When it comes to issues around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on UK university campuses, what is reported and discussed in the media is almost entirely negative. Unfortunately, Jewish students around the UK have had to put up with an annual ‘Israel Apartheid Week’, where divisive and demonising materials are spread around campuses across the country. In London, Jewish and Israel societies have had their events violently disrupted, severely intimidating the students in the room. And Jewish students have also had to face the brunt of the anti-Semitic BDS campaign, where the Jewish state is singled out for criticism. These issues have been widely reported in the media, and rightly so; Jewish and pro-Israel students should not have to keep their Israel events secret in order to avoid them being disrupted, nor should they have to spend a significant amount of time defending the Jewish state from outright lies. But whilst it is important that the negative incidents around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on UK campuses are covered and discussed, it is just as important, if not more important, to cover and discuss the positive ones.
At the University of Nottingham, we have had multiple positive Israel-related events on campus, and unlike some of the awful events that have occurred in London and other campuses around the country, the reaction to them has been incredibly positive from all sides. At a CAMERA-sponsored event in November, Nottingham hosted Jerusalem Post correspondent Lahav Harkov. The event was attended by over 70 people, including the presidents of the Palestinian and Jordanian Society, as well as other Palestinian Society members. They listened respectfully, despite disagreeing with much of what Harkov said. When it came to the Q+A part of the event, well-mannered questions were put to Harkov from both sides, and at the end of the event Harkov was thanked by members of the Palestinian Society for engaging proactively in their questions.
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Yet this was not a one-off. At an event in March as part of Nottingham Jewish Society’s ‘Peace Week’, a panel discussion event was held on the Two-State Solution featuring speakers from a range of organisations with different political perspectives, from Likud-Herut UK to Yachad. The event attracted around 100 students, with around 30 from the Palestinian Society. Once again, the speakers were listened to with respect, and during the Q+A section of the event, a range of questions were asked by students on both sides of the conflict. After the event, Jewish and pro-Palestinian students engaged in polite and considerate debate, despite at times strongly disagreeing with each other.
The situation at Nottingham is far from perfect, there is still an annual ‘Israel Apartheid Week’, and there were strong concerns raised by Jewish students when ‘Boycott Israel’ stickers were placed on the Jewish Society’s stall during 2017’s ‘Welcome Week’. These are issues which must not be ignored, and more pressure should be put on Palestinian Societies across the UK to make sure their events do not leave Jewish students feeling intimidated on their campuses. But students at Nottingham, many of whom have strong opinions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, have clearly shown the ability and willingness to listen to people they disagree with, and engage in positive dialogue. The fact that this is occurring should be celebrated.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one of the most complex geo-political issues of our time, but peace will only come about when people from both sides listen to and understand each other. And whilst negative incidents surrounding Israeli-Palestinian discourse on UK campuses far outnumber those that are positive, when positive events do occur, they should be celebrated as another small, but important step on the road to peace.
Contributed by Nottingham University CAMERA Fellow Daniel Kosky.