The Board of Deputies meeting on Sunday was the setting for a civil but spirited debate on the nature of the “Bridges not Boycotts” campus campaign to combat BDS.
The campaign, which is due to launch when universities start up again in the coming weeks, features both an Israeli and a Palestinian flag in its symbol. The presence of the latter was the main subject of contention at the central London meeting.
Gerald Fox, deputy for Bedfordshire Progressive Synagogue, said: “We’re talking about bridging, not boycotting. If you can’t respect the other, how can you expect the other to respect you?
We’re not talking about Hamas, we’re talking about ordinary people like you and me. And if they’ve got a flag that they see as something representing their ideals and their struggle, you must give respect to it. Without that, you cannot expect Palestinians to respect Israel or the Israeli flag.”
In response, Rosalyn Pine, deputy for North Salford Synagogue, called the inclusion of the Palestinian flag “tactless and insensitive”.
“The Palestinian flag is a terror flag,” she said.
“If you look at the PA website, you will see the Palestinian flag superimposed on a map of Israel which is Palestine, occupied Haifa. They do not see two states, they see one state replacing Israel - this is the Palestinian aspiration.
“It beggars belief that such an emotive symbol should have been put out by the Board People are very upset.”
Adrian Cohen, Deputy for Highgate Synagogue, said: “The reality is, if you really want to have any kind of credible strategy on campus to deal with BDS, you have to accept the fact that this has to be on the premise of two states, and it has to recognise Palestinian national identity.
“If you’re not even prepared to do that, if you’re going to show bigotry and hostility to even the basic symbols of Palestinian national identity, it’s going to get you absolutely nowhere on campus.
“You’re going to become an irrelevance, and actually you’re going to be doing the work of the BDS movement, because you’re just going to be setting yourself up as the very straw man that they like to project is the nature of the support for Israel.”
Marie Van Der Zyl, vice-president of the Board, pointed out that the flag is legal in Israel and showed pictures of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu standing in front of it. She also stressed the campaign had the full support of the Union of Jewish Students.
“This is about our children, and our children’s future”, she said.
“It’s our duty to support our children. And they’re on campus, they’re having a difficult time. We have to give them the tools to have a constructive dialogue. They’re going to achieve more if we export peace, and we have the ability to be able to talk to others.”
Speaking on Radio 4 on Sunday morning about the campaign, Joel Salmon, parliamentary officer for the Board, said:“We really want to ensure that Jewish students, like all students, have a positive University experience, and we also think that boycotts are unhelpful in bringing peace to the region.
“Jewish students generally have a good time on campus, but some of the anti-Israel hostility, which becomes targeted at Jewish students, makes them feel uncomfortable in their own campuses, and it can be really scary.
“Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, also known as BDS motions, are being passed in student unions across the country, and the NUS, the National Union of Students itself, has a BDS policy in place. And it means that Jewish students are feeling unwelcome in the student movement and feel targeted.”