We won’t stop demanding equal treatment on campus

I am sitting in a university lecture theatre on the Waterloo campus at Kings College London. I am in the fourth oldest university in the UK. I am at a place that is meant to be a space for free speech and tolerance towards all, including Jews and Israelis.

We are listening to a panel at Israeli Apartheid Week who have advocated for all forms of resistance possible, including violence, against Israelis for the past two hours.

My friend asks a question to the panel asking them to clarify their thoughts about Israeli women and children being stabbed by Palestinians and whether one can justify terrorism against innocent civilians.

The response she receives from speaker Aja Monet is:

‘Sister, I don’t even want to answer your question. Because at some point that question is dumb. People are being oppressed. It is hatred that kills, not people.

Looking around at a sea of calm faces, I realise that no one cares.

Not the students my own age attending this event, whom I walk with in the halls. Not the safe space marshalls and the student union employees who are sitting quietly, safe space policy in hand, waiting for the event to end without disruption.

Jewish and Israeli students are alone in the problems we face and it is incumbent upon every one of us to to demand equal treatment from our universities. If we do not speak out, no one else will.

Before starting my university career a few months ago, I was fairly optimistic about engaging in pro-Israel activism.

I thought that events which occurred around this time last year at an Israel society event with Ami Ayalon would have drawn attention to the importance of protecting the safety of Jewish students and their right to political organization on campus.

I was proven fundamentally wrong within the first few weeks of beginning my university degree.

When it comes to Israel I have experienced biased treatment from all levels of the university- institutionally, on an academic platform, from the student union and personally.

I have begun my studies at a university which disregards the sanctity of human life in its desire to be politically correct and inclusive to all.

My university has created a ‘safe space’ for every single student apart from Jews and Israelis.

For our Israel society, there are extensive rules which are applied scrupulously.

We must have an impartial academic chair, a safe space policy, safe space marshalls and other extensive measures for our ‘controversial speakers’.

The Palestinian society, KCL Action Palestine, however, is allowed to bring in speakers who promote terrorism and have been previously banned from other institutions without an academic chair or any provisions for ensuring freedom of speech for others.

Furthermore, our events are put in their very control- the student union will consider their ‘feelings’ about our speakers and whether they would like to protest, as well as a number of other issues, before approving our events.

Our complaints prior to the opening plenary event of Israel Apartheid Week fell on deaf ears- our questions about whether our freedom of speech would be upheld, what process their speakers had gone through and whether our safety would be assured if we attended, were all ignored.

We simply wanted a clarification on whether the student union had treated this event fairly and in accordance with their own policies.

On the night we realized the extent to which policies ensuring that ‘freedom of speech is upheld for all’ were in reality being used to silence us.

After complaining to the student union worker in charge about the incitement to violence we experienced at the event and being told by him that he cannot answer because he is not allowed to be ‘political’, I realized that the physical safety of Jewish and Israeli students on campus was no longer something I could take for granted.

Despite our ongoing frustration, we will continue to unequivocally demand equal and fair treatment at our university.

During the course of the event, speaker Aja Monet mis-used one of my favourite quotes by Rabbi Hillel: ‘If I am not for myself, who is for me…’.

The irony of her using this quote in a speech during which she justified violence against the innocent resonated with the wider issues we face on campus.

We must accept that policies in place by the student union to ensure freedom of ideas will be contorted and twisted and used against us.

Our words and actions may even be used against us and we must remain vigilant.

We must continue to stand up for our rights as students to be free from fear and intimidation when we walk on campus.

We must not allow any moral equivalence to be made between our informative, un-controversial Israeli speakers and the anti-Semitism promoted by the BDS movement on campus.

We must demand that our university stands up in defence of human life and basic moral principles, otherwise it is no longer a university worth attending.

About the Author
Tamara Berens is a second year undergraduate student at Kings College London and a UK Campus Associate for CAMERA.
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