On Alex Chalmers’ decision to resign as co-chair of Oxford University Labour Club
I’m writing this in my capacity both as Alex’s friend, and as OULC’s remaining co-chair.
I’m deeply upset by Alex’s decision to resign, but it’s one I respect; his commitment to his principles is honestly admirable, and he is — and will remain — one of my close friends.
That said, I was heartened by the healthy and — while passionate — civil nature of the debate this evening. The persuasiveness of both sides of the argument is obvious from the result, 18–16 in favour, and I’m glad we as a club can be a place for this kind of democratic debate. We did not vote on a blanket position on the Israel-Palestine conflict; we voted to support Oxford’s Israeli Apartheid Week. At Oxford, IAW has hosted a wide variety of Israeli, Palestinian, and South African speakers, such as Denis Goldberg, who fought against apartheid in South Africa, and Oxford professors like Avi Shlaim, Karma Nabulsi, Sudhir Hazareesingh, and David Priestland. As the motion notes, OULC and the Labour Party have always been against racism and oppression in all its forms; this must include the policies of the current Israeli government.
That said, it also includes anti-Semitism. Alex is right to highlight growing anti-Semitic violence in the UK as a major issue; it’s also horrifying that Jewish students feel unsafe on campuses. It’s unsurprising, given incidents like that at KCL Israel Society a few weeks ago, and I’m sure OULC members would join me in condemning the silencing of Jewish students, who often have uniquely nuanced perspectives on the Israeli state. Jewish students spoke on both sides of the debate this evening, but we take allegations of anti-Semitism in the club very seriously and I will be discussing, with my executive committee, how to deal with the kinds of statements Alex mentions, and what concrete steps we can take in future to preserve a club that’s been a safe haven for Jewish students in the past.
I understand Alex’s position, but am looking forward both to running the events we’ve organised for the rest of the term, and to contributing to an ongoing discussion about the complex intersection of justice for Palestine and the safety of Jewish students.