I was shocked and horrified to read about what my friends back in London had to endure Tuesday night at King’s College London as ‘pro-Palestinian’ students violently disrupted a lecture by former Shin Bet head – and peace activist – Ami Ayalon. Things seem to have got a lot worse since I left University College London earlier this year to take a fellowship position at Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs with the Masa Israel Government Fellows program.
I salute the courage and strength of those involved, faced with a hostile atmosphere and the threat of physical violence. My friend Joseph Stoll, the UK Campus Director of Stand With Us and a Masters student at King’s College provided an emotional first-hand account of events. “I am outraged that my friend was crying behind me because she had been made to feel threatened and indeed assaulted on her own campus. I am outraged because I stood clutching onto the frame of a broken door to prevent protesters from the university’s Palestinian Society entering a room full of my fellow students; students subjected to vile abuse and intimidation from these so-called ‘activists’.”
The one silver lining is the national press in Britain is running with this story and placing it in a wider context within the student movement.
In the UK the rhetoric of safe spaces and anti-racism prevalent in unions does not seem to apply to Israeli or British Jews. I spent my last two years both as Campaigns Officer and President of the University College London Jewish Society, on the frontline against the BDS movement and the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign. At times it was a lonely existence but I was able to forge alliances and make great friends, both Jewish and non-Jewish, who remain sources of inspiration and support. We must continue to engage in such dialogue, despite the best efforts of pro-Hamas activists to disrupt them.
My commitment to help the Jewish people and the State of Israel is part of the reason that I left London to move to Jerusalem in September 2015. The IGF Program, which consists of a fellowship in a Government Ministry and a weekly seminar day tackling the most pressing and challenging topics confronting the Jewish world has been a fantastic experience. The opportunity as a non-Israeli to meet with a number of political commentators, MK’s, President Rivlin and activists from all sides of the vibrant Israeli society is unique. IGF is endorsed by the Office of the Prime Minister and seminars take place at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center, which founded and runs the program. We have met with experts and activists from the Left and the Right, Haredim, Arab-Israelis working on co-existence and Palestinians. This diverse range of speakers is testament to the commitment of the program’s staff to open debate.
Living in Israel, especially in Jerusalem, during this current wave of violence has not been easy. Yet the positives far outweigh the negatives. As an activist in London, you are always on the defensive, reacting to events in the Middle East and the impact they have on your own community. This year has been important in shaping a far more positive connection with Israel, whether it be hiking the Golan, exploring the Negev or participating in encounters with different Jewish and Israeli cultures.
From what I have experienced both here in Israel and in London, there is a serious lack of education when it comes to understanding the historical and cultural importance of the State of Israel. This ignorance is leading to apathy and in some cases, I’m afraid to say, disdain towards the promise and amazing achievements of Zionism. I am aware that not everyone can take a year to explore Israeli society and politics in-depth, but we need better advocates throughout the world for our cause.
It’s time we did something about this. Year after year events are shut down — often violently — and the cycle repeats itself. Jewish students arrive on campus without the resources or skills to tackle extraordinary challenges. The existing communal framework continues to congratulate its own work while students have chairs hurled at them by bigots. A new movement is needed to change the tone of discourse on campus. Jewish students should take the initiative and boldly (and intelligently) defend their position. After Tuesday’s night’s event, the tide must surely turn now.