The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is on the rise in student politics. There are frequent motions passed at universities which single out Israel, causing bitterness and discord among students.
University should be a place for the sharing and debating of ideas, yet anti-Israel campaigning shuts down these discussions and creates an atmosphere of hostility.
University is, in the main, a safe and welcoming place for Jewish students. The Union of Jewish Students (UJS) and a host of other organisations do amazing work to support Jewish students; there are more than 60 Jewish Societies around the country led by students who are passionate about creating flourishing Jewish communities across the UK and Ireland. As a recent graduate, I can attest to the amazing experience most Jewish students have.
However, we live in troubling times. A number of universities' student unions have passed anti-Israel motions and, while not all have been successful, they create a toxic political environment.
Earlier this year, former student Zachary Confino was awarded £1,000 in compensation for the abuse he received while at York University. Perhaps most worryingly, the elected president of the National Union of Students has stated her opposition to "Zionist politics", referring to "mainstream Zionist-led media outlets", and praising a group in Gaza for its "resistance".
When I was St Andrews JSoc president last academic year, the Scottish Palestinian Solidarity Campaign planned to protest against a charity ball we were running and, the day before the event, our venue pulled out. Luckily, we managed to find another venue at the last minute - and, due to the ensuing publicity, our charity receipts were quadrupled.
This taught me that the Jewish community needs to be on the front foot. We should be vocal about saying, for the vast majority of us, Israel forms a huge part of our Jewish identity. We should not be embarrassed to say we have family and friends who live there, and that we identify with the Zionist project, which, at its heart, is the belief in a socially just Jewish state in the land of Israel. It is time for us to reclaim this space.
It is, however, a daunting prospect for students, and that is why the Board of Deputies and UJS have released a campaign resource called #bridgesnotboycotts, which provides information on countering BDS and moving the conversation away from boycotts towards reconciliation. Copies will be going out to every Jewish student in the country, accompanied by a targeted social media campaign.
Jewish life thrives at university, and I am excited for the next generation of students to discover that. There are challenges out there but, together, we can defeat anti-Zionist politics and reclaim the campus space as a safe place for Jewish students.