Peace Week is a StandWithUs UK initiative led by the students on the StandWithUs UK Emerson Fellowship to counter Israel Apartheid Week. Peace Week aims to educate students, challenge misinformation about Israel, and advocate for peace. Over the years, Peace Week has been rolled out to campuses all over the country, reaching thousands of Jewish and non-Jewish students on the ground. This project uniquely encourages dialogue between different communities, and being an Emerson Fellow this year, I have been fortunate to take an active part in it. Despite having to be moved online, the campaign did not fail to have the immense impact it has had on students in previous years.
Our first event of the week was an Abraham Accords panel with representatives from the UAE, Bahrain, and Israel. This has been a transformative year for the Middle East, and the normalisation of relations between Israel and these Arab countries is undoubtably historic. Israeli Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem, Fleur Hassan Nahoum, spoke alongside her fellow co-founder of the UAE-Israel Business Council and Emirati leader, Thani Al-Shirawi. Together with Ahdeya Al Sayed, President of the Bahrain Journalists Association, the three panelists joined us and answered questions about the effect the Accords would have on the region. Most importantly, this diverse panel stressed the role of the younger generation plays, stating they are the key to establishing lasting peace for the whole of the Middle East. This sounded very familiar, as the notion of our generation having a lasting impact is something that has been reiterated time and time again to us on the Emerson Fellowship Programme. Over the last few months, I have witnessed many fellow Emerson’s achieve so much in the fight against antisemitism on campuses by campaigning for the adoption of the IHRA definition and opposing anti-Israel motions across all mediums. Lauren Smith, a fellow Emerson and one of the hosts of this event, said “hosting an event on the Abraham Accords was an amazing opportunity for me to truly understand how these normalised relations will impact us all. I’m excited for what the future holds especially with people like Thani, Adheya, and Fleur at the forefront of activism on the ground”, whilst her co-host Tom Mobbs added, “it was a great experience to host such an event, all the speakers were on top form”. It was extremely comforting and positive to hear the panelists all sharing a common hope and belief that peace is possible.
Our second event of the week featured Yoseph Haddad, an Arab-Israeli activist and influencer. Haddad shares the desire for peace between Israel and its neighbours, and more importantly, within Israel and between its citizens. That is why he founded Together –Vouch for Each Other, an NGO which aims to bridge between the Arab and Jewish sectors of Israeli society. He talked about his personal story, recalled his time in the military, and outlined the logic behind his opposition to the BDS movement. According to him, the movement spreads hates and lies, his personal story as an Israeli-Arab being a testament to that. Describing his childhood, he talked about his love for playing football, especially with fellow Israelis – Jews and Arabs alike. Whilst he was hesitant at first to pass the ball to the Jewish kids, he recalls how they all quickly became friends through their love of the game. This had shown him a glimpse of what society could be like, and more importantly, that coexistence was possible.
Our final event for Peace Week was Sport in the Service of Peace, which featured a prestigious panel of guests who discussed the ways in which sports and football can be used as a tool for promoting peace and coexistence. Tamar Hay-Sagiv, Director of the Peace Education Department at the Peres Centre for Peace and Innovation, told about the work they do bringing Jewish, Arab and Palestinian children – children who have different cultures, religions, and backgrounds – to play football together. The Centre works closely with the Israeli Football Association and Chelsea FC on a number of these important initiatives. We also heard from the head of special projects at Chelsea Football Club here in the UK, Rola Brentlin, who spoke about how Chelsea FC spearheaded campaigns against antisemitism on and off the field. We also got a chance to hear from Ronit Glasman, Head of Marketing at the Israeli Football Association, who talked about the realities of Israeli football players and the possibilities Israeli football provides for fostering coexistence. Fellow Emerson and one of the hosts of this event, Tom Goulde, said “I feel very fortunate to have been able to host the event. As a football fan, it was amazing to see the incredible power of football on and off the field. I learnt so much about the great work organisations like the Peres Centre and Chelsea do in facilitating peace and coexistence through sport.”
Alongside hosting an incredible line-up of online events, my friends from the Emerson Fellowship Programme also ran a social media campaign on Instagram. Throughout the week, they shared unique educational content about peace, coexistence, and reconciliation that they created. This is had been an important part of Peace Week, as they fought misinformation with facts and knowledge.
With Peace Week coming to a close, it has given me time to reflect upon my own experiences with antisemitism and anti-Israel discourse on my campus at the University of Bristol. Most recently, there have been numerous instances of severe hateful speech and twisting of facts made by none other than the university’s own lecturers. Having seen my friends go through similar experiences on other campuses really highlighted the importance of initiatives such as Peace Week – we need more events of education and bridge-building, not campaigns that incite hate and divisiveness. I am proud to say that StandWithUs’ Peace Week 2021 has been able to serve as an essential alternative and challenge the culture that is present on campuses today.