Changing the Dynamic on British Campuses

February 8, 2018

At our demonstration last week in support of pro-Israel activist Hen Mazzig, we witnessed Jewish students beginning to demoralize the anti-Zionist protesters with their enthusiasm and positivity. Mazzig has now twice been dehumanized and defamed in an antisemitic manner during visits to UCL, University College London. However, as Jewish and pro-Israel students, we will continue to stand up for ourselves and our beliefs and strive for an open environment surrounding discussion of the Middle East on campus.

We have indeed reached a milestone. Palestinian demonstrators feel that Jewish students are successfully portraying themselves as “the good guys.”

Last year, Mazzig was violently protested at UCL at his event with CAMERA on Campus UK and UCL Friends of Israel. With the slanderous claim that he was complicit in “war crimes,” we came in expecting to be on the defensive. The Palestinian Society from UCL and other London-based universities caught the Jewish community off-guard. On the whole, our response to their antisemitic chants of “from the river to the sea” was fear and confusion. They jumped through windows, banged on the doors, pushed, shoved and screamed and we were collectively shocked into inaction.

This time, we were prepared to stand up for ourselves in a decisively peaceful manner. We organized a protest entitled “Tel Aviv Takes UCL Quad” and created an atmosphere in which we celebrated our identities, our freedom of expression and the State of Israel. We danced, we sang, we chanted peacefully and we attempted to hand out Israeli food to protesters and passers-by.

An op-ed written by a Palestinian demonstrator after the event alleges that we behaved “appallingly, demonstrating racist and dangerous views.” The same writer, however, notes that we appeared to “win over the hearts of the uninformed.”

Never before have we been seen to be in such a position of strength. On campuses in the UK, the default position expected of uninformed students is anti-Zionism. However, as we take a proud, positive approach to Israel engagement, we can see the beginnings of change.

We have decided that our Israel societies do not exist to focus wholly on the negative in Israeli society. Our existence is based on a positive celebration of our identity, not on any denunciation of Palestinian identity or statehood. We aim to educate about the threats and challenges facing Israel, but we do not come from a position of victimhood. We enjoy just as much putting on social events and educating about Israel’s achievements, including in technology and innovation.

For the Palestinian Society however, identity and purpose is based on demonizing Israel and intimidating pro-Israel students on campus. Rather than focusing on issues pertaining to building democratic social and political institutions in the Palestinian territories, their purpose is to demonize every single Israeli that dares set foot on campus.

As students in the Diaspora we are in a really unique position to engage with “pro-Palestinian” students in discussions about the conflict. However, the students representing Palestinians on campus refuse entirely to engage in any dialogue. They see Israel as an insurmountable enemy that they can never accept in any form.

We attempted to sit down and dialogue with them throughout the protest, and I personally had constructive conversations with someone who was keen to accept an Israeli state alongside a Palestinian one. However, there were always multiple people among the Palestinian protesters pulling at us, attempting to separate us and prevent our discussion. They said: “don’t feel like you need to respond to them.”

The reality is that the Palestinian societies exist as an anti-Zionist, not a pro-Palestinian, movement on campus. We on the other hand exist as a movement to celebrate and explore Israel. We should be incredibly proud of our state, which has existed for a mere 70 years, built on refugees from across the globe, on strength and ideals and perseverance. Our activities on campus reflect this.

Perhaps if we continue to “win over the hearts of the uninformed,” we will be able to build a better environment for dialogue on campus. One based on a constructive desire to discuss political issues and reach new levels of understanding. Until this occurs, we will keep striving for this ideal and for our freedom of expression as proud Jewish and pro-Israel students.

Contributed by Tamara Berens, Campus Associate for CAMERA on Campus UK and president of CAMERA-supported society KCL Israel Society.

A version of this article was originally published at the Jerusalem Post.

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