One of the three candidates nominated for the position of president of the Union of Jewish Students is an anti-Zionist with a history of pro-boycott activism, it has emerged.
Eran Cohen, who grew up in Israel, was the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions officer for the University of York’s Palestinian Solidarity Society, and has openly called for a boycott of Israel, as well as promoting “Palestinian Apartheid Week” at the university.
In February of this year he co-produced and acted in the society’s production of Seven Jewish Children, a play which has been described as antisemitic in its depiction of Israel.
In one discussion on his Facebook page, responding to the comment: “according to the European working definition of antisemitism, questioning the legality of the existence of Israel is antisemitic”, Mr Cohen wrote: “I’m aware of that definition, and I disagree with that clause.”
In October last year, as Jews in Israel were being targeted by stabbing attacks on a daily basis, Mr Cohen shared and translated a statement on Facebook which said: “To those worried that a new intifada is beginning now in Israel, let me explain why you should not be worried. None of the violent events in recent days occurred in Israel and none of the victims was a resident of Israel."
The post went on to say the attacks took place in "occupied East Jerusalem", and that: "There is no intifada in Israel. The escalation is occurring in the occupied territories and is born of the occupation. We can save the next victims with no problem, we just don't feel like it. We feel like occupation. We feel like death.”
In a separate discussion, he declared his support for the BDS movement, saying: “I support it because I believe it will bring about a secular state for all its citizens from the river to the sea. Some people equate that with the destruction of Israel.I don’t.”
Today UJS released a statement saying: "Our students have nominated three very different candidates for the UJS Presidency. We are excited about the levels of engagement in our representative cross-communal union this dynamic and contested election should generate."
A spokesperson for the organisation confirmed that in order to have been considered for the election, each candidate needed to have received 10 nominations, from members of at least five campus Jewish societies.
UJS is a separate entity from specific university JSocs; it is possible to be a member of UJS without being a member of a Jsoc, and vice-versa.
The UJS also confirmed that it has instituted a "manual registration system" for would-be membership applicants, designed "to prevent fraudulent accounts being created during the election period".
In a statement received via his “campaign team”, Mr Cohen said: “UJS should represent all Jewish students - Zionist or not.
“I am a diasporist - I believe the focus of Jewish life is wherever Jews live, and excessive focus on Israel damages the UK Jewish community.
“There are many left-wing Jewish students, both Zionist and not, who support my campaign.
“Jewish students are diverse, and UJS is supposed to be democratic - it doesn’t stand for anything other than what Jewish students want at any particular time.”
In a subsequent statement, Mr Cohen confirmed that he “supports BDS as a nonviolent tool to effect change.”
“Whether or not UJS advocates a boycott of Israel will depend on how members vote at their upcoming conference,” he said.
“I personally would like to see UJS engaging in all nonviolent methods that will bring about peace in the region.”
He added: “I am standing because myself and many other Jewish students have continued to be alienated from our communities, the JSocs and UJS, since as long as anybody can remember.
“We want to be part of this community, part of the discussions it has. We're fed up of abuse and isolation, so we decided to finally try to get some representation.”
Mr Cohen’s team said they objected to the candidate being labelled “anti-Israel”.
They said: “It is offensive and misleading, as well as simply not true. Eran's desire to end the occupation stems from a love of Israel, Palestine and their peoples.”
They claimed: “Seventy-one per cent of British Jews oppose the occupation, so Eran is by no means in a minority.”
Mr Cohen is backed by members of Jewdas, a London-based left-wing Jewish activist group.
He said he had secured more than the minimum 10 nominations necessary to stand as a candidate, adding that his campaign team was drawn from “many university campuses including Kings, Sheffield, Goldsmiths, York, Manchester, Bristol, Queen Mary's and Leeds”.