By Rachel Paul
Being a Jew on campus may be daunting to some, with boycott motions of Israel being commonplace, making life uncomfortable. But if you just sit down and talk with people, there’s an opportunity to turn discord into something more constructive.
Some of my strongest memories from secondary school are of sitting in Israel advocacy seminars. We were taught that there was a high chance that we would be virulently attacked for our religious and political affiliations, that we would be ostracised for them.
Perhaps I have been lucky, or made friends with the right people but if so, this luck has extended to many of my friends and peer group.
I have not been subjected to any serious incidents of anti-Zionism and have yet to personally meet anyone who has.
The Queen Mary JSOC president, Lisa Igel, has said that ‘it is easy to talk about’ Israel and Judaism with classmates without fear of discord, and that most people are ‘interested and curious’ to find out more about the ideology.
My closest friends at university are a group of religious Muslims.
We sit next to each other and pray next to each other.
Together we eat our homemade food, kosher and halal respectively.
We talk about our nails, bad hair days, our annoying siblings.
We laugh, have a coffee after lectures.
If I were to go by the doctrine preached by advocacy workers in schools, these are friendships that are doomed from the start as I, the lone Jew in the group, may feel threatened by of Islam and certain anti-Israel sentiments.
Instead, when loaded statements are made by either party about Israel-Palestine, it would be easy for it to suffocate our good relations – we have something called dialogue.
We vocalise our feelings and thoughts. During the standoff last Autumn between Israel and Gaza, such conversations were common.
This is not to say that there are not serious cases of anti-Israel sentiment on campus, because there are and they should not be treated lightly. There are also ample cases of Islamophobia which need to be tackled, and we can work together on that too.
There are many examples of BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) motions being passed on campuses in the UK, as well as rallies against Israel during times of heightened tensions.
However, friction most commonly stems from groups of people on campus rather than individuals. It does not make up the day to day life of the average Jewish student, and the Union of Jewish Students works very hard to ensure that Jewish student life is multi-faceted and rich.
I have spoken at length to other Jews studying at universities across England and Wales, many of whom enjoy close relationships with their non-Jewish friends.
The key to nurturing strong friendships with non-Jewish students is to engage in conversation.
Discussion is the single most important factors of any meaningful relationship, whether that be romantic, platonic friendships, or business relations.
Instead of being taught to avoid confrontation, and to dogmatically defend Israel, perhaps we should advocate discussion, especially when talking about a topic which sits deep in the hearts of many.