To my anti-Israel students’ union: Don’t you have a duty to represent Jewish members too?

Accepting only Jews you can tokenise, and call ‘true Jews’ does us all a disservice


Trinity College Dublin is Ireland's leading university (Photo: Getty)

April 28, 2024 14:31

I am a student at Trinity College Dublin, Ireland’s most prestigious university, which promotes itself to the world emphasising its tolerant and inclusive environment.

But during my time as a student here since 2022, and more pronouncedly since October 7, my experience of Trinity has been anything but. This is true not just for me, but for other Jewish, and Israeli, students on campus.

I believe the main factor at play has been the TCD Students’ Union (TCDSU), and its BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) campaign, which has become indistinguishable from the union.

The BDS campaign has been a part of Trinity student politics since 2018 when the mandate was voted in, with the movement winning the support of 1,287 students – just under two thirds of the 2,050 who voted.

This was considered the highest referendum turnout the Union had seen in years. For reference, approximately 20,000 students currently attend the college (the number would have been similar in 2018), and all of them are eligible to vote in referendums, which makes me wonder how representative of student opinion this turnout truly was.

Since 2018, the college has seen various campaigns, walk-outs, protests and other actions taken by the TCD BDS campaign. But the campaign became central to the Trinity student zeitgeist post-October 7.

On 9 October, the students’ union, in conjunction with the TCD BDS campaign, sent a college-wide email stating how “last week Hamas launched a military operation in response to atrocities that Palestinians have faced over decades”, and that “TCDSU stands in solidarity with Palestine, and [implores] you all to do the same”.

More statements followed, alongside demonstrations and other forms of “activism”, but not a single word was uttered about the “Jewish side” of it all. To the TCDSU, the hostages seem non-existent, or at the very least, of so little importance they do not warrant mentioning.

While TCDSU purports to stand “against all forms of violence” and it acknowledges “the tragic loss of life caused by this war’, the union appears to be content to not say a single word about the terror attacks of October 7 on Israel.

Perhaps this is because, according to a statement shared on the official TCDSU webpage on 11 October “Israel’s military forces are unmatched internationally”, and “the cycle of violence is caused by systemic oppression, apartheid and occupation”.

Seemingly, it is acceptable for the TCDSU to dismiss its members’ concerns because their opinion on Israel may differ when it comes to BDS.

And it is apparently fine for its president to have tweeted on October 7 that “Palestinians have the right to resist the brutal conditions imposed on them by the apartheid regime of Israel” in response to a statement by Ireland’s Tánaiste, Micheál Martin, condemning Hamas’s massacre of Israeli civilians.

Last Tuesday, another college-wide email was sent by the union. It expressed its “solidarity with the students who are currently camping on the Columbia campus in solidarity with the Palestinian people who are currently suffering a relentless genocide at the hands of the Israeli state”.

And that it takes “inspiration from our peers in Columbia to build a strong, unapologetic anti-imperialist, anti-racist and anti-apartheid movement here on Trinity’s campus”.

TCDSU president László Molnárfi has promised the union and college BDS movement are “organising something massive” once summer exams are over, and excitedly suggested “we can make the mass student uprising in the US possible here” in Dublin.

This development has been particularly troubling to me because of the TCDSU’s persistent failure to include Jewish student members in the conversation, especially those in opposition to its campaigns. I am and have been, for the entire duration of the conflict, the chair of TCD’s Jewish Society, which works as a voice for Jewish students on campus.

In the 204 days since October 7, the TCDSU and TCD BDS have failed to reach us, to reach me, to reach any Jewish student who has stood critical of their campaigning. Instead, the TCDSU and its sabbatical officers, as well as officers-elect, have been dismissing antisemitism on campus, calling concerned Jewish students “fearmongers” and “liars”.

The BDS group says its campaigns are “pro-liberation”, not antisemitic. Meanwhile, Jewish students have been subjected to an unending barrage of prejudice and spoken of the isolation, fear and sense of rejection they have experienced on campus this year.

This is not just a few bad apples. This is systematic. And it has been getting worse with each rallying cry the union and BDS campaign send.

The TCDSU has had over 200 days to take a strong stance against antisemitism, to proclaim, loud and clear, that it will not tolerate any antisemitic speech or behaviour. Dayenu. That would have been enough.

Instead, it has chosen to continuously diminish Jewish students’ fear and concerns over the stance our representative body has taken. Our concerns as a Jewish student body have fallen on deaf ears, most notably through the squashing of the opposition groups and anti-union campaigns.

These campaigns were dismissed by union officers as “right-wing agitation” perpetuated by a “trickle of Zionist students”. This refusal to listen to opposing voices has led some students to believe the TCDSU does not represent them, or worse, simply does not care for them.

The shutting down of campaigns prioritising transparency, dialogue and democracy within the union reflects a dangerous trend. Many of those who call themselves activists appear unwilling to listen in order to remain unburdened by critique.

The union’s and the BDS campaign’s activism concerning Jews and Israel excludes Jews and Israelis; their discussions of Zionism dismiss Zionist voices; they accept only Jews they can tokenise, and call “true Jews”, while rejecting the criticism of Jews who refuse to bend to their ideology: it is not fair activism.

Activism is possible without exclusion – but that kind of activism is difficult and humbling to achieve, and does not fit into a 280-character limit. The union’s current choices do not reflect balanced discussion and inclusion, but rather a naïve, black-and-white desire to change the world without concern for those affected by their radicalism.

It is fair not to want to be associated with a movement that has been praised by Hamas, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, all of whom have expressed approval of the anti-Israel protests sweeping US college campuses.

It is fair not to want your representative body to be acknowledged by terrorist groups. This is not reaction, this is opposition, and opposition is fair. However, the squashing of opposition is not.

I say to the TCDSU: this is not just your campus — it is mine too, and it is also the campus of those who disagree with the TCDSU and are negatively affected by its actions. A students’ union has a duty to represent all its students, and not just those whose opinions it agrees with.

I implore the TCDSU to do its job as a students’ union and acknowledge those whom its ideological stance leaves behind, for only through productive discussion, however uncomfortable, can we grow into a more unified and stronger student body together – even if our conversation will not fit neatly into a tweet.

Agne Kniuraite is the chair of Trinity College Dublin’s Jewish Society

April 28, 2024 14:31

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