On the Anti-Semitic incident at NUS Conference

Since there’s some accusations being bandied about me by a few individuals regarding a petition I signed here, I wanted to state my opinion of what took place.

The Union of Jewish Students (UJS) stall was vandalised on Tuesday night with Palestine stickers on the boards and posters, with a clear cluster of them on the Star of David. If it had been done in a similar fashion to the Federation of Islamic Student Societies (FOSIS) stall I’m sure everyone would have rightly condemned it as a racist attack. However some individuals are claiming I was wrong to put my name to a statement which designated the incident racist.

I still stand by this, for a number of reasons.

One: Although I strongly disagree with the UJS’s political stance on Zionism and Israel, ultimately the UJS is more than that. It is also a cultural and religious association, and many of it’s members are non-political and wouldn’t necessarily designate themselves as Zionist. Therefore making their stall a target for this type of action is wrong, as it only bolsters the blurring of Judaism and Zionism that the leadership of UJS have consistently attempted to promote. Incidentally, this being my fourth conference, this is the first conference where I have noticed a distinct lack of pro-Israel advocacy coming from UJS, which makes the vandalism even more unjustified.

Two: The motivation of the perpetrator is of no consequence to this being a racist attack. We consistently condemn people like Gilad Atzmon for their anti-semiticism, even if he may genuinely care about Palestine and may just be expressing frustration at the situation there. Just like I’m almost certain the person who did this at NUS is not a racist and didn’t mean for it to be racist, but was most likely new and naive to the situation.

Three: Condemning this incident as racist has zero negative political consequences for Palestine advocacy in the student movement. I have to give credit to the NUS President Liam Burns for not using this incident to whip up anti-Palestine sentiment in conference – he didn’t mention Palestine once in his address. Three years ago, even one year ago, the right wing at NUS would have jumped at an opportunity like this to denounce and demonise Palestine activists and associate the incident with solidarity work. This didn’t happen, and the petition I signed certainly doesn’t do this either. What’s more, the Vice-President of Society and Citizenship’s report, which came later in the day, included a section on the success of NUS’s first BDS campaign, to cancel the Kings College London – Ahava research project.

Four: I believe that the worst I can be accused of is over-reacting to the incident. Maybe if we go down a nuanced academic route it wasn’t technically a “racist” incident, but that’s just me. I’ve always been very passionate about anti-racism and will definitely accept that I tend to jump at issues with an overly-emotional attitude. However what I won’t accept is being accused of jumping on a right wing bandwagon that now demonises the Palestine solidarity movement. For the reasons given above I know this to be utter rubbish. In fact I think it shows how fantastically principled and consistently anti-racist the UK student movement for Palestine has been, that only rags like the Jewish Chronicle have tried to link this incident with the student movement for Palestinian human rights.

And frankly that last point hits at the crux of all this – that some Palestine activists need to be more confident of the truly anti-racist nature of the Palestine solidarity movement, even more so with the Palestinian BDS movement offering leadership to international solidarity. For example, I am more than happy to condemn Islamophobia when it very occasionally rears its head in the LGBTQ movement, because I have no worries that this will in any way affect the principled and just struggle for LGBTQ rights. Equally I have no qualms with condemning anti-semiticism when it occasionally rears its head in the Palestine solidarity movement. That’s not condemning the movement, it’s only making it stronger.

So let’s keep that pride and confidence in the Palestine solidarity movement, the most important international anti-racism issue since the fall of Apartheid South Africa. We don’t need to shy away from our principles, and that’s what makes it such an incredible movement to be a part of.

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