Solidarity When It Suits Us: Anti-Semitism In The Student Movement

28/12/2011 00:04 GMT | Updated 26/02/2012 10:12 GMT

The demonstration on 9 November in London was to be a clear and direct message to the government that students are still here, still angry, and are certainly not giving up on future generations of students. It was also a reaction to the government's insistence of waging war on youth; scrapping EMA, a cursory National Scholarship Scheme, trebling of tuition fees in England, cutting 80% of the teaching grant to universities, and cutting vital lifelines in public support services which students, nationally, benefit from. Same old tune, some might say.

Indeed most students who have been involved in the movement over the last two years will know that these are just the headliners, and indeed that the double headed Cleggeron dragon has rampaged its way right through youth services and provisions and doesn't look as if it's likely to stop any time soon as it flails around trying to 'do things' and 'reform' services for the better. It's ok, though, because it's all in the name of deficit reduction, and this is all just pragmatic, right?

The disconcerting, yet expected, narrative of the coalition government is centred around this obscure notion that withdrawing funding from public services will be replaced by the private sector somehow. Oh dear.

Anyway, back to #nov9. The day was nice enough, the two coach loads of students leaving Warwick Students' Union for central London had a fantastic optimistic vibe about them. Our coaches were abuzz with talk of whether first years, college students last year, had been on the 10.11.10 national demonstration which saw 60,000 people attend, and with reminders of relevant chants from those referring to building bonfires through to the casual "Nick Clegg shame on you shame on you for turning blue".

So there I was, certain as much as anyone else that we would be marching against the government's path of destroying the future of millions of young people, armed with words, placards, and conviction, wary perhaps, that the government had deployed just as many police officers that had been deployed after four days of riots on the day of the demonstration. Tweets were flying around about rubber bullets and pre-emptive tactical kettling.

We had our maps, our contingency cards, and those responsible had everyone's emergency contact details. The 60 or so Warwick students met and cautiously avoided anarchist groups dressed in black - we, the Warwick SU 'officials', were of course to steer students away from the danger of kettles and uncouth activity.

We gathered by LSE Students' Union by Aldwych Street, waiting for the march to begin. The atmosphere was fantastic, and everyone was in good spirits, in solidarity with one another. Regardless of the kind of political or activist background, students were there en force to send one clear message to the government, or at least, that's what I thought.

Whilst walking around the crowds, admiring slogans and placards, a student handing out a magazine stopped and asked if I wanted a copy. Before I had the opportunity to answer he told me that he knew who I was and that he followed me on Twitter. Rather taken aback and wondering indeed whether this was true, I asked if I could have a copy of the publication he was handing out. The rest of the conversation went something like this:

"You tweet a lot about Israel"

Feeling rather uncomfortable, "not that much", I responded. Before I had the chance to say anything else, "yeah and about how much you hate Palestinians"

"I've never tweeted let alone said anything about hating Palestinians because I don't, I tweet about Israel because I'm Jewish."- again, cut off-

"Tweeting about Israel because you're Jewish must mean that you hate Palestinians, come on admit it! Why can't you and other Jews just stop hating Palestinians? Do you see Israel as a legitimate state?"

"I'm critical of the government's approach to expanding settlements and of human rights abuses on both sides - I don't hate Palestine or Palestinians, and yes I think that Israel and Palestine both have the right to self-determination"

"I can't believe you just said that about Israel, Jews have no sense of justice"

Fairly shocked and disheartened at the student's lack of willingness to listen to my side of all of this, and noting his decision to bypass me to get to students to pass out his pile of magazines, I decided to continue making sure my students were all together. How exactly does the Israel/Palestine question factor into a march defending, extending, and protecting the rights of students and future generations of students vis a vis government cuts? I asked myself.

So remember that feeling of solidarity and that buzz I was talking about, and how there may be a variety of political views on the spectrum but that everyone had come to the demonstration with a single purpose? Disillusionment doesn't even begin to describe how I felt, not at the purpose of the march but at the student movement. Because this wasn't an attack on being a Zionist, this was a gross generalisation of a faith and of a people, based on false inferences by a student with a perverse sense of evangelicalism who would not let me put my case forward. His disgusting rhetoric, if not hate speech, was not what I nor what any student should or would expect to be confronted with at a national student demonstration. Had I been an average first year student I may have taken this as an example of what the student movement is like on the whole, something which I would say would be misguided and untrue.

I know that right across the political spectrum the movement, as a whole, is bigger and better than that, because if there is one thing I like to think we can all broadly agree on it is in the necessity in respecting each other's identities. My views on Israel (though I would argue are fairly progressive and left-wing) can of course be questioned, but to bring my identity as a Jewish student into question and then make ignorant inferences about Jews in general is anti-Semitic and has no place within the movement.

I wouldn't want any of this to dissuade Jewish students from being involved in the movement nor of coming to future demonstrations by any means, in fact it is examples such as these which I would use to encourage students from any minority background to get involved and to strive to challenge bigoted views in society -- from the student movement up to the highest echelons of business and government.

I would never argue that there is one spot on the political spectrum that those within the student movement would nor should align themselves with, but in times of demonstrations it is at least conceivable that there would be an aligned political view on an issue such as government cuts or tuition fees, and that solidarity around the view would be paramount to other issues.

Today is the eighth and final night of Channukah, the Jewish festival of lights, which celebrates, the overcoming of adversity. To me it is a reminder of tolerance, respect, and renews my hope for better coexistence of minority and majority groups in the UK and around the world so that this kind of interaction at an event based upon solidarity and common views and values doesn't happen again.