The so-called “Israel Apartheid Week” is the peak of the Israel-Palestine conflict on campuses, during which university societies claiming to support Palestinians around the UK campuses host events with controversial speakers and mock checkpoints and the “apartheid” wall. Needless to say that the core of this week is based on a misunderstanding of the Israel-Palestine conflict, the outcome has a serious negative impact on minds of students who leave misinformed and Jewish students are subject to intimidation, fear, and anti-Semitism.
This year, it has been different. Jewish and Israeli students all around the UK could no longer stay indifferent to the demonization of what is dear to them. We stood up on campuses for normalization of Israel as a cultural and political entity. For far too long, the lies and misconceptions surrounding Israel were allowed to spread without checks from university establishments, the ministry of education nor even students. It came to a point, that our events have to be organized with higher expenditures due to heavy security procedures because Israel society events such as the last year’s King’s College and UCL were disrupted by a violent mob of protesters from Palestine societies.
BDS lies such as “Israeli soldiers harvest organs of Palestinians” or “Zionism is a racism” culminated the corridors of universities and as a result, Jewish students have been the target of verbal as well as physical abuses. The BDS campaign ran by Palestine societies have dominated campuses, however this year we saw a massive difference. For this year’s Apartheid Week, we brought Israeli students from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem to help us with spreading the truth and fight for peace and coexistence between the two nations. Ordinary students in the UK have never met an Israeli and when they hear such lies, it is easy to have a demonized picture of an Israeli and the Holy Land. When the Israeli students participated in dialogues on SOAS campus, for some of my peers it was the first time they met an Israeli and the “cold hearted IDF soldier” prejudice was transformed into a human character. Our presence continued on campuses for two weeks with a simple message of peace and coexistence and as part of that, we were showing real Israel to students through VR glasses. It has been very successful as many students approached us with words of gratitude for balanced narratives and sweeping away the anti-Israel rhetoric on campuses.
Personally, this was an amazing experience because the dialogue at such hostile campus as SOAS, which many refer to as “Palestine territory”, was productive and even though students disagreed, everyone, stayed respectful and willing to listen. Besides an incident that occurred after the event, I saw a potential on my campus for an open dialogue and balanced narratives. When a student of Lebanese origin sanctioned a Palestinian student for speaking to the “zionists”, he replied, “With due respect, I understand you are an Arab, but I am a Palestinian and this is a direct conflict between me and them.” This is what the BDS movement is about. Was the movement really born from a Palestinian desire? Is the campaign actually helping Palestinians to build their nation state next to the State of Israel? If you speak to the students who advocate for BDS, they will tell you extremist ideas such as Palestinian terrorism is justifiable and that they do not recognize Israel as a nation. What about the two-state solution? Majority to whom you speak on campus will shout in your face “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free…”
These ideas reflect on the speakers the Palestine societies bring to campuses. This year at the Opening of Israeli Apartheid Week at King’s College London, the Palestine society invited Farid Esack who praised terrorism. Just to explain you, Farid Esack was banned from speaking on Israel-Palestine at French universities due to his radical views which can be identified as anti-semitic. In 2013 he justified calls to “shoot the jew” during a protest against an Israeli musician Daniel Zamir. Amongst other claims he has made is that he “would not pray” for Jewish victims of the 2015 terrorist attack on a Kosher deli in Paris. He clearly represents hate speech against jews according to the International Definition of anti-Semitism adopted by the UK government.
Middle East Eye, the online news portal, reported on complaints of Palestine societies that pro-Palestine events have been shut down by the universities. The video and article certainly portray it as “The UK government against Palestinian rights”. However, it fails to mention that the Palestine societies have been inviting speakers who preach hate speech, terrorism, and anti-Semitism. Allegedly UCL sent a staff to monitor a UCL Palestine Society event with Dr. Ang Swee. Even if this was true, it is certain why one would attempt to monitor such event as the speaker publicly said “Jews control the media, politics, and banking, what on earth is going on? I was worried.” This is a clearly anti-semitic comment and such public figure should not have the authority to speak on campuses. Furthermore, UCLU Palestine Society hosted an event with Ilan Pappe named “Am I an anti-Semite?” defining whether being critical of Israel means being an anti-Semite. The question was left unanswered, however present Jewish students faced intimidation accusations that they are part of Israeli government propaganda, that they control the media and comparison of Israel to ISIS.
It is distressing to acknowledge that this has been allowed to happen for years on campuses, however, this year change has happened and we will not allow people who call for murdering Jews and Israelis, to come to our campuses to preach so much hate. The law is on our side. The Israel-Palestine conflict is complex and there are misunderstandings on both sides, but the BDS movement and many speakers that the Palestine societies invite, are not providing any alternative to the conflict nor trying to build a road to the peace. Boycotting Israel means boycotting Palestine and collapse of the peace bridges because you boycott the right of Palestinians to have a peace and their own state which can come only through negotiations with the State of Israel.