Erasing the line - antisemitism and anti-Zionism

11 Dec 2009 by CST

This is a cross-post from Mark Wolfson at the Union of Jewish Students blog

"Your life will be hell!" bellowed Bongani Masuku at a crowded meeting at Wits University in South Africa. The International Secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) has been leading the drive to malign, vilify and intimidate any South African student or citizen who has the courage to stand up to the misguided boycott craze sweeping the Left.

And yet, despite the South African Human Rights Commission's findings that "the statements made by Mr. Masuku amount to hate speech", the University and College Union invited him to the UK. They brought him on to highly flammable campuses, to speak at a conference organised to encourage boycotts, in order to enflame and propel students to action.

In February this year, Masuku and Ronnie Kasrils - a Jewish anti-Zionist - led a march to protest against Operation Cast Lead, choosing not the Israeli embassy, but a Jewish community centre in Johannesburg. Later in that march, Masuku led the burning of an Israeli flag - outside a synagogue. It is inconceivable that this was not directly targeted at the Jewish community. A simple Google search will further reveal the torrent of abuse that Masuku has leveled this past year.

Campuses in the UK are tense, with fringe groups of Left Wing students seeking to divide and impose their monolithic interpretation of events in the Middle East. Weekly, students are forced to confront the incessant demonization of the state of Israel. Jewish students regularly contact UJS about a seemingly overwhelming number of speeches, motions, talks and campaigns that are of grave concern to them.

The Union of Jewish Students is proud of its Zionism, but encourages its membership to maintain their own diverse opinions on the policies of the government of Israel. UJS will, however oppose any speaker who advocates the targeting of a student because of their support for Israel. When threats are targeted against the Jewish community, UJS has a duty to speak up in their defense.

Yet UJS should not be alone in leading the fight against antisemites, who cowardly claim that they are merely criticizing Israel to deflect their true intent. Moreover, even if they do not think they have antisemitic intent, they must acknowledge their responsibility in inspiring followers to commit antisemitic acts.

How organisations like the UCU can associate with convicted hate-speakers is bewildering. How they can sit on the Government Group on Antisemitism is simply inexplicable. We are seeing an increasingly narrow political space for discussion on the Arab-Israeli conflict. This is dangerous: Jews and supporters of Israel's right to exist have already been hounded out of the UCU; how long will it be before some university campuses become no-go areas for Jewish and pro-Israel students?

The tragedy of this obsession is twofold: firstly, the duty of care no longer applies to these students and academics. Secondly, proponents of Israel boycotts will never be challenged to recognize that their reasoning is flawed, their tactics malicious and their leaders wrong. It seems that the line of anti-Zionism and antisemitism has not been crossed: it has been erased.

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Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis
Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth