Leeds JSoc row symbolises wider campus split

The squabbling over Leeds JSoc's withdrawn invitation to American lawyer Brooke Goldstein is a further symptom of an as yet unreported broiges bubbling away under the surface of intra-community relations.

For some time now the traditional Jewish communal bodies of the Union of Jewish Students and Board of Deputies – the "establishment" if you will – have experienced some feather-ruffling from what they see as impudent, trouble-making upstarts, particularly on and around campuses.

Ms Goldstein's tour was organised by a trio of these independent groups: Stand With Us, the British-Israel Coalition and UK Lawyers for Israel.

The efforts of such organisations, and their leading activists – such as Sam Westrop, Gili Brenner and Hasan Afzal – have raised questions over who is best placed to lead British Jewish students' efforts to combat antisemitism and anti-Israel activity.

The dispute reflects in some ways the arguments between Board of Deputies' delegates and the Jewish Leadership Council over whether democratically-elected representatives or independent activists should lead the way.

In another instance, the acquittal in January of a man accused of biting a pro-Israel campaigner's cheek at SOAS was met with silence by UJS and the Board, despite outrage from Stand With Us officials, who had supported the campaigner.

Why did they keep shtum? After the biting incident took place in March last year, senior Board members and student leaders told me of the efforts they made in advance to warn Stand With Us against attending the event.

The traditional groups felt the newcomers were too provocative, too reckless. The subsequent scuffle and injury was, some claimed, inevitable. Had the pro-Israel campaigner followed a UJS approach, the incident might have been avoided, they argued.

Some credit is due to Mr Afzal, Mr Westrop, their supporters and other groups. Their work is, at times, creating positive results and holding others to account.

When Federation of Student Islamic Societies president Nabil Ahmed wrote in the Guardian last month of the need for Jewish and Muslim students to work together to combat antisemitism and Islamophobia, it was not UJS which pointed out the hypocrisy of his comments. It was Mr Afzal.

Freed of the shackles of a democratic electoral process, he spoke his mind, and has immediately been proved right – Fosis hosted Azzam Tamimi and Daud Abdullah at a conference last weekend.

UJS, on the other hand, treads carefully, forced to weigh up case-by-case the possibility of working with Fosis in the future, against the need to speak out. The underlying friction that this creates is obvious.

The underlying tension between the old and the new, the traditionalists and the unconstrained, will not go away anytime soon.

The fear is that its continuation will divide students and create a fractured response to the threats faced on campus – a situation that suits no one.

Last updated: 4:27pm, March 22 2012