At LSE the student union’s weekly general meeting debated a motion to boycott Israel, while the increasingly ridiculous Oxford Union graciously accepted Israel’s right to exist despite the best attempts of all the external speakers. Last term’s Israel debate collapsed entirely after the President disinvited Norman Finkelstein claiming his invitation to defend Israel was an innocent mistake.
This term brought a new President but the same tired old excuses; the only difference being that after last term’s disgraceful invitations to Nick Griffin and David Irving no-one takes the Oxford Union seriously, not even the invited guests. Last weeks debate descended into predictable farce as Ted Honderich crossed from proposing Israel’s right to exist to opposing it during his opponent’s speech in an act of embarrassing pantomime. Norman Finkelstein stayed ‘loyal’ to his seat but not his side of the debate as he culminated his week long tour of the UK by voting against himself.
While the modus operandi of the Oxford Union continues to be publicity and sensationalism rather then intellectual debate no-one will take it seriously as a political voice. Of more concern are the events at the London School of Economics on the same day which saw an attempt to pass through a condemnation of Israel as an apartheid state and call for divestment from it.
The motion was released only 48 hours before the debate, giving its opponents little time to mobilise. The reaction from the student body however was incredible; it was defeated thanks not only to Jewish and Israeli students but also those ‘neutrals’ who had simply had enough of their union being used to attack Israel rather then represent students.
At LSE the ‘hidden agenda’ became clear to the wider student body. The motion was defeated not because anyone in the room argued that Israel is perfect but because students simply did not buy that Israel was an apartheid state or that it was racist; they didn’t buy the notion of continued ethnic cleansing and utterly rejected the disgusting comparisons with Nazi Germany. That wasn’t all though; the motion (all three pages of it) made no mention of the words peace, tolerance, coexistence or dialogue, a fact not lost on those neutral in the room.
The real success was not only the defeat of the motion but the distribution of over 500 flyers to students showing the sides of Israel its detractors are determined to hide. British universities continue to be seen as a key driving force behind anti-Israel propaganda but student bodies are now realising the damaging effect this tag has not only on their reputation but more importantly on the welfare of many of their students.
As Jewish students we have always refused to have our identity defined by those who seek to attack it, only we have the right to define our identity. So despite the events of this past week (and previous examples across the country) we continue to engage in a plethora of cultural, religious, political, educational and social activities on campus and we will continue to fight for the right to do that free from the intimidation and harassment that is still all to prevalent on our campuses.
Yair Zivan is Campaigns Director of the Union of Jewish StudentsLearn more »