A way to convince the 'uninformed majority' on campus

By Rob Pinfold, September 26, 2011

The "Liberation" campaign seeks to promote "two states for two peoples". However, that's where collective unity stops and the bickering that is so prolific in the Jewish community begins.

A Facebook group criticising the campaign explained the move as the result of infiltration into UJS of "anti-Israel" groups such as Yachad, a Jewish, pro-peace Hasbara organisation. Other community members opposed to UJS' shift have suggested that promoting dialogue and a two-state solution could be logically extended to urging Jewish activists to don keffiyahs.

Where did it all go wrong? During my years of campus Israel activism, such one-sided narratives were normally the stable ground of belligerent, ardently anti-Israel (rather than genuinely pro-Palestinian) groups such as the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

Contrary to some slurs, Friday night dinners on campus will not suddenly be full of Palestinian flags, nor will "pro-Palestinian propaganda" be forced on every Jewish fresher. In fact, the campaign represents a chance to promote a popular message of mutual autonomy, which opinion polls have consistently shown British Jews to favour.

Jewish groups have often lacked a positive, salient message about Israel and have been forced into purely defensive roles; attempting to minimise the damage to Israel's image, rather than offer a proactive, mature message about the nuances of the conflict.

Jewish groups have often lacked a positive message about Israel and have been forced into purely defensive roles

Rob Pinfold

UJS' move is long overdue; Zionist organisations must take a proactive role on the sensible, moderate side of the debate. Activists must reclaim the Palestinian flag, from something that immature anti-Israel activists use to goad Jewish students, back to what it really is; the national symbol of a people involved in what is rapidly evolving into little more than a land dispute with their Israeli neighbours.

The most worrying reactions, beyond the scaremongering, are those that demonstrate how out of touch some parts of the community are with public opinion. One individual claimed that it was Israel supported a two-state solution "without UJS having to express their support for it". Really?

Maybe to those with a particular interest in the conflict, but not to the average British student, most of whom have only a passing interest and get their information from the (often unfair) mainstream news coverage. This group represents the uninformed majority on campus; their minds are not yet made up, they do not have relatives in Israel, read Ha'aretz or come from a Zionist youth movement.

These students are not stupid or necessarily apathetic. They are just not as immersed in the conflict as the average Jewish undergraduate. And to many, the onus is on Israel, as the occupying power, to prove that it is not seeking to undermine Palestinian autonomy.

Though most Jews see the Israeli flag as a symbol of ethno-religious self-determination, to others who, quite simply, care a little less about the conflict, it is quite the opposite. Just as Israel is forced to prove that she is not seeking to promote her own security at the expense of her neighbours, UJS must demonstrate that being pro-Israel is very different to being anti-Palestinian.

Hence, UJS' new focus is a welcome break. Previous campaigns energised Jewish activists but failed to make a positive impact on wider student consciousness. Some 70 percent of British citizens support Palestine's unilateral declaration of statehood at the UN, but much of this support stems from the mistaken belief that Israel seeks to dominate and subjugate the Palestinians, rather than the complex nuances of the conflict.

It is fair and right for UJS, the most prominent and effective pro-Israel organisation on British campuses, to lead a new path in promoting peace and security for Israel and her neighbours. This is much more than "waving Palestinian flags".

It actually represents a real chance to expand the message of Hasbara beyond the narrow prism of Jewish groups. After all, if Ehud Olmert can meet Mahmoud Abbas in Jerusalem in front of the backdrop of two Palestinian and Israeli flags standing side-by-side, why can't a Jewish student organisation in the diaspora promote a similar image?

Rob Pinfold is an MA student at King's College London, studying Terrorism, Security and Society

Want to write for Campus Comment? It's your chance to see your words published. Whether you're a budding journalist, a political thinker or simply have an idea you want to share, send in opinion pieces of up to 600 words on topics of interest to Jewish students and young people. Email jenniferlipman@thejc.com for more details.

Last updated: 4:08pm, September 27 2011