by Jonathan Godsi, Joint founder and inaugural President of the University of Bristol Israel/Palestine Discussion Group (IPDG).
Across campuses in the UK, there is a very worrying trend when it comes to dialogue on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; in that it is entirely non-existent and being consistently shut down.
Events at Kings College London last semester may have been more violent or physical than the activities of most Palestine Societies in the UK, but even the less extreme PalSocs are partaking in extreme polarisation.
From Israel Apartheid Week to the absurdly puerile practice of using ‘anti-normalisation’ as an excuse to not talk to any pro-Israel students, pro-Palestine students are increasingly refusing to even engage with alternative views on the conflict.
This further polarises an issue which desperately needs more cooperation and coexistence if it is ever to be solved. Instead of fostering a genuine path to peace – something which will only be achieved if both sides are able to sit down and respectfully talk to each other – PalSocs foster a path to perpetual divisions.
There is, however, one notable exception to this trend – the University of Bristol Israel/Palestine Discussion Group (IPDG).
IPDG is a new society in Bristol, which will hopefully be formally recognised by the Students’ Union within the next term, of which I am a joint founder as well as the inaugural President.
Instead of dividing ourselves into two trenches, students at Bristol of varying opinions agreed to get together and talk about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a mature, respectful environment.
It started off as a small informal group organised by the PalSoc at Bristol, but over the last year or so it has gradually grown into a truly unique organisation boasting over 100 members of the Facebook group, as well as hosting roughly fortnightly meetings, each of which focuses on a specific issue relating to Israel/Palestine.
Once we’re a bona-fide society, IPDG will also be looking to host speakers and debates, inviting guests from across the political spectrum with regards to their view on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
All of this was possible for one very simple reason; because students at Bristol wanted it to be.
As remarkable as the fantastic set up we in Bristol have with dialogue is, what I find all the more remarkable, frankly, is that it’s even remarkable at all.
To my mind, and to the minds of my IPDG colleagues, including the PalSoc-ers, the way we do it in Bristol is how every university should be doing it.
I can say with relative confidence that every single one of us has gained knowledge about Israel/Palestine, as well as an invaluable insight into alternative perspectives, from IPDG, and it has made every one of us better advocates – regardless of what we advocate for.
We’ve not only shown that there is a real alternative to the polarisation which exists on other campuses, and that it is entirely workable, but that it actually benefits all of those involved.
This, I think, is one of the strongest arguments as to why I would encourage others to adopt the model we have developed in Bristol; you might just find, perhaps to your dismay, that you enjoy it and find it advantageous to your activism.