Commenting on the conflict in Israel and Gaza in May, the officers of the KCL Student Union issued a statement with biased, inaccurate views of what transpired.
The statement sided entirely with ‘the people of Palestine’, while inaccurately reporting ‘forced evictions of families in Sheikh Jarrah and attacks on worshippers in Masjid Al-Aqsa’.
This wording omits the nuanced reality of these events including that the issue within Sheikh Jarrah was a property dispute, Important details, such as how the legal rights to the property in Sheikh Jarrah are in Jewish possession after their purchase in 1876 were ignored. Time and again, courts have found legal rights to the property to lie with its Jewish owners, a fact often omitted. When Jordan illegally occupied East Jerusalem, the Jews living there were ethnically cleansed to make room for ethnically Arab people.
After the war in 1967 Israel recaptured eastern Jerusalem, the legal owners were granted the right to lease the accommodation. Furthermore, Palestinian lawyers in 1982 admitted openly to the Jewish ownership of the land. After years of nonpayment of rent, the owners legitimately sought justice through the courts and propagandists seized the opportunity to defame Israel and claim the incident was an example of ‘ethnic cleansing’.
What this sloganistic, simplistic and biased language does is it reduces highly complex situations to antisemitic propaganda. Libels of ‘forced eviction’, ‘genocide’ and ‘ethnic cleansing’ are not based on fact or understanding; they’re based on a desire to incite hatred against the Israeli government irrelevant of the facts on the ground.
The SU officers also included loaded language and biased language such as the ‘brutal violence’ of the Israeli attacks while conveniently ignoring the thousands of lethal rockets aimed at civilian areas in Israel. The Israeli response is just that – a response to the war crime of targeting Israeli civilians.
The statement also contains blatant falsehoods. They claim that Israel committed ‘continued indiscriminate bombing of Gaza which has targeted schools, hospitals and stores’ with ‘over 200 civilian deaths’. In reality, the reason for the civilian casualties in Gaza is due to Hamas’ use of human shields as a propaganda tool. Israel consistently targeted sites of weapon stockpiles hidden in civilian areas and took precautions to avoid civilian areas, even calling off strikes when children were occupying a military target. The IDF record military intelligence headquarters installed next to a kindergarten, weapons depots placed in various houses and apartment buildings as well as weapons factories situated in the heart of densely populated civilian areas.
Israel operates with unprecedented restraint in this area compared to other armed forces. Israel warns civilians to evacuate the area before attacking through calling, texting, dropping leaflets in the area and ‘roof-knocking’. Although there are criticisms of this tactic as being ineffective, the New York Times notes that people “die in any case, because they ignore or defy the warnings”. In fact, Hamas even instructs people to stay in buildings in spite of Israeli warnings in order to create more political pressure regarding ‘Israeli brutality’, making ‘martyrs’ out of their people.
Armies usually do not call off strikes on military targets because of civilians standing in the way.
In 1991, the UN defended the killing of 100 Somali civilians in an attack with the claim that “Everyone on the ground in the vicinity was a combatant, because they meant to do us harm.” Israel’s restraint in this area is unprecedented and criticisms of Israel for ‘indiscriminate violence’ is either holding Israel to a standard that is not applied to any other state in the world or are painfully ignorant of the lengths Israel goes to avoid unnecessary casualties.
The SU officers also use references like Al-Jazeera, widely known to be biased against Israel and publish stories that are completely fabricated for the sake of influencing public opinion. It’s certainly telling when our elected Student Officers choose to rely on the opinion of an antisemitic, propagandist organisation that hosts such erudite opinions as one of their anchors, Ghada Oueiss, that openly promotes antisemitic conspiracy theories on Twitter.
Al-Jazeera is also known for their preference for Holocaust relativisation, denial, and propagation of blatantly antisemitic tropes and Elders-of-Zion-like rhetoric. One example of this is their promotion of a cartoon suggesting the Jews (not Israelis) are the force behind climate change as a bid for world domination. It is abhorrent that our elected Officers should rely on this broadcaster as legitimate journalism.
Their extreme bias is further shown through the links they posted at the bottom of the statement for the sake of ‘education’. These contained links to biased movements recognised for their antisemitic jargon such as Students for Justice for Palestine. The SJP, for instance, are backed primarily by ‘founders, financial patrons and ideological supporters who have been connected to Islamist terror organizations such as Hamas, Hezbollah, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the Marxist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP)’
More importantly, the SU officers described the situation using sweeping slogans and anti-Israel libels such as ‘globally recognised apartheid’ and ‘ethnic cleansing’. These claims are false and damaging. They are false because all citizens of Israel, regardless of ethnicity, are afforded full civil rights within the state of Israel, as noted by comparative law constitutional Arab-Israeli scholar Mohammad Wattad. To be clear, over 20% of Israel’s population are ethnically Arab, many of whom identify as Palestinian.
These claims of inequality and apartheid, besides being false, are damaging as they lead directly to antisemitic abuse and violence. As Brandeis University and AMCHA research has found, there is a direct correlation between the proliferation of BDS activity and antisemitism on campuses with large Jewish student populations.
This has never been so evident as it was last summer. Antisemitism skyrocketed on all online platforms and in-person school-related antisemitic attacks increased by a rise of 491% in May compared to the first six months of 2020.
This rhetoric that the SU is espousing that leads directly to groups of individuals driving through Jewish areas and the City of London crying to ‘rape Jewish daughters’ in attempts to intimidate Jews due to their connection with Israel.
The Student Union should not be espousing political claims that inevitably ostracise, marginalise and endanger any groups of students. Relying on hate-centred news outlets, choosing to ‘educate’ KCL students with propaganda materials, and using biased anti-Israel libels and baseless slogans all confirm the extreme bias and illegitimacy of this statement from the KCL Students Officer last year.
The SU statement has been taken down as the new team of Student Officers no longer agrees with the statement, according to email correspondence with Bush House. However, no formal apology has been made by the Student Union, despite the harmful culture it has contributed to. Our representatives should not be contributing to falsehood, propaganda, and making campus a space of hatred.
A slightly different version of this article appeared on Roar News, student newspaper for the King’s College London.
Saul Levene is a 2021-2022 Fellow for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting & Analysis at the King’s College London.