A brave campaign from the Union of Jewish Students

This is a cross post from Jak at Reduard

The Union of Jewish Students have announced a new Israel campaign for the upcoming academic year, one which signals a radical break from past UJS hasbara efforts.

As the JC reports:

Jewish students arriving at universities in the next fortnight will be asked to pledge their support to “two states for two peoples”, hand out Israeli and Palestinian flags, and support “freedom, justice and equality” for all.
There is a belief within UJS that standard advocacy efforts “do not cut it any more” because “students are not stupid”. Students will be encouraged to back the “liberation” of Israelis from Palestinian terror, and Palestinians through the formation of a new state.

To say this has stoked up debate online would be the understatement of the year. A Facebook group is doing the rounds, calling the campaign ‘disgraceful’ and ‘utterly crazy’.

Now, I was on campus for four years at a university widely consider to be a hotbed of extreme anti-Zionism and led a wide variety of Israel campaigns. We did all the standard campaigns that anyone who has been on a UK campus will recognise – we handed out falafel, had speakers from the Israeli Embassy, had film showings, talked about how welcoming Israel was to women/homosexuals/religious minorities etc etc. All were good campaigns, well organised and relatively successful. But what they didn’t do is change the narrative on campus. Hateful  anti-Israel diatribes would still appear in the student rag on a weekly basis, the Palestine society would still shout outside university buildings about the ‘holocaust’ in Gaza, and any ordinary student with any sense whatsoever simply ran a mile in the opposite direction – and understandably so. We are facing a new reality on our campuses – the old arguments about settlements or the security barrier are being replaced by a debate about the mere existence of Israel as a Jewish state. Zionism is a dirty word for many students – associated with oppression rather than liberation. Explaining Israel is no longer enough – what is needed is a dialogue, not just about Israel but about the very ideas behind Israel – Zionism, liberation, and self determination for the Jewish people. UJS is in a sense implementing is a back to basics campaign, focusing on ideas and concepts rather than specific policies.

As for those annoyed that UJS is advocating a Palestinian state, I would say this: it is morally dishonest to advocate self-determination for one group of people and not the other. Jews and Palestinians both need and deserve a homeland. Yes there may be a debate about the future borders or composition of those states, but the idea of self-determination is a universal one. It’s why groups like the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign and their ilk will always be hypocritical, bigoted and discriminatory organisations – they vehemently support the self-determination of one nation whilst completely ignoring the rights of others. UJS should be proud of taking such a principled stance on the issue, especially as they must have been aware of the potential backlash it could cause.

The campaign is a brave step for UJS, and it may or may not work. But at least it is attempting something different. The naysayers and critics should step back and honestly ask themselves whether they really think the current strategy is working. Surely all evidence suggests that it is not? Burying heads in the sand and pointing to Golda Meir being a female as an example of Israeli progressiveness frankly no longer cuts it.

5 Responses to “A brave campaign from the Union of Jewish Students”

  1. Lynne T Says:

    “As for those annoyed that UJS is advocating a Palestinian state, I would say this: it is morally dishonest to advocate self-determination for one group of people and not the other.”

    Are these students brave or naive?

    I would dearly love to see two states within secure borders for two people, but the majority of Palestinians are in agreement with Hamas that there should be one state only. Palestinian opinion splits largely around the cost/benefit factor of attacks on Israelis and whether the future state would be an Islamic republic.

  2. Arad Says:

    Good for you. Glad to see you are picking up the views of the Israeli center. From your description, it appears that until now you were advocating the views of the Israeli right.

  3. modernityblog Says:

    Lynne,

    Possibly the students think that the status quo is untenable?

    And in that, I would agree with them.

    I think Palestinian Statehood is a positive step and anything which moves these issues into the political sphere, as opposed to people getting blown up or splattered across the floor as with the status quo, should be welcomed by those thoughtfully engaged with matters in the Middle East.

  4. Bill Says:

    Lynne,

    I think we can rely on the fact that there will be no reciprocity from the BDS people, that’s a given. At best it will be seen as a concession and will lead to more pressure for the UJS to “go further.” But should the UJS do what will make them accepted by the BDSers or do what’s right by themselves. Curtain Number One isn’t going to happen unless they become full out BDS. No matter what the UJS does to the “right” of total rejection of Israel’s right to exist will be seen as half-hearted and “the wrong answer to the BDS crowd and they will continue to demonize UJS. Curtain Number Two will likely demonstrate to fence-sitters and more reasonable observes of Israel/Palestine this lack of reciprocity and also force the BDS movement to come out and reject the two-state solution of their more radical core members won’t accept.

    While I tend to cringe on establishing a “baseline” stance for “all Jewish students” at university, I think this is the “least-bad” position that those Jewish students who chose to align to this position can take.

  5. mark2 Says:

    As I have said elsewhere I don’t think thiis is about converting the BDSers or other hate merchants. Its about reaching out to the majority of British students – tomorrow’s opinion formers, journalists, local party chairmen etc etc – who are overwhelmingly non Jewish and who hear little of the Israeli case.


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