Cam­pus Chaos: Why they re­ally hate Zion­ists

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - DAVE RICH Dave Rich works for the Com­mu­nity Se­cu­rity Trust

GIVEN THE con­cerns that we hear to­day about an­tisemitism and anti-Zion­ism on univer­sity cam­puses, it is worth re­mem­ber­ing that there was a time when Jewish stu­dent so­ci­eties were banned out­right in some stu­dents’ unions. This hap­pened when many of the par­ents of to­day’s Jewish stu­dent gen­er­a­tion were them­selves stu­dents, and many of its lessons about an­tisemitism, anti-Zion­ism and Jewish iden­tity are as rel­e­vant now as they were then. The story be­gins 40 years ago this month, when one of Is­rael’s great­est po­lit­i­cal fig­ures, Chaim Her­zog, ad­dressed the United Na­tions to re­spond to the UN’s no­to­ri­ous res­o­lu­tion that “Zion­ism is a form of racism and racial dis­crim­i­na­tion.”

Her­zog felt that he was speak­ing not just for Is­rael, but on be­half of the en­tire Jewish peo­ple. “I stand here not as a sup­pli­cant”, he told the UN Gen­eral As­sem­bly. “I stand here be­fore you as the rep­re­sen­ta­tive of a strong and flour­ish­ing peo­ple”. Her­zog con­demned the res­o­lu­tion as “an an­ti­semitic at­tack of the foulest type”, not­ing that it had been adopted on the an­niver­sary of the Nazi pogrom of Kristall­nacht, and dis­missed it as hav­ing no “moral or le­gal value.”

He con­cluded by say­ing that “for us, the Jewish peo­ple, this is no more than a piece of pa­per, and we shall treat it as such” and, then, with a the­atri­cal flour­ish, he ripped up a copy of the res­o­lu­tion and left the podium.

Un­for­tu­nately for Her­zog and Is­rael, the res­o­lu­tion car­ried great moral value for many oth­ers. The ‘‘Zion­ism equals racism’’ slo­gan has be­come the core mo­bil­is­ing idea of mod­ern, left­wing anti-Zion­ism, de­spite the res­o­lu­tion’s sub­se­quent re­vo­ca­tion in 1991.

The res­o­lu­tion was the cul­mi­na­tion of a two-year cam­paign by a coali­tion of Com­mu­nist and Arab states. The orig­i­nal aim had been for Is­rael’s UN mem­ber­ship to be sus­pended (as had hap­pened to South Africa in 1974) but this met strong re­sis­tance from the United States and West Euro­pean coun­tries. In a deft move, Is­rael’s op­po­nents sought in­stead to have Zion­ism de­fined as a form of racism, along­side apartheid and colo­nial­ism.

They were mak­ing their move based on a strongly bi­ased in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the words of United States’ Am­bas­sador to the UN, Daniel Pa­trick Moyni­han, who wrote: “Only regimes based on racism and racial dis­crim­i­na­tion were held to be un­ac­cept­able”.

The res­o­lu­tion ef­fec­tively meant that Is­rael it­self, and the Jewish na­tional move­ment that built it, were il­le­git­i­mate. Ex­pul­sion from the UN might have been a more le­nient sen­tence.

In­te­gral to the suc­cess of left wing anti-Zion­ism has been the abil­ity to place op­po­si­tion to Is­rael within this wider anti-colo­nial, anti-racist pol­i­tics. Un­til the mid-1970s, though, the Bri­tish far left had shown rel­a­tively lit­tle in­ter­est in Pales­tine. In 1973, Pe­ter Hain, then chair of the Young Lib­er­als, com­plained that “de­spite the jus­tice of the Pales­tinian case, the left in Bri­tain has re­sponded to their side in an in­cred­i­bly fee­ble man­ner. Rad­i­cals and rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies have never cam­paigned on Pales­tine with the strength of, for ex­am­ple, the Viet­nam protests.”

Hain was one of a group of Young Lib­eral ac­tivists who, work­ing with Arab na­tion­al­ists and Fatah sup­port­ers through the Free Pales­tine news­pa­per and the Pales­tine Ac­tion cam­paign group, sought to change this. The left wing anti-Zion­ism that emerged from their anti-colo­nial and anti-apartheid net­works proved more in­flu­en­tial than the rev­o­lu­tion­ary so­cial­ist vari­ant of­fered by Trot­sky­ists dur­ing the same pe­riod. To those who viewed Zion­ism through this an­ti­colo­nial lens, the lan­guage of the UN res­o­lu­tion res­onated strongly.

On Bri­tish univer­sity cam­puses, some pro-Pales­tinian cam­paign­ers put the UN res­o­lu­tion along­side the Na­tional Union of Stu­dents’ pol­icy of “No Plat­form” for racism, passed a year ear­lier, and reached the log­i­cal con­clu­sion that Zion­ism should be banned from stu­dents’ unions.

In March 1977, the Jewish So­ci­ety at Sal­ford Univer­sity was told that it could not hold an ‘‘Is­rael Week’’ meet­ing at which a vis­it­ing rabbi was due to talk about Zion­ism. By the end of the month, the Times Higher Ed­u­ca­tional Sup­ple­ment re­ported claims by the Union of Jewish Stu­dents that mo­tions equat­ing Zion­ism with racism had been de­bated by at least 17 Stu­dents’ Unions, and that York, Sal­ford, War­wick and Lan­caster Univer­sity stu­dents’ unions had all passed mo­tions “ex­pelling Jewish so­ci­eties on the grounds that they are Zion­ist and there­fore racist.”

A pol­icy adopted at the School of Ori­en­tal and African Stud­ies in­cluded ex­plicit in­struc­tion to “refuse money and fa­cil­i­ties to so­ci­eties whose aim is to prop­a­gate Zion­ism and or­gan­ise sup­port for the state of Is­rael.” Oth­ers sim­ply de­fined Zion­ism as a form of racism, usu­ally ref­er­enc­ing the UN “Zion­ism is racism” res­o­lu­tion in the process. As UJS was keenly aware, the im­pli­ca­tions were clear whether or not an ex­plicit ‘‘No Plat­form’’ clause was in­cluded. By the end of 1977, the

ques­tion of an­tisemitism in stu­dents’ unions had been de­bated in the House of Com­mons and led NUS to send a fact-find­ing trip to Is­rael and Le­banon to rec­om­mend a Mid­dle-East pol­icy for the union.

Th­ese anti-Zion­ist cam­paigns di­vided the left within it­self. They were mostly the work of Trot­sky­ist and Maoist stu­dents (in­clud­ing Jewish anti-Zion­ists), with the Gen­eral Union of Pales­tinian Stu­dents fol­low­ing in their wake, but the cam­paigns were not or­gan­ised by any fac­tion.

The In­ter­na­tional Marx­ist Group op­posed the use of No Plat­form for Zion­ism, but the In­ter­na­tional So­cial­ists (the fore­run­ner of to­day’s So­cial­ist Work­ers Party) was more equiv­o­cal. It tried to fi­nesse its po­si­tion by ar­gu­ing that “stu­dent unions should refuse money and fa­cil­i­ties to so­ci­eties whose aim is to prop­a­gate Zion­ism and sup­port for the state of Is­rael.

“This does not mean ban­ning Jewish so­ci­eties; it means not pay­ing money for Zion­ist pro­pa­ganda or pay­ing speak­ers’ fees for Zion­ists”. In re­al­ity, though, cut­ting stu­dents’ union fund­ing and deny­ing fa­cil­i­ties of­ten meant that the Jewish So­ci­ety would fold.

The prob­lem for anti-Zion­ists was that most Jewish stu­dents were Zion­ist and the only cam­pus or­gan­i­sa­tions pro­mot­ing Zion­ism were the Jewish So­ci­eties. UJS was still a young and po­lit­i­cally in­ex­pe­ri­enced or­gan­i­sa­tion but its ac­tivists were de­ter­mined to force home the con­se­quences of this ap­proach. They found im­por­tant and pow­er­ful friends among the Com­mu­nist-dom­i­nated broad left coali­tion that con­trolled NUS at that time. The lead­ers of NUS were sym- pa­thetic to UJS’s po­si­tion, and saw an op­por­tu­nity to at­tack their Trot­sky­ist op­po­nents. This led to the irony of Com­mu­nist Party stu­dents de­fend­ing Zion­ism against the con­se­quences of Soviet pol­icy at the UN. It bore fruit in De­cem­ber 1977, when NUS Con­fer­ence adopted a two-state pol­icy for the Mid­dle East, and NUS me­di­ated an agree­ment be­tween UJS and GUPS that “No lim­i­ta­tions on the rights of Jewish or Pales­tinian stu­dents or Jewish or Pales­tinian so­ci­eties whether they are reli­gious, po­lit­i­cal or so­cial group­ings, should be contemplated.” The No Plat­form pol­icy was tem­po­rar­ily thrown out and the right of Jewish stu­dents to sup­port Is­rael and Zion­ism was con­firmed.

Th­ese cam­pus de­bates an­tic­i­pated con­tem­po­rary ar­gu­ments about an­tiZion­ism, anti-Is­rael boy­cotts and the idea of a “new an­tisemitism”. They raise the ques­tion of whether it was, and is, pos­si­ble to turn the “Zion­ism equals racism” slo­gan into a po­lit­i­cal cam­paign with­out it lead­ing to con­crete ac­tions that dis­crim­i­nate against Jews, given that most Jews con­sider Zion­ism to be a part of their Jewish iden­tity. UJS did not claim that its po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents were an­ti­semites, al­though there were iso­lated com­plaints of an­ti­semitic com­ments or an­ti­semitic lit­er­a­ture at some cam­puses. Rather, their ar­gu­ment that cam­pus re­stric­tions on Zion­ism were an­ti­semitic was based on the im­pact that they had on the col­lec­tive rights of Jewish stu­dents.

At the root of the “cam­pus war”, as the Jewish Chron­i­cle dubbed it, was a chasm be­tween the far left’s view of Zion­ism as a po­lit­i­cal is­sue and those Jewish stu­dents who felt it to be part of their Jewish iden­tity. UJS ac­tivists viewed their suc­cesses not as a pro­pa­ganda tri­umph for Is­rael, but as val­i­da­tion for their own place as Jewish stu­dents in Bri­tain. As UJS wrote in its jour­nal af­ter the cru­cial NUS con­fer­ence of De­cem­ber 1977: “the na­tional union de­cided that Jews have as many rights as any­one else. And that, af­ter all, was all we ever wanted.”

Demon­stra­tors at last year’s “Cel­e­brate Is­rael” pa­rade in New York march in protest against Boy­cott, Divest­ment and Sanc­tions (BDS) move­ment sup­port­ers


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