UJS 'lacks backbone': Schochet

By Marcus Dysch, September 22, 2011
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Rabbi Schochet

Rabbi Schochet

A leading Orthodox rabbi believes Jewish students do not have the "backbone" to tackle anti-Israel activity on campuses.

Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet said the Union of Jewish Students "must stop playing the victim" and unite against "radicalism and fundamentalism" at British universities.

The new UJS "Liberation" campaign encourages students to speak up for the rights of both Israelis and Palestinians. It asks them to pledge support for "two states for two peoples" and "freedom, justice and equality" for all.

The Mill Hill United Synagogue rabbi said he had discussed the campaign with American students who, he said, "were shocked that a Jewish student body would look to meddle in politics and encourage [freshers] to do the same".

Jewish students need to get some backbone

Rabbi Schochet

Rabbi Schochet said: "There are some faint-hearted lions floating around the UJS who really need to stop playing the role of victim and get some backbone, rather than be seen bending over backwards to appease the oppressor."

The campaign has received a mixed response and ignited debate across the Jewish community and among Israel supporters.

Jonathan Arkush, Board of Deputies senior vice-president, said: "The 'Liberation' campaign will go some distance to encourage a reasoned and rational debate on a very complex and highly emotive issue.

"Changing the dynamics of these debates on campuses across the country, while remaining true to the ideology of a two-state solution, is a bold move and one that I support."

More than a dozen former UJS officers - including the two most recent ex-presidents, Alex Dwek and Adam Pike - have also backed the plans in a letter to the JC.

But Zionist Federation co-vice-chair Jonathan Hoffman said: "The vast majority of Jews will find the campaign obsequious, sickening and treacherous. Jewish students should be taking pride in pro-actively and vocally supporting Israel on campus and rebutting the lies, however painful. This lot has gone soft." The ZF said it was "concerned" by the plan to offer Palestinian flags to Jewish societies.

UJS said the campaign had been devised to provide Jewish students with "a strong case for Israel on campus". They also said it would be up to individual students and JSocs to decide whether or not to use the campaign.

The Israeli and Palestinian flags, which are part of the campaign kit, are intended, UJS maintain, to be used as "table decorations" at individual campus stalls and demonstrate the "core commitment of this campaign". The kits also include leaflets, pledge-cards, T-shirts and banners.

Dan Sheldon, UJS campaigns director, said: "It is great that so many students are engaging with the campaign. However, the confrontational nature of some of the responses clearly demonstrates the need for this campaign.

"It has started the conversation on Israel with a view to changing the dynamics of the debate within our community, and ultimately to make a shift away from the damaging way Israel plays out on campus."

For more views see the Campus Comment section.

Last updated: 4:58pm, September 22 2011