Behind Enemy Lines? Talking Israel on UK Campuses

Students participating in the CAMERA on Campus Annual Student Conference in Boston, USA

It is no secret that a tide of political polarisation is currently sweeping the US and Europe.It is also no surprise that in times of growing extremism, Jewish communities may be subject to a heightened threat level. Too often since 1948 has the complex issue of Israel- the world’s only Jewish state- been used as a convenient cover for groups to unfairly threaten the life of Jews and their allies in the West. During the 2014 Gaza conflict, for example, anti-Semitic incidents in Europe witnessed a tremendous spike. As anti-Israel forces in Europe hold all Jews accountable for the perceived injustice of Israeli policy and act accordingly, and these trends continue to worry diaspora communities. According to the London-based Community Security Trust, which has been recording incidents since the early 1980s, the first six months of this year saw a record-high total of 892 anti-Semitic incidents in the United Kingdom, and university campuses sadly no exception to these hostile trends.

I am a recent graduate of King’s College London, where just earlier this year, the Student Union officially backed a protest that openly mourned 19 dead Hamas, PFLP (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine), Fatah, and Islamic Jihad Terrorists. To the passer-by, such student causes might be seen as harmless, or simply a difference of opinion. Yet, groups such as the formerly discussed- all too often cosied up to by student unions and their affiliated societies- are not merely critical of Israel’s actions, but are violent and genocidal groups calling for the wholesale violent destruction of the Jewish state and its population.

However, we must not tar all student activism with the same brush. There are many groups providing education for Jewish and Israel groups on campus, in order to push against these tragic trends of ignorance- that all too often descends into violence and hate. The work of CAMERA on Campus plays a critical role in filling the glaring knowledge gaps and countering the overt, powerful, and highly organised and funded anti-Israel activities on university campuses.

The CAMERA on Campus ninth annual international leadership conference was held from August 11-16 in Boston, USA this year. Close to a dozen UK students (along with up to 80 others including Israelis and Americans) were in attendance this year, including myself. The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis (CAMERA), was founded in 1982 for the purpose of promoting accurate and balanced coverage of Israel and the Middle East. CAMERA on Campus extends this mission of transparency in its cooperation with students across university campuses in the US, Canada, UK, Ireland and Israel.

Aaron Seitler, the incoming CAMERA Fellow at University College London, reflected on the conference “I felt it gave me the opportunity for vague good intentions of Israel activism to materialise as concrete plans for stalls and events.”  As the incoming UK Campus Associate for CAMERA, I was struck by the conference’s breadth and variety of speakers, and its focus on the importance of accuracy in perceptions of Zionism and Israel in Jewish communities and beyond; the ethnic and religious diversity of students and speakers in attendance was a testament to that mission. Daniel Marcus, Fellow for the University of Nottingham noted that “The diverse range of expert guests provided a level of depth to this conference that I haven’t seen before. It was extremely well planned out and you could tell.” In particular, the conference’s writing and debate workshops were successful in training students to both hone their skills in the pursuit of busting historical myths and outright deceit surrounding Israel’s history and politics, whilst not forgetting the need for students to produce entertaining and engaging writing.

Aviva Rosenschein, CAMERA’s director of international campuses, reflected on the conference, “Each year, I learn more and more valuable insight from our student activists. I feel privileged to work with some of the most intelligent and motivated Zionists across the US, Canada, the UK, Ireland and Israel. It is the students who inspire the work of CAMERA on Campus.”

CAMERA on Campus will host a further student conference this October, in order to provide further training to its UK and Ireland- based student activists. Undoubtedly, it is always the most extreme students that shout the loudest, and the mission of Israel activism on campus ought to be (when possible) about education, education, education, rather than hostility and confrontation. This is why it is so crucial that organisations such as CAMERA continue their efforts to strengthen Israel and Jewish activism among the zealously coveted minds of Western universities, as we continue to inhabit a period of political uncertainty and potential for tyranny from several angles.

To keep in touch with CAMERA’s work and its student opportunities, visit their website at cameraoncampus.org, and follow them ​ @CAMERAonCampus on twitter​ and at www.facebook.com/cameraoncampusuk

About the Author
Georgia Leigha Leatherdale Gilholy is a graduate student at University College London. She is the U.K. Campus Associate for the Committee on Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis.
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