As Israel Apartheid week draws to a close, many Jewish students will breathe a sigh of relief as they sit down for Friday night dinner at their respective Shabbat hosts around campus. But for Jewish university students across the UK, the fight is not over. The continuous spewing of hate and discrimination across our campuses has brought a level of discomfort and fear amongst Jewish societies that we never suspected in 2016.
As organizers of Israel Apartheid week prepared for their campaigns and demonstrations, Jewish students teamed together to set up stalls in their unions to promote a message of 'building bridges' and peace within the middle east. Flyers promoting a two state solution, information about the development of the state of Israel, and handing out traditional Israeli food were distributed to onlookers around the university unions. Many Jewish students found this stall to be a safe space where they can fight for peace and stand up to any hate and aggression thrown towards them. By promoting a strong message of coexistence and harmony, we felt that we would at least be met with appreciation and respect. The aim for Jewish students during this challenging week was to avoid conflict, stand up for peace and to engage in interesting and civil dialogue with those who disagree with our objectives.
In many universities across the UK, this was not the case, at Leeds University, Jsoc campaigners were met with aggression and anti-Semitic filled statements that were deemed hurtful and threatening. Jewish societies were accused by members of The Palestinian Solidarity group of being 'dangerous', due to the range of Israeli speakers they bring on campuses. The presentation of the Israel flag behind the Jewish society stall was accused of being 'abominable' as it promoted 'murder, burning and death'. Israeli charity JNF was accused of ethnic cleansing as posting were plastered around the union.
Everything from the 2 state solution leaflets handed out, to the innocent hummus tubs, were scrutinized, as it was clear that there was a hidden agenda among the students. Jewish students were directly labeled 'deluded' and 'crazy' by members of the Palestinian solidarity group, before finally the dialogue came to an end when it was agreed that if there cannot be a civil dialogue, then the argument is invalid.
However, not all dialogue was aggressive and threatening, in many cases, Arab and Jewish students engaged in positive, warming dialogue where they discussed their differences, and agreed to continue interfaith work and education. This is the type of positive message that Jewish students are hoping for with all students, whether they are against Israel or for Israel. The most rewarding feeling is when two sides can come together for a healthy debate and discussion, to show their mutual respect for one another and to ultimately, work together.
However, for many Jewish students, this will be their first glimpse of any sort of hatred towards their faith or towards their dedication to Israel. Jewish societies are renowned for their offering of a safe, warm space for students to meet and enjoy their time together. But it is increasingly being accused of being something else, a space for animosity and abhorrence.
The question that really needs to be asked is, should there even be an Israel Apartheid Week? Is this acceptable on our campuses? Following the resignation of Oxford Labour Student Club Co- chairman, Alex Chalmers, students have come to the realization there has been a culture of acceptance when it comes to IAW, and the fine line between Anti - Israel stances and Anti -Semitism has been crossed.
Jewish students have never felt more alone, but have never felt closer as a community of students. Constant social media interactions and discussions throughout the week has prompted a level of community that Jewish students never thought existed in these times of hate. Campaign directors of the Jewish societies have dedicated every spare moment to these campaigns, from fighting difficult and hurtful questions, to campaigning for a better, safer union, they have not stopped for a moment. It is important that the Jewish community and higher authorities within the community understand how tirelessly Jewish students across the UK are working to spread a message of peace and to attempt to dilute an aggressive argument. Jewish students across campuses need to know that they are not working alone, that they have the support of their Jewish community back home, there is always more to be done.
It is also time for the University Unions all over the UK to stand up and support the work of the Jewish societies, it is not enough to simply have the support of the Jewish community, we need more than that. We need our National Student Union, and our own personal unions to stand with us in the light of any threatening demonstrations or dialogue that may affect our time of university.
Jewish students have prided themselves on solidarity, interfaith work and community, and we will continue to work harder until we spread our message further. It is never our aim to create a hateful dialogue, or to engage in nasty arguments and aggressive contact, we want to work together, to promote peace.