6 June 2024


Where it fits in

by David Emanuel

As the conflict in Gaza continues to send ripples throughout the world the fact that Jewish students in the UK feel unable to go to university because of pro-Palestinian protests uncovers an issue that runs far deeper than a few aggrieved individuals. Targeting Jews because of what is happening in Israel is short sighted and illegal and also makes certain assumptions, including that all Jews are Zionists. That is simply not correct.

Zionism is a term born out of antisemitism in Europe, which caused the murder of many Jews, particularly in the late 19th and early 20thCenturies. It asserts that the only way Jews will be safe is if they have their own state, centred around Jerusalem, where Judaism originated. That is why Zionism and Israel are inextricably linked to Jewish identity. Though the movement was more popular during the refugee crisis following the holocaust, Zionism has been used more recently to justify the seizure and destruction of Palestinian property by Jewish extremists.

Jewish and Israeli identity are not the same thing. Most Jewish people will have a natural affinity to Israel, but not all Jews are Zionists and not all Zionists believe that Israel must exist to the exclusion of a Palestinian state. It is the blurring of these terms and definitions that have contributed to the current situation in the United Kingdom. British Jews are being blamed and targeted because of what is happening in Israel. Even supporting Israel does not necessarily translate to supporting a war that has killed countless innocent civilians.

The fact that Jewish students feel unsafe going to university due to pro-Palestinian protests is unacceptable in a democratic country. Those students have been subjected to intimidation and threats to the point that they feel they can no longer attend academic institutions. Ultimately the intimidation and threats undermine the credibility of the message the protesters are trying to disseminate. Purporting to support messages disseminated by a group of people who use mass rape, torture and kidnapping as a weapon is not the best means of making the case for statehood. 

More must be done by authorities to crack down on the individuals who choose to use intimidation as a weapon and disseminate hate speech and symbols. Yes, having crowds of people protesting in favour of a view that is perhaps different to yours is intimidating, but if the crowd is acting lawfully and not being threatening then it is serving an important democratic function by stimulating public debate. No foreign conflict should warrant the exclusion of certain members from society simply by association. The threat to democracy of allowing such behaviour is one that cannot be ignored and will not help solve the situation in Gaza. Persuading elected representatives to put pressure on the Netanyahu government might.

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