Investigate LUU for antisemitism
Investigate LUU for antisemitism
Leeds University Union (LUU) recently made the following post:
LUU has given permission for the Jewish Society to run an event on Thursday 9th May in Union Square (12pm-2pm) celebrating Israel Independence Day.
We understand that some of our members will be unhappy that this event is taking place, which is why we are letting students know in advance.
If any students are concerned by this event, as always we would encourage you to speak to our LUU Help & Support Team in the Union foyer, via firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone 0113 3801400
See the post here
LUU, in making this statement is singling out its Jewish Students, making Leeds University a place where these students can no longer feel welcome and safe. This event celebrates the founding of a state where Jewish people can (still today) find refuge - irrespective of politics - showing that this statement from LUU implies directly that, in their opinion, it is valid to say that Israel has no right to exist (and so too implies the same for the people living in that nation).
This is racism.
This is antisemitism.
Would you ever ask 'Does England have a right to exist?' ' Does France have a right to exist?' 'Does America have a right to exist?' No. Putting into question the right of an entire nation to exist is racism.
This is antisemitism.
We are petitioning not only for a formal apology, but for the leaders of LUU to be investigated for antisemitism.
We don't want racist leaders running our union!
Please note: I am not speaking on behalf of LUU JSoc, but as a student who wants to see change.
I add here an official breakdown of the incident and one that followed it on Thursday 9th May 2019, at about 12.00-13.00. I explain why they are so distressing and I also propose how the university might take steps regarding this matter in the future.
The incidents involved both students and staff of LUU.
It began with an online post on the LUU facebook page on Wednesday 8th May 2019, in which it was stated:
"LUU has given permission for the Jewish Society to run an event on Thursday 9th May in Union Square (12pm-2pm) celebrating Israel Independence Day.
We understand that some of our members will be unhappy that this event is taking place, which is why we are letting students know in advance."
LUU, in making this statement is singling out its Jewish Students, making Leeds University a place where these students can no longer feel welcome and safe. This event was intended to celebrate the founding of a state where Jewish people can (still today) find refuge - irrespective of politics. The statement from LUU implies directly that, in their opinion, it is valid to say that Israel has no right to exist (and so too implies the same for the people living in that nation). The Jewish people have, throughout history, been known as, called, and treated as a 'nation'. This is indisputable, and you need only look back a handful of decades to the Holocaust and the effects of the Holocaust to see this is true. The LUU statement suggests that anti-Zionism is acceptable, however, anti-Zionism in anti-semitism. The two go hand in hand so often, that it is a dangerous thing for the university to be accepting of. Without wanting to get too much into the politics, it is potent to note that discussions about Israel and the westbound have the world divided. However, Jewish students are consistently seeing the discussion being halted and barricaded before their voice can be heard too. This is detrimental not only to the safety of Jewish students on campus, but is detrimental also in furthering this discussion, and ensuring that anti-semitism is truly left in the horrid past. We have seen a huge rise in anti-semitism across England in the past few years and Jewish people are feeling scared, scapegoated, and signs present before the holocaust are reappearing. This is something Jewish students are constantly aware of as we prepare for the next steps of our lives after university. Both the actions of LUU and the lack of actions of LUU are furthering this lack of safety for Jewish students.
The right to exist of any nation should not be in question. This is anti-Zionism. This is anti-semitism. Racism should not be allowed on campus, let alone accepted by LUU.
Additionally, LUU showed little regard for the safety of Jewish students on campus, drawing attention to the date, time and place of their meeting. While it is a shame that this is indeed an issue, it is not new news that Jewish societies in universities across the UK have had to be aware of the dangers posed to them by protesters. There have been numerous incidents reported of students being attacked with stones during meetings and having to be escorted out of buildings by police, with onlooker protesters shouting and spitting at them (the popular chant being 'shame' - which I mention below). The Jewish Society is the only society on campus that I know that has security present at most of its events for just this reason. We go on, not complaining, however, this racism is not something that we should have to be dealing with. We should not be afraid of going to campus and going to events held by JSoc. But we are. Whether knowingly or unknowingly, LUU put the Jewish society in danger during this event and shows a lack of attentiveness to the issues their Jewish students are dealing with on a daily basis.
Furthermore, LUU's post led to the second incident I will record in this report.
The second incident took place the following day, on Thursday 9th May 2019. This was the day that the Jewish Society celebrated Israel's Independence Day. Outside the Union building, a group of people with a microphone held a rally for Palestine. The words that they were shouting were intimidating to say the least. Furthermore, this happening on the day Jewish students were innocently celebrating the independence of a state, that may of them will view as a safe haven from the anti-semitism present in the western world, should flash red lights - that this rally was not in the interest of peace. It took place on this specific day, and on the union's front steps, and so made themselves in intimidating presence for all people in university that day. They shouted 'Free Palestine' without defining what that means. This is already a dangerous message because this message has been used again and again by world-recognised terrorist organisations such as Hamas to voice their aim to eradicate Israel from the globe (and the people living there with it). Their message can become easily conflated with the western concern for the people living in the West Bank- the West Bank Palestinians. This is a discussion that should be had, but without the extreme shouting that screams only one-line comments in an attempt to simplify and obscure what is a complicated discussion (and should not be disguised as anything but that).
However, there were two even more disturbing thing happening during this incident. The first was that this group were also shouting 'shame'. This is not the first time this has been seen on campus both in Leeds and in universities across England. It comes after an episode in Game of Thrones during which a character is made to walk through a mob of people shouting 'shame' and throwing food at her. This message is one of aggression and should not be allowed on campus. Many students were incredibly upset about this. Some wanted to protest this rally with signs of peace and discussion reading "Make Pitta not War" and "Hummus > Hamas". However, not one student felt safe enough to do so. This is outrageous. LUU staff were not around, or if they were, they were not visible and did nothing to stop this going on in the middle of the day, in the middle of university. This too is outrageous. Jewish students were left feeling marginalised, attacked and unsafe.
In the future we would like to see our university become a safe space for all students. I think that the most affective way to achieve this is to ban aggressive political rallies, like the one on Thursday 9th May 2019, and replace them instead with discussion panels and seminars during which the JSoc and Palestinian societies can both call in professionals on the subject to discuss the political aspects of the topic in a discussion setting with the aim to educate people about the DIFFERENT SIDES of the conflict in a peaceful and accepting way. These discussions should happen with the two sides ALWAYS present, and never just one. I also made a point about the societies themselves being able to choose their speakers (with the union's guidance, of course). This is to allow students from both societies to be able to voice their views as they deem appropriate. It is clear that people are split over the discussion about Israel and Palestine, and for sure, a part of that is to do with a lack of open, honest discussion that aims to bring about peace (rather than hate). Additionally, all posters regarding this conflict should be banned from university spaces. It has been recorded and reported by a number of journalists how impactful imagery can be, and should these discussions be happening, everything should be happening equally. No student should feel intimidated on campus by what they see, and experience their views unequally represented. If all views upon this topic are to be represented equally and fairly then poster presence and distribution would also have to be equal. This is too difficult to monitor across university, so I prose a ban of all posters about this discussion. This does not mean stopping the discussion. Instead, I propose stalls. If the Palestinian Society wants to have a stall about the political situation, then JSoc should have one too, on the same day, same place, same time, and vice versa. This will be beneficial in a number of ways. Firstly, it will show an interested bystander that there are multiple sides to this political debate. Secondly, all students will feel represented as equally and fairly as possible. Thirdly, it will encourage discussion between these two societies and encourage friendly debate rather than rivalry and tension.
In the future, I would also like to see LUU respond to rallies that intimidate others and are aggressive quicker. The response time was shockingly slow and LUU staff were not seen. We would like to see them present at all such events. Students then will feel secure in the knowledge that should something turn nasty, there will be people on hand to help immediately. Campus Security staff also having a presence at these events is important for the same reasons.
Additionally, LUU should think twice before anything they post online. The suggestions and implications made by the post were harmful and hurtful and do not inspire a peaceful, safe and secure environment for all students. LUU should be supporting all its students. However, Jewish students on campus are feeling marginalised, neglected, misunderstood, unheard and unsafe. This needs to change and it needs to be addressed with haste.