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.