction between constructive debate that brings about positive change, and the deligitimisation of the State of Israel.
The majority of the Jewish students that I work with have an inherent relationship with Israel so when they see students at LSE commemorating the deaths of Palestinian ‘martyrs’, they are rightly disheartened. When they hear the names of terrorists being read out on the steps of SOAS, actively glorifying and celebrating violence, Jewish students are rightly upset. There are areas of the student movement that choose to ignore the inherent relationship that so many Jewish students have with Israel. This, in my opinion, is at the root of the antisemitism that has emerged in recent months in the student movement.
There continues to be a growing intolerance by areas of the student movement towards Israel. We only have to look at the events that took place at KCL in January when a demonstration turned violent as Ami Ayalon was addressing the Israel Society. If a former Labour Party MK and peace activist can’t speak on campus without being disrupted, then we have a problem on our hands. UJS is proud to have passed policy on committing to a two state solution, and we will continue to campaign so we see a just solution for both Israelis and Palestinians.
However, this year campus has seen the continued labelling of Israel as an apartheid state. An accusation that is not only wrong and baseless, but one that leads us away from a path to peace and onto a road of further division. The fact that Israeli Apartheid Week has become part of the university calendar is baffling, but also extremely difficult for many. When Jewish students come onto campus and see Israel being demonised by speaker after speaker, it leads to marginalisation and unwillingness to speak out. But this year, Jewish students stood up for dialogue and peace, promoting a positive narrative that was aimed at ‘Building Bridges’ between communities.
While people continue to ask me whether Israel and Palestine are discussed disproportionately, it is Jewish students who are doing incredible work to ensure a balanced debate on Israel and Palestine. This year, boycott motions were defeated at Warwick and Lancaster, with the Board of Trustees overturning BDS motions at Edinburgh and UCL. This is down to the incredible work done by activists across the UK and Ireland who work hard to build bridges between communities in order to create dialogue and find ways to bring about peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
It’s more important than ever that students are aware of what’s going on in the world around them, and that includes the microcosm that is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This is this generation who will have a say in the years to come, so it is vital that we work hard today in order to bring about peace tomorrow.