Durham Student Union passes anti-Israel solidarity motion

On the 23rd of November 2023, history repeated itself when the Durham Student Union held their termly assembly meeting and passed a motion that was riddled with misinformation and antisemitism.

Two years prior, the organisation passed a motion that supported the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement despite its history of antisemitism, entirely ignoring the concerns of Jewish student groups.

This time, the re-ratification and expansion of the motion to ‘stand in solidarity with the people of Palestine’ has been met by deafening silence; Durham’s student newspaper didn’t even feel the need to cover the event or acknowledge Jewish concerns as they did in 2021.

The motion, proposed by the president of Durham University People of Colour Association (DUPOCA) Nadia Hanter, claimed to be in “solidarity with Palestine.” However, rather than acknowledge the nuance of this situation or suggest constructive ways to support those suffering in Gaza and Israel, it focused on diminishing the trauma of Israeli victims and Hamas’ culpability of their people’s suffering.

The mentions of October 7th in this document were characterized with a dismissive tone, as though the events of that day were insignificant rather than acknowledge what it actually was: an attempted genocide of Jews and Israelis.

The first note of the motion condemned the Israeli military response, with no mention of the innocent Israeli hostages taken, nor did it include any statistics on the Israeli casualties. It also referred to Israel as “historic Palestine,” an inaccurate and politically charged term that intentionally confuses the history of Ottoman, British, and Jewish jurisdiction with an imagined Arab Palestinian country.

Then they claimed that the UK continues to be complicit in the oppression of Palestinians and called for a ceasefire, all without mentioning the condemnation from Durham Jewish Society of this statement. To call for Israel to capitulate to the maximalist demands of a self-professed genocidal terror group is to strip Israel of the right to self-defense; a right that every other nation on earth is granted without question.

The motion then proceeded to state that the violence in Israel and Palestine has led to an increase in Islamophobia and antisemitism in the UK. This essentially blames the state of Jews for global antisemitism and simultaneously minimises the disproportionately large amount of hate crimes against Jews compared to the rise in Islamophobic hate crimes. Obviously any increase in religion-based discrimination is reprehensible, but it is wrong to equivocate such statistics to downplay the amount of violence targeting Jews.

The fact that such a biased motion was made official is nothing short of disgraceful, and the lack of accountability taken by the Student’s Union goes to show how little they care about responsibly representing the student body.

The motion was then met with a counter-amendment, proposed by assembly members Matthew Brooker, Jacob Field-Gibson, and Ben Daunter, who suggested redrafting the document to be more inclusive of victims in both Israel and Gaza, and condemn the group that instigated the war: Hamas.

It was outvoted by a large margin.

This begs the question: was the original goal to show support for those in Gaza or was it a cynical exercise in moral posturing that masked a profound lack of empathy?

Upon being asked to condemn Hamas, the DUPOCA president and original author of the motion claimed it was “f***ing Islamophobic to ask a Muslim student to condemn Hamas.”

*It’s important to remember that Hamas hurts both the Jewish people of Israel and the Arab population of Israel and Gaza.

Not only was it disingenuous and manipulative to use her religion to absolve herself of accountability for supporting terrorism, but it was entirely hypocritical for her to demand the very same from her Jewish peers. If her rationale was broadly applied, she would have to admit that pressuring UK Jews to condemn Israel is antisemitic. The only difference here is that Hamas is committed to murdering every Jewish person in the world while Israel is committed to protecting its citizens from being murdered.

The JSoc, who were admittedly consulted on this, were apparently too afraid to attend the meeting; one can hardly blame them considering the hostility, antisemitism and bias they would be met with.

I interviewed one of the Jewish students brave enough to advocate for a more inclusive amendment to the motion, mentioned the anxiety she felt at being openly Jewish and shared the emotional impact of Hamas operatives murdering her aunt as well as having to mourn the loss of multiple friends who were called to fight in the war.

“I’ve lost three friends on the front line, pretty much within 12 to 13 days of each other… as Jews, you’re all connected, where there’s so few of us, um, and to find out that they’re dead… it’s a loss in the community. The community is so small and so condensed.”

It was observed that the members of the assembly did not even have the respect to look her in the face whilst she recounted the horrors that her loved ones and other innocent Israelis are still experiencing.

“There is no acknowledgement that we are people, and I essentially begged for someone in the SU to see us. What is the point in shouting and begging in a room filled with people that won’t even look at you?”

It is cruel and misguided for our student leader to show such little regard toward their Jewish peers. The Students Union should recognize that with motions like these, they are betraying their self professed goal of being “The Champion of every Durham student.”

Representatives from the Student Union were contacted and declined to comment.

About the Author
Amelie Mitchell is a member of the 2023-2024 CAMERA on Campus fellowship program, which aims to combat misinformation and anti-Israel bias on campus. As a student at Durham University, she has seen an increase in hostility to Israel and it's supporters over her time here. In her writing she wants to challenge her fellow students to be more nuanced and considerate in their approach to this topic, as well as raise awareness of the targeting and animosity Jewish and pro-Israel students are experiencing right now.