Open Letter to Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC) on report titled ‘Antisemitism in the UK’
We, the undersigned, note with grave concern the findings of the Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC) on anti-Semitism. The report’s findings on the sharp growth in anti-Semitic incidents in the last year is deeply troubling, and is an urgent call to all those involved in fighting against racism, oppression, and for a better society more generally. We welcome the reports calls to take on anti-Semitism, as well as its focus on greater recognition of under-acknowledged areas of abuse, such as online platforms.
Unfortunately, despite outlining that the large majority of anti-Semitic abuse and crime has historically been, and continues to be, caused by the far right, the report fails to address these groups in any detail. Instead, it focuses virtually all of its attention on the Labour Party and the National Union of Students (NUS), without providing any evidence that these organisations are responsible for the deplorable situation it describes. This undermines the report and casts doubt upon its authors’ intentions. We believe that in order to address the growing reality of anti-Semitism in society effectively, we have to do so without falling prey to partisan selectivity.
We strongly regret the report’s recommendation that would suggest legitimate criticism of Zionism to be considered as hate-crimes by the government, effectively equating them with anti-Semitism. Zionism is a political ideology that continues to express itself through the actions of the State of Israel. It is one that is held or rejected by both Jewish people and non-Jewish people. Zionism and Judaism are not interchangeable and do not go hand in hand. As with all political ideologies, it should be open to discussion, scrutiny and debate. This is the long-held position of many Jewish academics and key figures, and one we are disappointed that the report is unable to reflect.
We are extremely alarmed at the way NUS’ National President, Malia Bouattia, is being singled out for her views on Israel by the HASC in its report, and depicted as the source of anti-Semitism in Higher Education. Bouattia’s repeated assurances, within the union and in the media, that she will address concerns and revise her language, are completely ignored by the HASC report, despite the fact that she has done just that and reiterated her commitments to do this in her submission for the HASC report.
Furthermore, Bouattia has outlined – on numerous occasions and in her written submission to the HASC – the actions she and NUS are taking to fight anti-Semitism which include: supporting NUS’ Anti-Racism and Anti-Fascism Campaign, continued work on interfaith and campus cohesion, interfaith work focused specifically on anti-Semitism, upcoming work on tackling hate crime, an Institutional Racism Review inclusive of anti-Semitism which she demanded, as well as working alongside the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust on Holocaust education. The report fails to acknowledge any of these endeavours.
The HAC also seem to be misinformed about recent developments in NUS’ Anti-Racism Anti-Fascism (ARAF) Committee. Under Bouattia’s leadership, the Jewish representative on NUS’ ARAF Committee is now elected by Jewish members of the union’s National Executive Committee. Previously, representatives were appointed by the NUS president. The report claims the reverse to be true.
Finally, we believe this report’s selective and partisan approach attempts to delegitimise NUS, and discredit Malia Bouattia as its president. An attack on NUS is an attack on the student and union movements. This is completely unacceptable and we cannot allow these claims against us to go unchallenged. We demand a revised report that is impartial and contains factual evidence. We demand that all false statements are retracted, especially in relation to the sections regarding campus anti-Semitism, along with an apology to those who have been vilified by the inaccuracies and partisan biases it contains. Our movement will remain principled in its work defending human rights, freedom of expression, and the fight against anti-Semitism and racism in all its forms.
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Updated list of over 300 signatories here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1pTqtRyLSTmYTNi_NOBDXvq6A-Z7RjEfxLSPPGCZP8dg/mobilebasic
Free Speech on Israel note:
In the media furore over Malia Bouattia’s historic remark that Birmingham University was ‘something of a Zionist outpost in British Higher Education,’ with ‘the largest JSoc in the country whose leadership is dominated by Zionist activists,’ the context was entirely overlooked.
Bouattia’s 2011 article reveals a campaign of intimidation and harassment, by pro-Israel student groups, of Palestine solidarity activists on campus. Referring to events during Israeli Apartheid Week, that included a mock Israeli checkpoint, Bouattia wrote at the time:
Overall the events were a success and many of the students and visitors on campus witnessed the Zionist attempts of intimidation which contradicted their “peace” initiative. We reinforced that our approaches remain non-violent and that we have no intention of intimidating students as opposed to the continuous harassment and confrontations we experience from Zionists on campus. Our principle aims are to liberate and seek justice for the Palestinian. We therefore also wanted to contribute to raising awareness about Israel in the hope that Zionists may take the first step and admit their state’s inhumane and illegal actions are wrong and then perhaps this would be the first step to discussing genuine peace.
Not all members of JSocs are pro-Israel, identify as Zionists or oppose BDS, but JSocs are arguably ‘Zionist-dominated’, and committed to undermining the Palestinian civil society, non-violent, anti-racist Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
The Union of Jewish Students (UJS), which represents its membership through Jewish Societies (JSocs), is a member of the World Union of Jewish Students (WUJS). Their mission is:
To connect students worldwide with the State of Israel as the central creative factor in Jewish life, and to pursue this through the encouragement of Aliyah, strengthening the State of Israel.
The WUJS, in turn, is an affiliated member of the World Zionist Organization (WZO) with, possibly, voting rights. WZO’s mission is ‘promoting Zionism & the Zionist idea and the Zionist enterprise through Israel Education as vital and positive elements of contemporary Jewish life.’ (See also Jews Sans Frontieres post on Birmingham JSoc)