For years, campuses affiliated with the University of London have become hotbeds of anti-Israel and even anti-Semitic activity. It is no longer a surprise when a known hate-monger like Azzam Tamimi is able to call for the ‘destruction of Israel’ at a SOAS lecture. Jon Snow can happily bandy around the term ‘Jewish lobby’ at a panel discussion at the LSE. The radical Islamist Haitham al-Haddad can even speak at the annual Federation of Student Islamic Societies’ annual dinner – with full segregation of course (something they proudly advertise…)
For years, Jewish students have been intimidated, demonised and silenced for holding views which may be interpreted as even remotely sympathetic to Israel. This is not an exaggeration. In SOAS, a colleague of mine publicly described that she felt as if she was ‘a Jew in Nazi Germany’, after witnessing an attack on an individual expressing their right to peaceful protest.
Shocking stuff. The animosity and hatred which any discussion of the Middle East provokes is truly disturbing. At the University of Edinburgh, Jews have even been said to drop out of their courses after being unable to put up with the incitement they face on a daily basis.
This constant bile manifests itself every year in a curious phenomenon known as Israel Apartheid Week. For 10 days, students around the country attempt to compare the only democracy in the Middle East to Apartheid South Africa. It does not occur to these students which country in the Middle East is the most liberal in terms of LGBTQ rights. Such students cannot fathom that Israeli-Arabs are given full political and civil rights by the country’s democratic constitution. When women are not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, it is only natural to vilify the only country in the Middle East where both men and women are equal before the law.
For year after year, pro-Israel students have mostly kept their heads down. An article here and there might be published in the student press voicing an individual’s personal reservations. A few informational leaflets might be distributed one afternoon; only for them to be thrown in the bin. But on the whole, nothing of a scale remotely equivalent to Apartheid Week – certainly on a national level – has ever been planned in response by the pro-Israel camp.
That is, until this year. This month has seen a sudden outburst of a plethora of pro-Israel activities. Across the UK, Jewish and non-Jewish students alike are taking the fight against the ‘apartheid smear.’ Take this amazing campaign entitled #rethink2014. Led by KCL student Hannah Brady, this initiative has over 1000 likes on Facebook – regularly posting photographs of students holding posters explaining why they oppose Apartheid Week. As Hannah herself has posted, ‘I oppose Apartheid Week because demonising Israel demonises me.’ I couldn’t agree with her more – as do hundreds of others.
Another initiative has been to bombard anti-Israel Facebook events pages with messages in support of the Israeli people. This has enraged the organisers of these hate-filled spectacles – who can’t keep up with deleting all these posts.
At the London Universities, the typical ‘apartheid wall’ stunt has been countered en masse. Dozens of students, offended and intimidated by mindless publicity-hungry agitators, have declared they want to discuss issues, not demonise others. They inform the public that they yearn for peace – that as Zionists, they desire a two-state solution. When passers by then approach the ‘apartheid stall,’ they are told by its organisers that a peaceful resolution to conflict can only occur with the destruction of the Jewish State. By making our voice heard, we undertake the vital task of educating the public in the fact that there are two narratives to conflict in the Middle East.
Our voice is desperately needed – we cannot afford to remain silent. By allowing ordinary and intelligent people to compare two disparate narratives, they can reasonably conclude on their own accord that Israel no where near resembles an ‘apartheid state’ – and that the ‘apartheid’ label is a blatant mistruth which trivialises the terrors of history’s real racist regimes. Moreover, calls for co-existence on our part will always trump demands to boycott and delegitimise another people.
For some reason, student Zionism has emerged from its quiet shell in a positively explosive fashion – something which is certainly not going unnoticed. As UCL student Sam Freeman has commented, ‘I don’t know where it came from and I don’t know why it’s only come now but it appears Pro-Israel students have finally found their voice on campus in the UK!’
The tide turns now. We’re finally winning the battle against anti-Israel activity on campus. UCL students in particular are leading the fight – hosting a multitude of events providing an alternative narrative to conflict in the Middle East.
Every morning, I continue to receive inquiries by email and Facebook asking for strategic assistance in how to lead the fight against hate and misinformation. More and more, students want to defend the State of Israel (and themselves).
I couldn’t be more proud. Finally, we’re speaking out. And trust me, people are listening…
Jonathan Hunter is the Campus Director of StandWithUs UK and a student at Oxford University.