November 4, 2011
A campaign has been instigated to remove Dan Sheldon from his UJS post, following a dispute with our own Mr Hoffman, after which Mr Sheldon was accused of slander. Funny thing to do when JH's avenues of criticism so often involve ugly words being thrown around like confetti.
Anyway, here is the full text of Dan Sheldon's speech. (I am posting it as it was not included in the JC's coverage of the story.) No doubt it will be needed on these boards before not too long. I'm sure we will all recognise that famous (once mysteriously vanishing,)list that he cites.
Good evening and thank you to Leeds JSoc for hosting this debate.
And - of course - I'd like to thank Jonathan Hoffman for agreeing to taking part.
I think it is important - in internal discussions such as these - that we treat each other fairly, with the courtesy we'd extend to friends or family. At times when Israel needs all the friends it can get, the last thing we need is for people within the Jewish community to start turning against each other when it comes to Israel.
But that's precisely what is happening. Where once Israel united the Jewish community, more and more it now divides us. Every week, battles are being pitched between Jews. And unfortunately, my opponent tonight is often the one launching the salvos.
For Jonathan, there is only one way of doing Israel - his way. In his own words, "the right response is to pack the hate meetings heckle and give our fliers which tell the truth". Those organisations who believe that there are other - perhaps more sophisticated - ways to stand up for Israel are subjected to a torrent of abuse from Jonathan.
UJS has for many years been a key target of Jonathan. We are weak livered liberals, cowering in the face of antisemites and Israel bashers. And he doesn't just mean me - he means all of us sat here. Every year he sends us emails, and writes letters telling anyone who will listen that he knows best how to support Israel on campus. Forget actually asking students what the campus atmosphere is like - he knows best, and he's been whipping up hysteria, telling the JC - and your parents.
He has even tried to undermine our fundraising efforts by spreading lies and misinformation about our activities. His intention was to take money away from UJS - ultimately from JSocs and Jewish students - just because he doesn't agree with the way we do Israel.
This is a man who has called for a boycott of the Guardian; who wears crash helmets to peaceful pro-Israel demonstrations; and who is happy to demonstrate side-by-side with members of the EDL Jewish Division. He lied about that last one by saying the picture of him with the EDL was photoshopped, but - after a legal intervention - was forced to admit that the photo was completely genuine.
Anti Zionists rejoice when Jonathan attends one of their events. They know he will scream and shout, make a nuisance of himself. They know he will make them look like the sensible ones, and pro-Israel activists like crazies. In fact, one prominent anti-Zionist started a 'Defend Jonathan Hoffman Campaign', to demonstrate their approval for his ultimately self-defeating antics.
But despite all this, I still think Jonathan plays a valuable role in our community. His energy and enthusiasm for challenging anti-Israel rhetoric is admirable. He is no armchair Zionist - he gets off his arse, and does stuff. Not always the right stuff, but stuff all the same.
Unfortunately, as I said before, Jonathan hasn't always had a similar tolerance to those in the Jewish community he disagrees with. In fact, not only has he questioned the pro-Israel credentials of some within the community, he's also questioned their Jewishness.
Helpfully, Jonathan has written a little quiz, to determine who is - and isn't - Jewish in his mind.
"To the Jewish Israel bashers:
Please confirm the following:
1. Examples of active participation in synagogue services over the last six months
2. The number of mezuzot in your home
3. Fluency in reading/speaking Hebrew
4. Participation in rabbinical shiurim in the past six months
5. Positions held within the Jewish community
6. Extent of kashrut observance
7. Examples of active support for Israel in past six months
8. Frequency of synagogue attendance"
Seemingly only those who pass this test qualify as Jewish in Jonathan's mind. The rest are somehow sub-Jewish, unable to pass comment on Israel.
Who needs the Beth din when we've got Jonathan?
I believe that, as a community, if we spent more time tackling those who are motivated by a hatred of Israel than we do tearing shreds out of those with whom we have minor or tactical disagreements, but who have a genuine love for Israel, then we might get somewhere.
But for Jonathan, nuance is a foreign country. Instead, the tactics are usually to shout about Hamas terrorism, call everyone a liar and disrupt meetings.
If I thought those tactics would work, I would be organising a training programme for Jewish students on how to shout and heckle. But it clearly isn't going to get us anywhere - it only serves to make us look as bad as the anti-Israel brigade, entrench divisions and contribute to a negative campus environment for Jewish students.
Instead, we must have a genuine engagement with those who are critical of Israel. Talking with them, not shouting at them. Otherwise what is the point of Israel advocacy? Either we are seeking to change people's perspectives, or we are just talking to ourselves.
So you can forget the quiet work we've been doing with SUs and NUS for years - which has ensured that NUS is the only national trade union without a boycott policy against Israel. You can forget the Cabinet ministers we have forged relationships with since they were students. You can forget all the fascist and racist groups we've no platformed from campuses. You can forget the work we've been doing with the government on tackling hate speech in our universities.
Because all you need is an Israel flag, a copy of the Hamas charter and a crash helmet, apparently.
My appeal - if I am to make one, is not to say Jonathan is wrong and we are right. The view that there is only one way to do Israel is not mine, it's his.
My appeal, is instead, to employ the right tactics, at the right time in the right place. The way we speak to a young, centre left student from North London who is critical of Israel will of course be different to the way we speak to a gun-totting Republican in the Bible Belt. Smart Israel campaigners recognise that a diverse approach is a successful one.
And this diversity must extend to our own community. We need a big tent, not an ever shrinking sleeping bag. We must be able to discuss Israel without the likes of Jonathan accusing us of being Anti-Zionists or - worse - not even Jewish. I'm not calling for the end of a vibrant dialogue on Israel, I'm calling for the beginning of it.
And I'm not calling for to abandon our loud and active support for Israel. As Jews, as Zionists and as right minded human beings, we must challenge those who seek to destroy the Jewish state. And I share Jonathan's view that the Jewish community hasn't been loud enough nor good enough at challenging grassroots anti-Israel activity.
But when we engage in all this, we must remember to treat others as we would like to be treated ourselves. When we complain about the vile antics of Palestine societies, we must then aspire to the highest standards ourselves: honesty, politeness and willingness to listen as well as talk. The Chief Rabbi has called this the lost 'culture of civility', and I believe we need to get it back.
It is in that spirit that I end my remarks and extend the hand of friendship to Jonathan and ask him to work with Jewish students in standing up for Israel.
(edit: here is the link with the transcript and video of the speech. http://www.ujs.org.uk/news/647/dan-sheldon-takes-jonathan-hoffman-to-tas...
Dan Sheldon describes an approach to advocating Israel which resonates with far more people, particularly amongst students than JH's 'all guns blazing' style. He should be supported. I urge readers and members of UJS not to support the petition to remove him.