As a Modern Orthodox Jew, a recent graduate from the University of Edinburgh and a former President of the University’s Jewish Society, (2012/13), I congratulate the student body’s decision to pass a motion of BDS. This is a victory for minority rights and democracy at the University. BDS is a non-violent campaign called for by over 170 Palestinian civil society organisations which use the methods of boycott, divestment and sanctions from institutions and companies who benefit from and contribute to Palestinian oppression in order to pressure the Israeli state to operate within the boundaries set by international law. EUSA has stood in solidarity with Palestinians through their ‘Right to Education Week’ and their twin union the Palestinian Birzeit Students Union in the West Bank since 2005. This vote shows that EUSA and Edinburgh University students are still committed to liberation politics.
In the light of growing anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and racism across Europe, this show of solidarity comes as a welcome and much needed stand. Increasing numbers of anti-Semitic incidents on UK campuses up and down the country are reported and dealt with accordingly. This demonstrates the hard work that liberation groups and student unions across the country have put into creating safe spaces where students feel comfortable speaking up about ways in which they have been discriminated. As a young Jewish woman I did not feel brave enough to speak up against the snide anti-Semitic comments I received at school, yet when I stepped into Bristo Square as a fresher in 2011 I slowly found myself in a place where people took my concerns seriously and safely. I found a fountain of information from which I could question the ideas and identity I had grown up with.
It saddens me that this successful move by BDS campaigners is overshadowed by accusations of anti-Semitism, which detract from the terrifying rise of fascism on UK and European streets. The Zeig Heils and blood-painted swastikas daubed onto vans in Dover earlier this year and the fascist demonstration held in Golders Green this Saturday have been eclipsed by fearmongering of pro-Palestinian successes. We must not let them rise again. I understand why Zionist Jewish students will feel intimidated by this decision but I must ask that you speak to fellow Palestinian students. How has this reaction affected them? How safe do they feel on campus?
I presided over a diverse JSoc headed by a committee of friends with different backgrounds, approaches to, and definitions of Judaism. 2011-13 was a tense period for liberation politics at the University of Edinburgh and we did all we could to support students who suffered from anti-Semitism on our campus and across Scotland. We decided to make the constitution apolitical and to create an Israel society where Edinburgh University students could discuss matters relating to Israel regardless of cultural or religious background, whilst creating a religious and politically pluralist JSoc.
I must make clear that I am neither unique nor alone. Building on the work of organisations such as JFJP and the Jewish Socialist’s Group, the growing frustration felt by many millennial Jews about the default positioning that support for Israel receives amongst Jewish civil society organisations has manifested in Jewish blocs at anti-fascist demonstrations led by groups such as Jewdas, and the creation of Babel’s Blessing Radical Language School. Do not tell us how and what to experience as anti-Semitism. Do not assume a political opinion based on my religion or creed, for we are not all the same and we will not be silenced. Not in my name.
Image: Adam Helweh