Liberation: campaign is close to collapsing

The Union of Jewish Students has been forced to cancel plans for a week of Israel advocacy events on campuses.

"Liberation Week" was due to begin on Monday. UJS had intended to send a "battle-bus" of Israeli students around the country promoting the organisation's Liberation campaign.

The initiative would have replaced the successful Israel Awareness Week, which was praised in March when 25 Israelis helped tackle anti-Israel activity at student unions.

But the JC understands a catalogue of logistical problems, including arguments over how many Israeli students would be involved in the tour and how it would be funded, contributed to Liberation Week's collapse.

The Liberation campaign was initially launched by UJS before Freshers' Week in September. The plans, to encourage students to speak up for the rights of both Israelis and Palestinians and to distribute Palestinian flags alongside Israeli ones on campus, polarised opinion and sparked debate across the community.

UJS accepted that some JSocs might choose not to promote the campaign on their campuses. That belief was well-founded; at the country's four largest JSocs there has been little desire to run Liberation-branded events.

In Manchester, students discussed the campaign and produced a "mixed reaction", said JSoc's Maggie Suissa. Non-Jewish student groups had responded more positively, she said.

Rob Prager, a Leeds JSoc member and outgoing UJS National Council member, said: "There still remains much confusion as to what the Liberation campaign actually is. UJS should be castigated for its inability to communicate this campaign to its membership as well as the wider Jewish community.

"Perhaps once UJS has decided what the campaign is about, real scrutiny can begin and the membership of the union will for once have its say."

Eytan Halon of Birmingham JSoc said discussions were ongoing over whether to implement the campaign on the campus. He said the society encouraged debate on the "strengths and weaknesses of particular campaigns".

Nottingham JSoc's Adam Charlton said: "We are not running the campaign because we did not think it was appropriate for our campus. It's not that we disagree with its aims, just that some of the slogans do not work at Nottingham."

Dan Sheldon, UJS campaigns director, said: "There's certainly been a lot of interest in the Liberation campaign. Some didn't like it; some loved it. The main issue is to make things happen. We have not had a culture of activism, with students handing out leaflets or collecting email addresses, for a while.

"I think we are getting there. People are engaging with it. Others may be upset because they don't agree with the tactics. But it has made people think about how we do Israel on campus."

One session carrying the Liberation branding did take place at Middlesex University in north-west London on Tuesday, with students at King's College and the London School of Economics also showing an interest.

    Last updated: 12:12pm, November 10 2011