Blogs

Welcome to Spiel, the JC’s blog.


  • Are we doing enough for Jewish students in our universities?

    Imogen Wilson
    Apr 6, 2016

    Last week my Students’ Association voted to support the Boycott, Divest and Sanction campaign, with 249 votes for and 153 against. I spoke passionately against the motion, on the grounds that antisemitism is a growing problem in student politics, and that it would be foolish to subscribe to a movement that could divide our campus even further.

    I’ve been an elected sabbatical officer at Edinburgh University Students’ Association (EUSA) or almost a year now, and my first experience of BDS was at a National Union of Students’ Conference in Bolton last summer. There was an awards dinner event that was sponsored by Coca Cola, a company that is on some BDS lists for having a franchise in the West Bank. NUS have had a BDS policy since 2014, and when some NUS officers found out about the sponsorship there was a complete uproar.

    Many of the students there, including myself, were new to wider student politics circles and issues. Therefore, our first impression of BDS, and NUS, was a protest outside the dinner that was supposed to be celebrating student achievements from across the UK. I remember thinking how alarming this must have been for Jewish and Israeli student representatives, who on top of being surprised by a protest, may have felt that it was somehow targeted at them.

  • Missing boys in Charedi schools

    Simon Rocker
    Apr 1, 2016

    Last night Newsnight ran a lengthy report on the “missing boys” – the hundreds of Charedi youngsters in Stamford Hill being taught in unregistered schools.

    I am not quite sure how “exclusive” it was since we have been reporting on this for years, and other media have picked up the issue too.

    The Department for Education has got tougher and recently ordered one unregistered primary school to close.

  • 'Reform scumbags'

    Simon Rocker
    Mar 31, 2016

    The plan to establish a new egalitarian section at the Kotel in Jerusalem was meant to solve a long-running dispute. But the compromise has now precipitated an ugly round of religious polemics as the Charedi political establishment tries to defend the state against the encroachment of the non-Orthodox.

    Praying at the Kotel is not the only issue but it has become the most emotive, laying bare Israel’s religious divisions. Israel is different from the diaspora but what goes on there has some impact on Jewish communities abroad.

    A few weeks ago I was astonished to read an account of the Kotel controversy in the Anglo-Charedi newspaper, the Jewish Tribune. Astonished because in the continuation of a front page article, “Outcry against Reform”, the paper reported that Shas rabbis had instructed their political leader to “do everything he could to prevent the Reform scumbags from achieving their goals”.

  • Why the Purim story is one for the ages

    Simon Rocker
    Mar 23, 2016

    Purim is the joker in the pack of Jewish festivals. It is the closest we get to carnival, with the fancy dress, the mayhem of the megillah reading, the alcohol – it’s a mitzvah to get tipsy if not paralytic – and the Purim spiels.

    But there is a darker current beneath the merriment. It is the commemoration of thwarted genocide of a diaspora community. And though written more than 2,000 years ago, Haman’s words as he justifies his lethal plot retain their chilling ring. “There is a certain people,” he tells the king, “scattered and separate from the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom, and their rules are different from every people’s….”

    The Jews are the irredeemable Other, a people apart, a law unto themselves, good only for extinction. For some, Purim represents the archetypal story of the situation of the Jews, ever threatened by an enduring enmity that travels through history in different guises. We can never rest in comfort for even when we feel as if we have never had it so good, the danger remains.

  • The top ten Jewish women in history? The list is endless...

    Today is International Woman’s Day. The theme for this year is gender parity, but as in previous years, IWD celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements and contributions of women around the world and throughout history.

    When I think of great, inspirational Jewish women, my list is varied. A quick straw poll of my female editorial colleagues resulted in this list, including a prime minister, an author, a singer and cook.

    Who would you add to our list of the top ten Jewish women in history?

  • There is antisemitism and anti-Zionism on campus - but we need to ensure we make the distinction

    Recent events at Oxford have brought to light tensions between left-leaning political movements and the Jewish community. These all revolve around one issue: Israel. On the one hand, many Jews, especially strongly pro-Israel Jews, take any criticism of Israel as antisemitism. On the other, it is convenient for antisemites to dress up their prejudice as anti-Zionism. This is, for example, similar to the Islamophobic discourse that hijacks otherwise justified criticism of human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia. There are elements of both of these taking place - and the combination is dangerous.

    Antisemitism is indeed present in parts of the anti-Israel movement, as evidenced by the defacing of Holocaust Memorial Day posters in London. However, a knee-jerk reaction to criticism of Israel makes it harder to call this hateful prejudice out. It is unproductive for victims of violence in the Middle East, and for victims of antisemitism worldwide, not to acknowledge that much criticism of Israel is legitimate and not grounded in antisemitism. But clearly not all claims of antisemitism in these contexts are illegitimate.

    Problems arise when left-leaning groups close their ears to Jewish members who say that anti-Israel discussion is starting to sound antisemitic. Dismissing these concerns as uncritical defence of Israel aimed at shutting down debate damages accountable discourse. It encourages an environment where antisemitism can develop and thrive unchecked, even if it wasn't truly present to begin with. It also alienates Jewish members. The exclusion, from university or other groups, of Jews who want to participate in the criticism of Israeli policies means that such groups lose access to some of the most relevant voices on the topic.

  • Why all Jews can sit under the rainbow flag

    Surat-Shaan Knan
    Feb 29, 2016

    February has been busy but brilliant. In fact, February is my favourite month of the year. There are no significant Jewish festivals, I know, but there is a lot to celebrate for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, amongst them of course quite a few Jews.

    LGBT History Month is a month-long annual observance of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender history. It originated in the United States and was first celebrated in 1994. In the UK, it first took place in February 2005, and has been celebrated annually each February ever since. The event came in the wake of the abolition of Section 28 in 2003 (Clause 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 said that a local authority "shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality").It aims to challenge homophobia, biphobia and transphobia and promote equality and diversity.

    This year’s LGBT HM theme was Religion, Belief and Philosophy, and of course this was particularly great news for us LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bi, trans and queer/questioning) Jews.

  • How we turned Israel Apartheid Week into a celebration on London campuses

    Devora Khafi
    Feb 26, 2016

    It all started one night in Slice, a group of four strong-willed Zionists digging in to a pizza and discussing the fates of Jewish students across campuses the following week. The much anticipated Israel Apartheid Week (IAW) was around the corner and this strangling feeling of doom was growing inside of me. Sam Alfassy, Saul Yardley, Joseph Stoll and I just came back from a Stand With Us conference in Glasgow, and within seconds of this reunion, we decided something needed to be done to combat the lies and hatred IAW is known for.

    The pizza tray was pushed to the side and we cracked down on planning our own week: Israel Party Week. Charmingly coined by Saul, our aim was to focus on Israel’s positive qualities; the aspects of her that the general public rarely gets exposed to. We promoted peace, coexistence, and dialogue. We stood up for what the country stands for, and what it stands up to.

    On Sunday we gathered a big group of Jewish students to come to Hillel house so that a consensus was built up. Everyone was on board and we could not have been more proud.

  • Schools lottery

    Simon Rocker
    Feb 25, 2016

    Spare a thought for the parents waiting to know next week whether their child will have won a place at a Jewish secondary school this autumn. The chances are that many will have to wait a little longer until a satisfactory offer comes up as the places merry-go-round spins again.

    No one wants a repetition of last year when a number of Jewish children in north-west London – estimates are around 20 to 30 – were unable to find a place at one of the state-aided Jewish secondary schools in the area.
    But the fear remains that the squeeze on places will start to get worse when more children graduate from Jewish primary schools in two years.

    We are also going to have to wait to see if the sponsors of the proposed new Kedem high school put in their application to the government next week or postpone it at least another six months until after Partnerships for Jewish Schools (Pajes) has finished its number-crunching and produced its assessment of future demand.