Let students do it their way

By Maggie Suissa, June 3, 2014
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Last Friday, students at Sussex University overwhelmingly rejected a call for an academic and cultural boycott of Israel. In this high voter turnout of 1553, the motion fell by a significant amount with 904 votes against and 649 votes in favour.

This is the first time in seven years that Sussex Students’ Union rejected a call to boycott Israel, a significant moment considering it was one of the first to implement a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) policy. For Jewish and pro-Israel students, this outcome once again rejects the assertion that UK campuses are a hotbed for anti-Israel activity and antisemitism.

This past year, the case for Israel on UK campuses has seen its share of challenges, defeats, wins and high successes. Pro-Israel students in Sussex join those in Birmingham and Manchester, who successfully won the case for Israel on campus through educated and authentic debate.

How astonishing, then, that there are those who suggest that JSocs and Jewish students are lazy and apologetic, and are not doing enough to respond to anti-Israel activity and sentiment on campus.

Our students do not rely on pocket advocacy books, or lines from politicians, or a 'one size fits all' approach

When our students go out on campus and challenge narrow-minded arguments against Israel, they do so with a genuine commitment to engage, not just to shout.

By properly appreciating the interests and values of those they are campaigning against, students are the ones best placed to respond genuinely and effectively to their campus context. That is engagement, and that is the real meaning of Israel advocacy. A form of advocacy that doesn’t involve blindly waving an Israeli flag, or shouting in the faces of those demonstrating support for Palestine; a form of advocacy that calls for a real pledge for activism and for peace in the region.

It seems that our students’ critics are ignoring our history of quiet work locally and nationally, where the National Union of Students (NUS) remains one of the few trade unions without a boycott policy against Israel.

It seems they are also ignoring that to date, no Higher or Further education institution in the UK holds an academic boycott of Israel. Our students do not rely on pocket advocacy books, or lines from politicians, or a "one size fits all" approach to combatting BDS.

Our talented and dedicated student leaders rely on their energy, convictions and tailoring their campaigns to their campus’s context, which they are best placed to appreciate and respond to.

Let us reassure our critics that our students on the whole are winning, and they are winning based on the authenticity that can only come from a group of local and independent student activists.

UJS has always worked closely with our partners and friends in the community and in Israel, and together we have all worked to ensure that students have the best campus experience possible. By creating the space for students to educate themselves on the facts, develop their identity and use their own words to articulate their passions, JSocs and Jewish students are making the case for Israel - and they’re doing it their way.

This is the reason so many of our student leaders have gone on to become the next leaders, politicians and advocates; because they did it their way.

Let’s all be proud of what was achieved last week in Sussex. Let’s all be proud of what Jewish students have achieved over the years. Let’s be proud because if these young leaders are the future faces of our community, then I for one am very excited for what is in store.

Maggie is the Union of Jewish Students' (UJS) campaigns director

Last updated: 4:38pm, June 3 2014