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NB: Left-wing campus antisemitism is, of course, nothing new in Britain.

Jewish Students Gagged at Leeds

Nathan Jeffay,
Jewish Chronicle,
December 8, 2006

Britain’s largest Jewish student community was in a state of shock this week after being constitutionally gagged against a background of intensifying anti-Israel campaigns and propaganda.

The student union at the University of Leeds has recently become the stronghold of a growing pro-Palestine lobby, which regularly runs campaigns declaring Israel to be a racist and apartheid state. Following a campus-wide referendum last Friday, union authorities have been mandated to ignore J-Soc complaints “as long as Judaism as a faith is not offended.” This policy was carried by 1,421 votes to 895.

The motion, proposed by members of the Palestinian Solidarity Group, catalogues J-Soc complaints against it. It then claims that the existing practice of “considering every complaint received by the student union as a real complaint” constituted “an arbitrary use of authority.”

A further successful motion, worded as a polemic against Israel, resolves to twin the union with the student body at Bir Zeit University in the West Bank, where many seats on the student council are held by the Hamas-linked Islamic List. It brings to a climax a disturbing term for Jewish students - in the last month alone, UK J-Socs have fought against some 11 motions, the majority of which they managed to defeat.

Campus leaders, students and academics have voiced concern that the first motion singles out the university’s Jewish students - thought to number almost 1,000 - and strips them of basic rights enjoyed by all others. They fear this principle will be introduced in other unions, creating a culture where Israeli’s critics have carte blanche to launch tirades regardless of their truth, and where it becomes taboo for any J-Soc to show solidarity with Israel.

They have also reacted with incredulity to the motion’s wording, in which its Palestinian Solidarity Group authors claim for themselves - and to the exclusion of Jewish students - authority to define Jewish identity. Now the motion has passed, Jewish identity is now exclusively religious, according to the union’s constitution.

After the votes, the atmosphere at Hillel House was gloomy. “The motion is trying to tell us what we should and should not think about Judaism,” said Mark Frazer, 21. “Its proponents are saying that Israel should not be part of our Jewish identity; we think is. It should be for us to decide.” Judith Keen, 20, spoke of “feeling let down as the referendum process is meant to help students here, not be used a political tool.”

Zach Esdaile, one of the J-Soc’s campaign officers, claimed it will “add to fear on campus.” He said: “This motion is supposedly about freedom of speech [by preventing complaints], but it delivers anything but that.”

However Damola Timeyin, communications and democracy officer for the union, said that the motion was passed by a democratic forum, and as such is binding.

According to Mitch Simmons, campaigns director at UJS, the motion represents the “stepping up” of a “national, systematic and coordinated attempt on campuses” to blacken Israel’s reputation and delegitimise Israel’s centrality in Jewish identity.

Insiders in the National Union of Students report a growing rift with Leeds over the motion, even though, publicly, NUS respects the autonomy of member unions. NUS president Gemma Tumelty would not “comment extensively,” but confirmed there is a clash.