You could hear the whoops and cheers as students rejected definition of Jew-hate

Hannah Berman, a UCL student, was at the debate when the IHRA definition was voted down

January 24, 2019 17:24

Up until Monday, I had never felt as if I was a minority, and had never experienced extreme antisemitism.

Sitting in Logan Hall at the Institute of Education at UCL on Monday evening was interesting. I sat at the back of the hall alone as I watched many large groups from the “against” side filter into the room, leaving me feeling quite overwhelmed.

This all-students meeting was debating the adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism.

It felt awkward and uncomfortable to listen to the speeches for and against the motion. The “against” side did not clap or pay direct attention to most of the “for” speeches, but whooped and cheered when their side was speaking.

A so-called “independent” panel member’s tone made it feel as if she was strongly against the motion.

But the hardest thing for me was when I turned around and confronted a large group of boys sitting behind me who were making unpleasant comments.

The worst comment I heard from this group was a derogatory one about money, which fuelled anger in me. How could people sit there and criticise us for trying to make our university a safer space when they were sitting there making me feel so unsafe?

One boy had just been up to the podium to make a speech for the “against” side. He was the only composed one in his group, the only one who wanted to debate and discuss with me and the only one I spoke to from the “against” side who believed that the “for” side had some valid claims.

Members of the student union made speeches, in particular the women’s officer, who argued that the union was doing “enough” to tackle antisemitism and working with students to combat this.

Another speech against the motion felt that the IHRA definition shouldn’t be used at UCL but rather a definition by a professor at NYU. I felt insulted that I should be forced to choose what definition of antisemitism I should be using; how I define antisemitism is my own prerogative; if I want to define some anti-Zionist remarks as antisemitic then I should be able to.

The meeting left me feeling angry and upset. When the motion did not pass, the entire “against” side stood up and were jubilant; it felt as if they did in fact support antisemitism and that they did not want Jewish students to feel safe.

I love UCL, I have loved being a student here – I don’t want to feel that my identity, my heritage, is overlooked and undermined. I should be able to walk out of the house and wear my Magen David.

I should be able to tell people proudly that I am from Golders Green. But I haven’t been able to do that, I don’t wear my Magen David and if I do I tuck it under my jumper.

As an undergraduate, at another university, I did the exact same thing. I never told anyone I was Jewish unless it came up in discussion and I would whisper the word.

It upsets and frustrates me that I have to hide who I am; I am so incredibly proud to be Jewish and continue the traditions that have been passed down from my family, I want to be able to carry this with me in public. Unfortunately, this is something that as students we cannot do, for fear of being tormented.

Other, non-Jewish students on my course have been nothing more than supportive and helpful to me. They genuinely want to know more about Judaism and antisemitism and encourage my fight against this at our university.

I think that UCL needs to address this issue. By allowing over 200 people to deny Jewish students the right to define antisemitism is unacceptable and I feel ashamed that I cannot do more about this.

In my opinion, this is a numbers game; there were clearly fewer people who were for the motion than against it. The motion to accept the IHRA definition was rejected by 78 to 212.

The fundamental reason that the motion did not pass was because the “against” side wanted to be able to exercise free speech on Israel and to protect Palestinian students who wanted to exercise this right. They did not believe that we should have the right to self-determination but they wanted to be able to criticise Israel when and how they wanted to.

My sadness is that this is a numbers game. This fight has and will always be a numbers game.

January 24, 2019 17:24

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