Jewish student groups and activists this year chose to speak up against Israel Apartheid Week in a more vocal and visible way than ever before, and have been praised for their efforts.
The Union of Jewish Students (UJS) said after that they were proud of our members and believe that the courageous opposition to IAW displayed this year has the potential to pave the way for “more cohesive and sophisticated debate and discussion in the future”.
Up and down the country, UJS and J-Soc activists initiated grass roots counter-campaigns, encouraging nuanced and informed conversations about the Israel/Palestine conflict.
One of the most popular campaigns taken up by Queen Mary and Nottingham J-Socs was ‘Coffee not Conflict’. Students set up stalls giving out free cups of coffee and informative literature, inviting passers-by to ask questions and have respectful conversations about the conflict.
Here’s a snapshot of what students were saying about their campaigns:
Noah Nathan, Imperial, Physics
This year, together with a few core students, we launched the #rethink2014 campaign in order to counter Israel Apartheid Week. Part of the appeal of the campaign was that it was user-driven, allowing students to participate and express their feelings about why they opposed Israel Apartheid Week, without having to subscribe to any political position or align with any one particular group. We managed to make the campaign go viral by sourcing out a wide range of material from a variety of locations around the world and gain the support and publicity of other student groups.
Hannah Brady – Kings College London, UJS National Council member, Chair of the UJS Disabled Student’s Network and founder of the Rethink2014 campaign
This year there was a much more positive feeling amongst Jewish students on campus – it seemed we had made a collective decision to speak up for ourselves and this had really boosted morale! The Rethink2014 campaign had played a role in galvanising different sectors of the community, and I personally felt like this year was the first time we had had such intersectionality in the community when facing IAW. In London, there was much more co-operation between the different J-Socs; students from different colleges joined their friends at UCL and LSE on pro-Israel stalls countering the IAW efforts there.
In general, Jewish students were much more outspoken than usual, and I feel we are now far more willing to speak to Student Union officers in order to assert Jewish student welfare. I think that we have certainly had an impact just in suggesting that there is an alternative point of view to that of IAW organisers, and now have a better platform from which to approach university officers and
administration. But I think it is more significant that we have created an internal chain-reaction of positivity and activism – and I hope it is here to stay.
Adam Isaacs – University of Birmingham, International Relations with Political Science
The response from Jewish students on campus, much guided by J-Soc, exhibited a resound defiance of ‘Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW)’. J-Soc initially spoke to the ‘guild’ (our student union) and demanded the safety of Jewish Students on campus; furthermore asked the guild to ban an anti-Israeli student from preaching antisemitism during a speech he was giving as an event of IAW.
Furthermore J-SOC, in their event: ‘Combatting IAW 2014’ nudged students towards the #Rethink 2014 campaign. A multitude of students including flatmates and course mates participated in #Rethink 2014- displaying thought provoking messages for the entire internet to behold. The whole outcome of IAW was a united Jewish resistance to a minuscule, esoteric anti-Israel protest, which had a negligible effect on campus.
Darren Wayne Cohen – King’s College London, Philosophy and Spanish. Habonim Movement Worker.
My main contribution to opposing IAW this year was by promoting the #rethink2014 Campaign. I tweeted about it a lot and also plugged it to Habonim members from the Habonim account too. I think it was a superb campaign and the students who founded it did a really good job. I am pleased to have played a part in extending its reach beyond just university students. Having the support from Habo members and the wider community really helped make an impact. I think it is incredibly impressive that students like Hannah Brady and Noah Nathan who led on the campaign achieved so much. UJS and its members might be young, but they are leading the way for the future and positively impacting on our community’s well being whilst also studying for their degrees.
Liron Velleman – University of Leeds, Politics.
At Leeds, we decided to counter IAW, an aggressive and hostile campaign, with a stall for most of the week, ‘Hummus and Harmony.’ We invited people to have calm and open dialogue with us – and of course free hummus! Through this we managed to show the university and its students that we were able to maintain cohesive and constructive dialogue during the week which enabled us to have many fruitful discussions, including with members of the Palestine Solidarity Group. Internally, we also allowed our members to engage with the week by having the #Rethink2014 sheets in the Hillel building and had a lunch and learn session with the Leeds shaliach who gave a session of Israel Apartheid: Myths and Facts.
Nathan Abraham – University of Greenwich
After a tough week, everything is more or less back to normal on London campuses. Following the dedicated and brave effort from many students, the bigotry and dishonesty of the IAW campaign has been deterred. From what I have seen on campus, the work by many London J-Socs and numerous individuals has greatly spurred on the fight for the truth. Every one of us played our part in defending actual real life. Because of our campaigns, students realised that there is a bigger picture in Israel.
The falsehood of IAW was left exposed through the hard work and initiatives put forward by UJS and its members throughout the week. It is because of this, that I believe those who organised IAW failed miserably this year. Those who keep claiming the same arguments in support of IAW can keep claiming so. But, through the kind of efforts demonstrated last week, we can change the majority of student opinion. And this did happen.
Overall, the BDS movement and IAW will fail. It is simply because the truth will always prevail. I believe as students we can take many positives from IAW. When we stick together we can achieve great things. We should be proud of the fight we gave, and we should take that same energy in all our engagement with Israel. Perhaps that can be what we are #rethinking in 2014?
Jess Miron – London School of Economics, International Relations
Israel Apartheid week is a stressful one for Jewish and Israeli students as some of the tactics adopted can be both intimidating and on occasion, offensive. Fortunately LSE faculty, who have been supportive, did not permit the setting up of a ‘checkpoint’ policed by students dressed as soldiers or a mock Israeli ‘wall’ unlike some other campuses. Our approach has been to present a contrast to the aggressive tactics adopted by the supporters of this event. No megaphones, no shouting out populist slogans, just a friendly and calm dialogue, showing our resolute support for the Jewish character of Israel and posters calling for ‘Dialogue not Demonization’…oh and lots of free food!
From our perspective we felt it went well. Our stall opposite the demonstrators was very well staffed by Israeli and Jewish students all-day and mobbed by other students. Whilst our colleagues on the other side were left with their megaphone, leaflets and a fairly empty stall, we were able to explain to visitors, over some falafel and hummus, some of the complexities of the Middle East conflict and the situation with the Palestinians. We have learnt lots of lessons.
First, we should not to be intimidated by the aggressive tactics adopted by this campaign. If we stand up together for what we believe in we can get our voice heard. You can’t do it alone. Second, it is important to participate in the debate. There is an astonishing lack of understanding of the issues and many of those supporting the campaign have little knowledge of the history of the conflict. Finally, how vital it is that Jewish students stand for election to the Student Union – if we don’t take positions of responsibility, we leave the way clear for our opponents who will use these positions to promote their agenda.
Annabel Helman – Lancaster University, Economics and Geography
The Friends of Palestine had a very small stall in the main square and were peacefully giving out leaflets and letting people approach them. Several of us from Lancaster J-Soc went around campus putting up some posters and then took to leafleting anyone that seemed to express an interest. We had a few interesting discussions with members from the Friends of Palestine, which on the whole were very peaceful and positive. In fact, at one point they suggested we came together for a ‘peace day’, so it was nice we were able to have a positive impact. Overall, the IAW Campaign didn’t seem to have much interest from students, so thank G-d it was more of a situation where we didn’t know who to give leaflets to, rather than feeling the panic of having to give a leaflet to everyone, in fear of some bias brainwashing.
Elliot Miller – University College London, History
I was personally involved with the #Rethink2014 campaign as one of the earliest campaign ambassadors. This involved a lot of social media work and advertising. At UCL, as the J-Soc campaigns officer, I had the fall support of the committee to pursue an Israeli Apartheid Week Counter Campaign. This involved J-Soc students distributing leaflets at the same time and place as the Friends of Palestine Society around Campus. Further, we set up a panel discussion “How Democratic is Israel?” featuring a wide range of views from within the community, including Alan Johnson from BICOM, Sefi Kedmi from One Voice and Hannah Weisfeld from Yachad. This was set up together with LSE Israel Society. Finally, on Wednesday 26th, a mock wall and checkpoints were set up on campus. In response, a number of students from the J-Soc stood outside for hours discussing and presenting the other side of the story. The atmosphere was cordial and friendly, despite the obstacles presented to us.