UJS Blog

Zionism and J-Socs by

Nathan Abraham, University of Greenwich

Recently, I was honoured with the opportunity to be part of the delegation representing UJS at the 2013-14 World Union of Jewish Students (WUJS) congress in Jerusalem, Israel. WUJS is the global umbrella organization for Jewish student unions. This was part of our ‘Israel innovation’ trip. On the first day of the trip, we had the privilege to meet with two Israeli start-up businesses in Tel Aviv.


With Israeli innovations always on the cutting edge, our visit to two companies (one offering computer solutions, the other allowing researchers the ability to manipulate and design everything from single genes to entire genomes), made me think what the future holds for Israel and its commitment to innovation. We also visited the Blind Museum in Holon (Dialogue in the dark) - an unforgettable experience and Save a Child’s Heart - an Israeli-based international humanitarian project, whose mission is to improve the quality of paediatric cardiac care for children from developing countries.


This all happened in just half a day in Israel! There were many more creative and innovative opportunities we had the opportunity to learn from during the rest of the trip.


I begin by relating this to you because since October, when I first got involved with UJS, I have noticed that not all Jewish students share my enthusiasm and public support of Israel. At UJS Conference, which was held in December 2013, one of the motions put forward was to: ‘Make every effort to separate Israel advocacy from J-Socs’.


I was disappointed that there were so many students present that did not want to publically stand up for Israel like I do. Even more challenging for me was the minority of students desperate to distance UJS from any connection to Israel. I feel it is important to address my concerns straight away and share them with the whole community.


I have observed that this is a growing trend in Anglo Jewry and one which makes me feel more and more uncomfortable.  The precise reason for this phenomenon is not immediately clear to me - and I can only speculate on this matter. One speculation could be that it is a reaction to the anti-Israel sentiment in the British Press (and within the British public) – a sad reality which it seems some people may have internalised.


I believe these are issues that we as Jews must combat within our own community. Jewish students should not be ashamed or reluctant to voice support for the Jewish State. Israel’s right to exist is constantly questioned on Britain’s university campuses – and I feel that Jewish students should unequivocally stand in support of the Jewish State. There can be no cowardice on this point, and I feel that the Jews who condemn Israel or remain agnostic on Israel’s right to exist, have shirked from their duty to their people. After all, the State of Israel is the manifestation of the nationalist aspirations of the world’s Jews.  For this reason it seems natural to me that we would all therefore wish to support it.


So how do we react to this? How do we as students stand for what we believe in?


There are fears held by some students that supporting Israel on campus puts the supporters under the risk of violent attacks by protestors. For this reason, some students at UJS Conference suggested that Israel advocacy should be separated from Jewish Societies in order to best protect the interests of Jewish students. I question such an opinion.


Will this truly best protect the Jewish students’ interests?

I do not believe so. Merely separating Israel from the Jewish Society is not tackling the problem. It simply allows the continuation of such terrible instances and gives the wrongdoers the chance to act again. It sacrifices a major component of Jewish identity out of fear. This is a saddening reality in the twenty-first century. Would it not be more sensible for every Jewish Society to stand strong against these issues and support each other? With the support of every member of UJS, we can help clarify the truth concerning Israel. If we, as a union of over 8000 students, can support each other, we can best protect our interests on campus.


I write this article because I want to make sure that suggestions like the one raised at Conference, are not the beginning of anti-Israel sentiment within UJS. I hope that the minority of students who want to distance themselves from Israel do not successfully persuade too many of their peers to join them in doing so.


UJS has historically been the beacon of student Zionism – and we cannot allow a minority of students to disrupt the relationship between us, as Jewish students, with Israel.


Rather, I believe UJS should be wholly committed in bringing more positivity and engagement between Jewish students and Israel - to celebrate the Jewish State together.


Nathan Abraham is currently studying at the University of Greenwich. The motion to ‘Make every effort to separate Israel advocacy from J-Socs’ was not passed at UJS Conference.


A misinformed article. If you actually read the motion or listened to the debate, the motion was trying to improve Israel engagement by doing it through dedicated streams such as Israel societies. It was an attempt to improve Israel engagement. It wanted to engage non-Jews, non-religious Israelis, and people who may be put off by the religious aspect of JSocs. But I accept it failed, and I am glad it was debated.

Your call for us to blindly support Israel - "Jewish students should unequivocally stand in support of the Jewish state" - is very dangerous. (Unequivocally = in a way that is not subject to conditions or exceptions). We need to engage with the true depth of Israel, with the good and bad bits (try reading Alex Sinclair's book - Loving the Real Israel). Unequivocal doesn't mean engagement, it means blind support. In the real world, nobody will take that seriously, so if you (like me) actually want to share the good aspects of Israel with other people, you need to have this deeper, nuanced appreciation. You discuss a (completely unsubstantiated) idea of "a growing trend in Anglo-Jewry", but this trend is actually a trend towards nuance and deeper understanding of the complexities of the situation with Israel and the diaspora. The recent Hayek/Davis debacle could be seen to highlight this.

Granted, there may be some 'anti-Zionist' jews, but we need to debate with them! They still have a right to speak, and still have a right to be able to practice their Judaism - if they are on campus, the UJS has to represent them too. Hence the UJS is called the UJS, not the UZS.

Finally, you claim "Jews who condemn Israel [...] have shirked from their duty to their people." I find it very funny that you have the right to define what is each Jew's 'duty to their people'. Try to appreciate that people engage in different ways - its actually enshrined in two of UJS' core values. To then argue this point based on the (somewhat blinkered and simplistic) assertion that Zionism is "the Nationalist aspirations of the world's Jews" just shows a complete lack of appreciation from you and probably from the UJS on the diversity of Jewish students - we aren't all nationalist (in regards to Israel or elsewhere)!

Please, in the future, avoid making statements on behalf of the Jewish people, and try understand the arguments people are making before you completely and incorrectly paraphrase them.
Great article!

I think this point was raised at the UJS COnference, but if not, here it goes again: the people who think that separating an Israeli Soc from the JSocs on campus will do the trick are disillusioned.
When you walk around campus wearing a kippah or you are in any other way easily recognisable on campus as a Jew, people who will despise you will not come to you and ask you: are you a Zionist? They will not like you because you are a Jew and for them, you are connected to Israel (the irony- they see you connected to Israel but you fail to see this connection?)
Great piece and very true - perhaps you'd be interested to read about what happened to us in Oxford.

The Oxford JSoc is strictly apoltical, as supporting Israel is seen as so controversial by some Jewish students there. As a side note, the JSoc was initially founded as the Zionist Society in 1904. These individuals were turning on their history as well as any sense of principle.

We compromised by agreeing to the separation of JSoc from the Israel Society - only to find that these individuals were also against an Israel Society that stood up for Israel. And wait for it... some of those Jewish students were Israeli! It really beggars belief.

I worry that one day these people will be in charge of the Board of Deputies - or at least cause it a lot of grief.
Just to clarify, the Conference motion to which you refer was not "anti-Israel". It was simply aimed at ensuring that Jewish students who do not subscribe to the same Israel narrative as you are not 'roped into it' by their JSocs.

Distancing Jewish communal institutions from political support for Israel is not the same thing as distancing Jews from Israel; I supported that Conference motion, but still strongly support the existence of a Jewish state of Israel, strongly oppose BDS and pursue both of these objectives as an elected member of the Board of Deputies.

In future, please could you try not to ascribe false motives to those who table motions at UJS' democratic Conference.
Far be it from me to try and second guess Jewish students on the ground in a distant country but I'd think that one of the axiomatic missions of any organization calling itself a "Jewish Society", would be to express solidarity with other Jews.

Whether we are talking about our fellow Jews in France facing the increased popularity of Dieudonné M'bala M'bala or our brothers and sisters in the Crimea caught between warring factions, should it not be automatic that Jews in the UK should express solidarity?

And if we are talking about those who would deny the Jewish people as a whole our right to national self determination in our ancient homeland; should opposing them not be an automatic expression of Jewish identity? It's not just a nation state called Israel they are attacking, it's you.

Of course, I'm not suggesting that one should try to excuse the crimes of a Bernie Madof just because he's a fellow Jew, but is anyone suggesting that Israel, collectively, is the equivalent of a Bernie Madof? I don't think the author of this article is (correct me if I'm wrong), so why the reluctance to express fraternal solidarity as Jews?
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