The outlook in the UK is gloomy. Not only have there been the highest number anti-Semitic incidents ever recorded in one month, but there have also been student occupations on campus as well as reports published on bias in the media.
Israel’s incursion into Gaza has led to 21 student occupations so far at our universities.* The students’ demands have all been fairly similar: a University statement condemning Israel’s invasion, the creation of a scholarship program for Palestinian students, twinning with the Islamic University of Gaza, the showing the Gaza appeal, the one the BBC refused to broadcast, and the suspension of links with defense companies especially those involved in supplying arms to Israel.
Other demands are based on the Durban conference boycott, divestments and sanctions programs requiring the universities to divest from companies that are involved in supporting the Israeli “occupation” such as Caterpillar and a ban on the sale of Israeli food and drink products on campus.
University authorities have dealt with the occupations in different ways ranging from reaching a settlement within 24 hours to the forcible eviction of the students - - the majority of them issuing statements which met their students’ demands. Strathclyde University in Scotland went one step further and cancelled its contract with its main water cooler supplier, the Israeli owned company, Eden Springs.
The students’ grass roots action has been organized by use of blogs, texts and social networking sites. The National Union of Students has been completely sidelined and has had no input or control of the actions.
In recent years the leaders of the school community have had to contend with many threats including an academic boycott of Israel, and they have been talking to both the Government and the Universities during the last month. The Union of Jewish students has also been working hard but like NUS they have only been able to monitor rather than influence events.
The rise in anti-Semitism holds British Jews responsible for the actions of the state of Israel and the rhetoric used often fails to distinguish between Jews and Israelis.
The community leaders' failure to learn from their inaction in the 1970’s, the era of “Zionism is racism” has come home to roost, both on campus and with the trade unions. The Vice-Chancellors of our universities have shown in the last month that they have the power to deal with student activism if they want to. How they react depends on their personal experience which often includes their opposition to apartheid in South Africa. However their knowledge and understanding of Israel or what is anti-Semitism is often limited and inaccurate. There should be educational programs for both academics and students which include visits to Israel.
The current generation of students is being brought up on a diet of “Israel is a racist and apartheid state;” these experiences will be with them for the rest of their life. How will they react towards the actions of the state of Israel in 25 years time when they are in positions of power and influence?
What Israel’s Gaza operation and the student occupations have shown is that we need not only a presence on TV and in the media but also in the unregulated world of the internet throughout the world. A Google search for blogs which mention, for example “boycott Israel” brought up 30,000 postings in the last month, the overwhelming majority promoting the Palestinian narrative. By comparison there were only 3000 postings about massacre of thousands of Tamils in Sri Lanka.
Unlike reports in newspapers once information or opinions are out there on the internet, it is there forever, no matter if it is inaccurate or out of date - - the “Jenin massacre” is a perfect example of this. It is now more urgent than ever to answer these blogs. If you need information or help to start doing this, email me.
*The universities occupied have been SOAS, LSE, Essex, King’s College, Birmingham, Sussex, Warwick, Manchester Met, Oxford, Leeds, Cambridge, Sheffield Hallam, Bradford, Nottingham, Queen Mary’s, Manchester, Strathclyde, University of East Anglia, Glasgow, Goldsmiths and Bradford