Dialogue worked - threats did not

By Marcus Dysch, March 24, 2011
Israeli students, literally bridge-building on many British university campuses this week

Israeli students, literally bridge-building on many British university campuses this week

A group of Israeli students are celebrating the "phenomenal" success of their tour of British universities.

The 25 students made up part of the largest pro-active pro-Israel campaign in recent years and travelled to campuses in London, Leeds, Manchester and Birmingham on a "battle bus" to mark Israel Awareness Week.

Individual university Jewish Societies also ran their own events.

On Monday, the Israelis took part in a "bridge-building" activity at Goldsmiths, University of London. Despite efforts by student union officials to have them removed from the campus, university security officials allowed the Israelis to stay.

The group constructed a wooden bridge while talking to British students about life in Israel and the conflict.

Clare Solomon: lost re-election bid

Clare Solomon: lost re-election bid

In Leeds they joined in Israeli dancing sessions and a flashmob outside the university student union.

Orit Tepper, 25, said: "It's been amazing and it couldn't have gone better. The British students have been keen to open dialogue and find out our opinions. Many said they had previously only heard one side of the story.

"We have spoken to pro-Palestinian students on each campus. At Leeds they held a silent protest and one girl started attacking me about East Jerusalem and Arab citizens in Israel. But we we are students, and not government employees, and people saw we were not looking for confrontation.

"We expected it to be very difficult, but the response has mostly been phenomenal."

The Israeli students were expected to meet Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks today before returning to Israel on Sunday.

UJS chair Alex Dwek said: "I am delighted at the success of this grassroots project. It has been amazing to see how many students on campuses across the country have welcomed Israeli students with open arms.

"I think UJS has demonstrated that serious and constructive debate about Israel is still possible on many campuses. We can no longer rely on the traditional Israel advocacy of the past. This project marks the start of a new way of talking about Israel in an honest and open way on campus."

At Birmingham University a marquee was erected in the centre of the campus and students took part in activities, including having their names written in Hebrew and Arabic in henna tattoos.

Students from Nottingham JSoc were interviewed for Nottingham Trent University's radio station.

The Awareness Week was a response to the annual Israel Apartheid Week. Events taking place this week for the anti-Israel campaign included a performance by rapper Lowkey at SOAS, and the simulation of an Israeli checkpoint by UCL Friends of Palestine group.

Jews for Justice for Palestinians campaigner Glyn Secker, who captained an all-Jewish flotilla to Gaza last year, spoke to students at Kingston University in south London.

In Scotland, meanwhile, two men have denied a charge of using threatening or abusive behaviour following an alleged incident involving a Jewish student.

The pair are suspected of desecrating an Israeli flag in the student's bedroom at a hall of resident at St Andrews University in Scotland. Samuel Colchester, 20, and Paul Donnachie, 18, appeared before Cupar Sheriff Court in Fife on March 14.

They pleaded not guilty to a charge of using threatening or abusive behaviour under Scotland's Criminal Justice Act. They will reappear at the court on March 31. Representatives of Scotland's Jewish Chaplaincy Board met St Andrews University bosses earlier this week to discuss the incident, and said they were "very satisfied with the university's rapid response".

A pro-Israel campaigner was allegedly bitten on the face during an argument at a campus Israel Apartheid Week event.

Four members of the Israel advocacy group StandWithUs were surrounded at the Celebrate Palestine event at the School of Oriental and African Studies in central London on Sunday.

Tony Coren and Gili Brenner were discussing the Middle East situation with pro-Palestine campaigners when the atmosphere turned hostile.

Mr Coren said: "One man told us that the best thing the Jews had ever done was to go into the gas chambers."

Another man approached the group and an argument broke out. Police arrested and questioned two men on suspicion of affray. They have not been charged and have been bailed to return to a police station next month.

A SOAS spokesman said none of those involved in the incident were students or staff members.

He added: "The School deplores the use of violence and hate speech and will not tolerate them in or around its premises. We are in touch with the police and await their report on this incident."

The Board of Deputies, CST and UJS jointly wrote to SOAS to encourage an immediate enquiry into the incident.

Meanwhile, the former president of the University of London Union, Clare Solomon, who said persecution of Jews was "fabricated", has lost her bid for re-election. More students joined a Facebook group to campaign against her re-election than joined her official campaign page, a move described by the London Student paper as "unprecedented." In December last year Ms Solomon, a 37-year-old SOAS mature student, wrote on Facebook: "The view that Jews have been persecuted all throughout history is one that has been fabricated in the last 100 or so years to justify the persecution of Palestinians. To paint the picture that all Jews have always had to flee persecution is just plainly inaccurate."

She later apologised for the comment, saying it had been "written in haste."

Nearly 400 students joined a Facebook group started by Jewish student Naomi Bloomer, and friends Rob Jones and Ben McCabe, to stop her re-election.

Mr McCabe, a first year politics student at UCL, said: "Clare Solomon might not be antisemitic, but she was very irresponsible and she is supposed to represent a lot of Jewish students.."

Carly McKenzie, UJS campaigns director, said: "It's a great success for the moderate majority of students, and hopefully this is the start of creating a different atmosphere on London campuses."

Ms Solomon lost to Queen Mary president Vratislav Domalip. She has edited a book on student rebellion which was published earlier this month to coincide with her election campaign.

Last updated: 12:58pm, March 24 2011