Exeter, Devon UK • Apr 16, 2024 • VOL XII

Exeter, Devon UK • [date-today] • VOL XII
Home News Israeli and Zionist stall met with backlash on campus

Israeli and Zionist stall met with backlash on campus

Harry Craig and Joshua Smith, Print Deputy Editors, cover the recent Israeli and Zionist stall controversy on campus.
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Image via Harry Craig: leaflets distributed by Israeli and Zionist society on campus

A stall in the Forum run by the Israeli and Zionist Society has attracted national headlines, after it was met with significant on-campus backlash.

On the 6th March, the Society held their first on-campus stall since the Hamas attacks on the 7th October, in which according to the BBC over 1,000 Israelis were killed and hundreds of civilians taken hostage by Hamas, which is designated as a terrorist organisation by the UK, US and EU. This led to the ongoing Israel-Hamas war, as Israel launched a siege on the Gaza Strip. This has killed over 30,000 Gazans, and almost all of Gaza’s 2.3 million population have been displaced, according to the BBC. In January, the UN’s International Court of Justice made a historic ruling, ordering Israel to ensure its forces do not commit acts of genocide in Gaza.

This conflict has led to a surge in antisemitism and Islamophobia in the UK. In February, the Community Security Trust reported a 589 per cent increase in antisemitic incidents since the 7th October versus the same period in 2022, whilst the Islamophobia Response Unit reported that Islamophobic incidents had increased by 365 per cent since October earlier this month.

In response to the stall, a large crowd of around 100 students gathered in the Forum. The Society accused some of being abusive towards them, with one student who was part of the group manning the stall alleging to the Jewish Chronicle that “we were harassed and abused”. This included accusations that one individual attempted to throw fruit squash over the Israeli flag, and that the leaflets being handed out by the Society were ripped up in front of them. These incidents were reported in the national press, including by the Mail Online, GB News and the Jewish Chronicle.

The Society accused some of being abusive towards them, with one student who was part of the group manning the stall alleging to the Jewish Chronicle that “we were harassed and abused”

These outlets alleged that this stall was raising awareness of antisemitism, although many students have raised issues regarding these claims, with the leaflets being distributed by the Society focusing on the actions of the Israeli government, rather than issues of antisemitism. Of the five leaflets being distributed, only one made reference to antisemitism, discussing the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of antisemitism.

The leaflets handed out by the Society were promoting the work of the UK university-based wing of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle Eastern Reporting and Analysis (CAMERA), a controversial organisation which claims to “promote accurate and balanced coverage in the British media, and train students to effectively educate others about historical and current issues in Israel.” It is a self-claimed “media-monitoring” organisation.

CAMERA, which is mostly run by Americans based in Boston, frequently engages in attacks on those who are either anti-Israel, or not pro-Israel enough, with criticisms spanning across both Israelis and non-Israelis, according to The Guardian. One of the leaflets which attracted the most controversy was one which claimed that Israel is the “most LGBTQ progressive nation in North Africa and the Middle East”, with many claiming that this was “rainbow-washing” the current deadly conflict the Israeli state is currently engaged in in Gaza. Another leaflet documented why Israel is targeting six Palestinian non-governmental organisations (NGOs). The organisations are all part of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), an organisation classed by some to be a terror front. One of the NGOs is Al-Haq, which is part of a network of human rights organisations and unions which have condemned the ongoing Israeli assault.

The Society also distributed a leaflet entitled “Israel’s siege on Gaza explained”. In response to this incident, the Israeli and Zionist Society told Exeposé: “what happened on the 6th March in the Forum was an example of how Jewish voices are attempted to be silenced by those who can’t accept an alternative viewpoint to theirs.” “Attempting to stop another person or group’s freedom of speech just because you may not agree with them is an example of nothing but being afraid of the facts. Gathering in mobs and trying to silence and abuse others by throwing and ripping things will never be the right way to approach anything — whether this was done to us or the other side it is wrong.” “Finally abusing and harassing a group of Jewish students will not do anything for the Palestinian people and if groups on campus think it will then they can only be seen as one thing: antisemitic.”

Attempting to stop another person or group’s freedom of speech just because you may not agree with them is an example of nothing but being afraid of the facts

Israeli and Zionist society spokesperson

Exeposé also contacted the Friends of Palestine Society for comment on the stall, as well as the Jewish and Islamic Societies for comment on the general rise in both antisemitism and Islamophobia since October, but did not receive a response from any of them at the time of publication.

Exeposé spoke to some of those who gathered to express their dissatisfaction with the stall. One student stated that “it can be very triggering for students and members of the community who feel very strongly and who have been attacked by Israeli occupation forces.” They continued, “obviously there’s this idea that… we need to have this scholarly debate. I don’t think that’s necessarily possible when people’s families are being killed and they’re not being recognised by the University’s administration.”

Another student told Exeposé that they believed “it is ridiculous to think that Zionism… should be allowed to have a society on campus. It’s not reconcilable with looking after students’ mental health, because what has happened today is a student who has lost family in Gaza has reacted in a negative way because of the celebration of the Israeli genocide of Palestinians.” “It’s an indictment of the University’s policies, allowing it to go ahead after a risk assessment, which should have prevented anything like this, especially right now, is obscene. It’s ridiculous… the information being handed out is fundamentally incorrect.”

What has happened today is a student who has lost family in Gaza has reacted in a negative way because of the celebration of the Israeli genocide of Palestinians

Student present at stall gathering

Moreover, in an article written for The Palestine Chronicle in February 2023 regarding the creation of the Israeli and Zionist Society at the University, Exeter professor Ilan Pappé wrote that the creation of the Society “is not meant to educate students or faculty about Zionism; these are just acts of intimidation meant to undermine the successful solidification in the University of Exeter of a fine and professional program of Palestine Studies.”

In response to the incident, a spokesperson for the University of Exeter said: “We can confirm we are investigating a report of an incident that took place on our campus. We are meeting with those involved to ensure they are receiving the appropriate support.” “University security was present throughout and members of the police, who were present at the University as part of a separate meeting, visited the stall before the incident occurred. As part of our investigation, we are reviewing the full CCTV footage that is available.” “The welfare and safety of all our students is our highest priority. The University is clear that there is absolutely no place or justification for any instances of discrimination, hate or harassment and we are committed to ensuring our campuses are safe and welcoming for everyone within our community. We encourage anyone who may experience any such behaviour to report it immediately, and we will continue to offer and provide welfare support for those involved.”

There is absolutely no place or justification for any instances of discrimination, hate or harassment and we are committed to ensuring our campuses are safe and welcoming for everyone within our community

Exeter University spokesperson

The University was asked whether this stall went through the regular channels of compliance or raised as an Event of Concern, as per its event approval process, but did not comment on this. The Students’ Guild also responded by stating: “we facilitate groups with a wide variety of views under freedom of speech within the law. All of our registered societies have the right to express their views providing they are not unlawful. We are offering resources and guidance to students on how societies and student groups can talk about Israel and Palestine whilst avoiding antisemitism and Islamophobia.”

The Guild also urged anyone who has experienced or witnessed any form of abuse to report this via the Exeter Speaks Out tool, and to contact Wellbeing Services for support and guidance if anyone is distressed by the issues raised in this article.

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