When it comes to combating BDS and anti-Zionism, strong leadership is integral. King’s College London has revealed itself to have a deficit in leadership in both the student union and the university administration.
Part of their failure includes the reversal of the roles of victim and aggressor due to fear of backlash. While the Israel Society is repeatedly the victim of aggressive protests, the response of the university is to place more restrictions on our events rather than punish KCL Action Palestine for seeking to no-platform our speakers and verbally and physically intimidate our members.
Our event last month with Reservists on Duty and CAMERA on Campus UK was designed to offer a different perspective, supported with factual and personal arguments, against the slanderous claim that Israel is an apartheid state. Three speakers, each from different Israeli minorities; Druze, Christian and Bedouin, were meant to be addressing students in an on campus location. Just 24 hours before the event, the university decided to designate our event as ‘high risk’ as opposed to its original status as ‘medium risk’; making the executive decision for it to be cancelled. They had decided after the attack on campus on Monday the 5th of March involving a highly violent protest against two speakers, one of whom is Israeli, to cancel all high risk events until the end of term. Our event was designated ‘high risk’ at this incredibly late notice with no plausible explanation. We were told that the changing of our event title to read ‘Is Israel an Apartheid State?’ was inherently problematic and increased risk to the event. It is nonsensical that we are labelled a ‘risk’ for taking the initiative to respond to the treacherous accusations leveled against the Israeli people by KCL Action Palestine, who hosted an entire week of events labelled ‘Israel Apartheid’ without reproach.
King’s College London have lost control of the security situation on campus. In turn, they have lost the trust of students and the wider public. The Student Union is a focal point in the failure of the university’s institutions to follow their own guidelines and purpose. The Student Union exists to represent all students at the university, yet it has acted contrary to its charitable objects to discriminate against Jewish and Israeli students.
Israel Apartheid Week continues to define anti-Zionist student politics. While it is run by a minority of extreme students, their vocal activism and the institutionalized support they receive from student unions makes this week far more prominent than the few who organised it. At King’s College London, the student union recently advertised Israel Apartheid Week in its newsletter, alongside information about strikes and varsity matches; as if such a slanderous week was a prominent and normal part of student activity on campus. The email reads: ‘The week aims to raise awareness of Israel’s apartheid system over the Palestinian people’ as if this is undisputed academic fact. We have an abundance of student societies and campaigns pedalling the smear of Israel as an Apartheid State- Demilitarise King’s, KCL Action Palestine and more. Some of these student societies and their prominent committee members were the chief protagonists in the violence on the 5th of March which I mentioned above.
Recognising the corrupt alliance between student societies pushing extreme anti-Israel narratives and student governance claiming to represent all students is important. Momin Saqib, President of Kings’ Student Union, who has recently been subject to complaints of anti-semitism and anti-Hindu racism, was filmed addressing the crowd at the aggressive protests against our Israel Society event with former Deputy Prime Minister of Israel Dan Meridor on the 12th of February. The protest ultimately succeeded in inhibiting the talk from being heard. Saqib, who was running for President of the NUS, has failed to respond to student complaints against the publicising of Israel Apartheid Week under his student union, showing a lack of regard for his duty to represent all students. This is not an issue isolated to my university. At institutions across the country, student officers in prominent sabbatical positions instill an irrational hatred and focus on Israeli issues within student unions that are meant to be impartial. At Queen Mary University of London and Brunel University respectively, prominent student union presidents or sabbatical officers running for NUS positions have made public comments deemed either anti-Semitic or anti-Zionist. We have unfortunately come to accept such behavior as the norm.
At a recent meeting with the university administration, the official remarked that the current events on campus merely mirror wider political polarization in society. That may be true, but we should be motivated to assume greater leadership and initiative in order to change that. We must demand that our universities stand up to violence and take the initiative, however unpopular, to start punishing the aggressors rather than the victims.
Contributed by President of CAMERA-supported KCL Israel Society and CAMERA on Campus UK Associate Tamara Berens.