The defeat of my AMM motion damages the fight against anti-semitism

Last Thursday saw a set-back in the fight against anti-semitism

At last Thursdays AMM, I stood up on behalf of Bristol Uni Friends of Palestine (Palsoc) to defend a motion I had put forward: “This Union resolves to block the University from using any products or services provided or produced by companies that benefit from the Israeli settlements in the Occupied West Bank.”

While that’s not the sexiest title a motion has ever had, it clearly describes its controversial content.

The motion wasn't the most exciting but it was clear enough

The motion wasn’t the most exciting but it was clear enough

Perhaps understanding the kind of debate this motion could potentially spark, the organisers saved it until last, a fiery finale to an otherwise uneventful summit.

Probably the most exciting part of the AMM was all the free pizza

The most exciting part of the AMM was all the free pizza

As my moment to speak arrived I was feeling butterflies in my stomach. Public speaking is nerve-racking enough. Speaking in front of 350 or so students is worlds apart from my usual oratory role as a grime MC.

On top of that, this was not to be simply a speech. It was going to be a speech on a controversial issue to a crowd that would harbour a passionate and organised opposition, a crowd that would rightly be critical of any inaccuracies or unfounded rhetoric.

I knew it would be a debate, and one in which I really cared about the issue being discussed. I was on edge.

I spoke for 90 seconds, briefly covering the legal status of the settlements in the Israeli Occupied West Bank (they are most definitely illegal) and their effect on the Palestinians of the West Bank (they aren’t exactly overjoyed with the whole occupation malarkey).

I explained how international companies were profiting from this particular situation, and why I feel we as a student body should lobby against our university employing these companies, Israeli or otherwise.

Making my voice heard

Making my voice heard

To provide balance, a willing audience member was chosen to speak against my motion for 90 seconds. Hannah Rose, Vice-President of J-Soc was chosen, and spoke clearly, eloquently and convincingly against my motion. It was a very well thought-out and well prepared speech.

After several rounds of questions, in which many personal opinions were put forward with passion and clarity for both sides of the argument, the motion was put to a vote.

The debate also unfolded on twitter

The debate also unfolded on twitter

The results were 83 for, 114 against: a close, but definite defeat. Despite coming second best, it was an overall positive experience.

However the debate left me with a grave concern.

Much like the motion’s opposition, I am incredibly worried about anti-semitism and its connection with the Israel-Palestine conflict. Two key points here:

  1. The situation in Israel/Palestine has, and does lead to instances of anti-Semitism in the UK and it does so with two requisites. Many individuals take a very negative view of the Israeli government and its policy towards the Palestinians.
  2. Many individuals do not distinguish between Jews, Israel and Israel government policy.

The people who blame Jews in the UK for the government policy of Israel are morons who conflate a complex and diverse religious/cultural identity with the actions of a particular government.

In their contribution to the fight against anti-semitism, J-Soc and it’s umbrella organisation UJS throw their weight behind the effort to defend Israel, but I worry that when the official representatives of Jewish students defends Israel, it conflates Jews with Israel, contributing heavily to the confusion mentioned above that many individuals suffer from.

This was only made worse by the fact that my motion was specifically targeting an Israeli policy, and a pretty naughty policy at that.

Acting as spokespersons for Bristol’s Jewish students, the opposition claimed the settlements in the Israel occupied West Bank were not strictly illegal and that they improve the lives of the Palestinians.

This is an extreme opinion and I feel J-Soc has misrepresented Jewish opinion generally and Jewish opinion in the UK specifically.

With virtually universal condemnation by the bodies of international law, the general global opinion of the settlements is incredibly negative and this is not going to change.

What we must do to combat anti-semitism is to emphasize that Jews are not Israel, Israel is not Jews, and that a Jewish individual can not, and should not, be held accountable for the government policy of a foreign state.

The opposition’s main argument last week was that such a boycott as the one I proposed would contribute to anti-semitic sentiments. To me at least, it really seems that individuals, speaking on behalf of Jewish students, tacitly defending a government policy that is so clearly disgusting, and conflating criticism of such a policy with anti-semitism, will setback the fight against the heinous scourge that is anti-semitism.

Their effort, which was ostensibly motivated to counter anti-Semitism, will harm hopes of eradicating anti-semitism more than a boycott motion ever could.

When someone says a boycott of settlements will definitely cause anti-Semitism, they are identifying Jews with Israeli policy and this is a problem for anyone who recognises the awfulness of what Israel is doing.

I believe that on Thursday night the official representatives of Jewish students have traded the long-term struggle against prejudice for the short-term goal of defending the illegal Israeli settlements, and this is not only worrying, but wrong.