Rethinking Israel on Campus
Published 27.02.2014 (UJS Blogs)
When I initially had the idea to launch a campaign to oppose Israel Apartheid Week on campus, I had no idea and no expectation that it would ever be as successful as Rethink2014 has been this week. We’ve had support from all over the world – from Australia to Germany to America – and from students on my own campus to the European Jewish Parliament. In a week, we’ve racked up over 3000 likes and have been viewed by over 150,000 people. Crucially, the idea behind Rethink2014 is simple: you print out a poster, you fill it in and you take a photo of yourself with it. Inspired by the ‘I am a feminist because…” project of the Feminist Society of Oxford University, I believed that by giving students a single statement to complete, I could try to amplify the voices of my peers on campus.
Over the past ten years, Israel Apartheid Week has grown into an international event, advocating for the implementation of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) initiatives on campus and effectively calling for the dissolution of the Israeli state. Naturally, it’s also become a week during which Jewish and Zionist students are easily singled out, attacked and intimidated for choosing not to agree with the rhetoric and methods of Israel Apartheid Week supporters. This year I decided that this wasn’t fair. Opinions held about a political conflict should not be used to hegemonise student demographics and impose an unsophisticated moral hierarchy on campus. I believe firmly that those who support Palestinian rights should be allowed to do so; I do not believe that the intimidating tactics of Israel Apartheid Week are an effective or constructive method of expressing opinion. Contrary to the opinions of its critics, Rethink2014 did not stem from a belief that Zionist British students are the ultimate victims, or that our feelings are more important than anyone else’s. Rather, it comes from the standpoint that students who support Israel are relevant, and that regardless of its intensity, our marginalisation is still marginalisation.
Over the course of a week, seeing how Rethink2014 has galvanised the community has truly inspired me. I’ve seen the way that a core team can work brilliantly together towards a common aim, and I’ve seen students begin to act collectively across the globe. Truly, there’s no simple explanation to why this might be. In the three years I’ve attended King’s College London, I’ve engaged with Israel advocacy organisations, been to countless lectures hosted by various parties across the political spectrum and have pushed myself continually to try and get to grips with the conflict – from all angles. I’ve also been shaped by the experiences I’ve been privileged to have with my youth movement Hanoar Hatzioni, my relationship with the Union of Jewish Students, and the flurry of Limmud events I’ve attended since childhood. But so have many of my peers. So why now? What was different about Rethink2014 that offered something new?
Without doubt, Rethink2014’s independence is the most vital factor. Despite several conspiracy theories posted on Twitter about our supposed links with Mossad, the Israeli government and AIPAC, nothing could be further from the truth. Rethink2014 has no funding from any person or any organisation – in fact, it runs completely for free – and was launched from the most grassroots of locations: my bedroom. Any suggestion otherwise is laughable, and ignores that Rethink2014 is so completely defined by its origins. Thus the success of Rethink2014 as an independent campaign demonstrates the desire of students to step out of the conventional boundaries of Israel engagement. We want to confront our campuses with the reality of how adversarial politics affects our daily lives, and we don’t want to be judged for standing up for our welfare and for our interests.
Ultimately, Rethink2014 doesn’t ask you to adopt a pre-existing or specific line of thinking, but encourages you to create your own response. I’d even go as far to say that Rethink2014 doesn’t take any specific stances on Israel or Zionism, but only on the destructive nature of Israel Apartheid Week. Consequently, we’ve been lucky enough to receive images of a highly varied nature, representing many streams of thought in the student body.
Looking to the future, it’s difficult to know where is next to go. In such a short time, Rethink2014 has taught me many things. It’s demonstrated that thousands of us are dissatisfied with the behaviour we observe and are subjected to on campus. It’s shown that my generation of Jewish and Zionist people are disillusioned with crossing our fingers and hoping for the best. But most of all, Rethink2014 has revealed to me that we are ready to project our voice. Around the world, Jewish and Zionist students are raring to speak up for themselves – and I hope that now we’ve started, we won’t think to stop.