The time Zionists were told they’re not welcome….

Dear SOAS Students’ Union,

Thank you for committing to solve many of the structural issues that have affected Jewish students at our university in recent years. We’ve now mandated our university to bring about real change that will make it easier for all Jewish students to practice their faith and participate in university.

You have taken steps to improve access to kosher food and recognised that Jewish students, like Muslim students, need a suitable place to pray and thus have now agreed to set aside a room suitable for all faiths to practice. These changes will make it easier to be a Jew on campus, allowing all Jewish students to express their Jewish identity however they choose.

Furthermore, changing Freshers’ Fayre to a day that all Jewish students can attend and recording lectures when they are unable to attend means that Jewish students will not face barriers when engaging in both their Students’ Union and their academic studies.

We’ve agreed to set up an Interfaith Committee to deal with issues such as antisemitism and mandated the union to run workshops on antisemitism during Freshers and Refreshers. We also mandated our Anti-Racism officers to work with the committee to implement a project at least once a term on tackling antisemitism. These changes are a significant step in the right direction.

I was, however, outraged when the decision was taken to remove a line in the motion that stated:

“Jewish students should be given the right to self-determination and be able to define what constitutes hatred against their group like all other minority groups”

Removing this line tells me and my Jewish peers that we are not able to define our own oppression, that we are not able to self-determine our identity. The Macpherson principle says that a racist incident is “any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person”, and asserted that crimes and non-crimes of this nature be “reported, recorded and investigated with equal commitment.” Our Union General Meeting, which consisted mainly of non-Jewish students, has told Jewish students that it is one rule for them and another for every other minority group.

It was also debated as to whether our Anti-Racism officer has adequately tackled antisemitism. Once again, I was told that my opinion, as the Jewish student proposing this motion, didn’t matter. It is a double standard. The Anti-Racism officer was literally debating my own personal experiences. For a Students’ Union who proclaims its commitment to liberation, it seems like the only minority group that doesn’t include is Jewish students.

But things got worse.

When debating a motion called ‘External organisations hosting events’, a speaker made the following statement: “We need to be careful with organisations and speakers speaking at our university. For instance, an organisation that has any affiliation or any links to a Zionist or Netanyahu or to a Zionist ideology. There will not be any tolerance of such organisations to host an event or speak on any topic regardless.”

In December, the British Government adopted the International Definition of Antisemitism[1], according to which “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination (e.g. by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour)” is antisemitic, and for good reason.

On November 10th 1975, the UN passed Resolution 3379 that “determined that Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination.” At that point on UK campuses, events held by Jewish Societies that had any relation to Israel were banned. Jewish Societies were banned, Jewish students felt threatened and unable to freely express their Jewish identity. Hearing members of our Students’ Union use such discriminatory rhetoric is utterly disgraceful. Those who were present even applauded the speaker at the end. How do you think I felt as a Jewish student who identifies as a Zionist? Hearing what I did the other night made me fear the potential that this has of making our campus an unsafe space for many Jewish students and fuelling antisemitism.

Jewish students, like every other minority group have the right to define their own oppression. Jewish students also have the right to express their identity in whichever way they choose, and that includes those who define as Zionist or relate to Zionism, as well as those who do not. I will not be told how to define my own oppression, or whether I believe SOAS Students’ Union has done enough to tackle antisemitism, because I know it hasn’t.

Yes, the Union General Meeting took steps to provide for Jewish students. But in one fell swoop, it turned its back on them. Once again, one rule for Jewish students, another for everyone else.

[1] See antisemitism.uk/definition

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