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Hitting back on campus

Empowered students are organizing to defend the Jewish State during Israel Apartheid Week

Mock checkpoints are being set-up across university campuses across the UK, separation walls are rising in the heart of the London’s prime university UCL and young British Jews are on edge.

This can only mean one thing and that’s the start of Israel Apartheid Week. This year’s campaign has never been so successful in recreating the conflict on campus with anger, resentment, finger pointing and tensions running at an all time high, successfully emanating the current state of Israeli-Palestinian affairs.

Only one thing is different this year — it has hit a raw nerve. “Jews have had enough” explains one of the founding campaigners and President of the LSE SU Israel Society Zak Sheer.

The mood has turned into activism. This is where Rethink2014 comes in. This is a grassroots project that was launched in the last 48 hours and it forms part of a new larger movement of self-expression and self-confidence among young European Jews. Israeli Apartheid Week has inspired the creation of a confident voice not seen in previous years in the UK. Already Rethink2014 has more than 2000 likes on Facebook, showing it has hit the spot among the community.

This is part of something bigger: a younger generation of British Jews ready to very publicly stand up for itself when it feels under attack. “We refuse to be intimidated” asserts Hannah Brady, the founder of the movement and final year History student from King’s College London, down the phone to me. Rethink2014 symbolises the new wave of empowerment felt by young European Jews.

This is a trend across Europe. France’s Union of Jewish Student’s (UEJF) has become France’s leading organisation in the battle against anti-Semitism. The Union recently caught headlines winning the controversial case against Twitter over the infamous #unbonjuif (#agoodjew) campaign that saw a flurry of anti-Semitic tweets trend globally. Its current battle against Dieudonné, the character described by the BBC as France’s most dangerous comedian with a penchant for Nazi hand gestures, has legitimised the organisation’s voice as not just one for France’s students but one for the community at large.

Rethink2014, as well as other groups such as “Sign on the Green line” or the French student movement, show a younger generation feeling increasingly at odds with current organisation and traditional community structures that seem parochial, passive or unresponsive.

These grassroots organisations and movements challenge the current way the community deal with larger issues. They have pushed for a more open and frank discussion to take place both among the community but also across society. We see a younger generation feeling that the current institutional framework ignores taboo issues in favour for passivity and a sense calm. This is in the case of fighting bigotry as Rethink2014 has self styled itself or in support of a more political voice, that argues for a two state solution as Sign on the Green Line or, Yachad the British pro-peace Left wing movement have pressured for.

“The initial interest in the campaign was from students feeling stigmatised on campus” Noah Nathan, another founding member of the campaign explains, resonating the words of former minister of defence and historian Moshe Arens who believes the BDS movement is an anti-Semitic movement. “The movement has gone so much further, for me it was motivated by personal reasons and student welfare” explains Hannah.

Rethink 2014 may symbolise the emerging sense of empowerment of the young diaspora in the UK, but its inspiration is found in the sense of a need to respond to a perceived threat whether real or not. “Historically, the community has always responded to perceived threats in a push or pull manner”, according to Hannah where response comes traditionally with the “push” which for Hannah’s Rethink2014 is a reaction towards a perceived bigotry and attack on Jewish identity being so deeply intertwined with Israel.

The campaign’s aim is to give a voice to the student body that feels nervous and intimidated by Israeli Apartheid Week on campus. There is a sense of “panic and vulnerability” on campus, explains Hannah. Rethink2014 is a defence of Israel, as a part of Jewish identity that is perceived as being most at threat. This reaction embodies the newfound collective desire to shelter the community’s most vulnerable point, which is its relationship to Israel. Whether they are politically justified or avoiding the core issues of the Israeli Palestinian conflict is besides the point. What we are seeing here is the beginning of the creation of a much more vocal Jewish leadership in the diaspora.

These bottom-up movements are multiplying. We see here the younger generation engaging openly and fighting back to perceived threats on social media, seen as the new “battle ground” and campuses as the “hot spots” of anti-Semitism. We see here a nervous community “slightly in panic, maybe slightly paranoid” as described by Hannah, however one that feels confident and empowered enough to publicly come together in both an individual and collective manner to respond.

Rethink2014 shows a more panicked generation maybe, but certainly a more empowered one.

About the Author
Esti is currently a King's College London & Sciences Po Paris student, specialising in European politics and the extreme right. She is currenlty based between London, Paris and Tel Aviv.