September 12, 2019
While it is sometimes tempting to focus on the voices shouting the loudest in our community, to do so often misses the point. That’s what happened this week when a fringe group tried (and failed) to disrupt our annual StandWithUs UK student conference.
Seeking attention (but no genuine discussion about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict), a couple of attendees put on elephant masks and began shouting slogans. They posted a video of themselves in an effort to smear StandWithUs on social media, claiming they were campaigning for more "honesty" about Israel.
Unfortunately, we’re used to anti-Israel groups trying to shout down events about Israel. The phenomenon of a self-described Jewish group mimicking those bully-boy tactics against fellow Jews is a new low. However, when we found out who was involved in the disruption, it became less surprising. Some of them had taken part in a now infamous "Kaddish for Gaza" event outside Parliament. This included mourning for Hamas terrorists who were killed trying to break through a border that is walking distance from where Israeli families live.
The irony is that had the disruptors actually come for an honest discussion, they could have engaged with dozens of students from diverse faiths, backgrounds, and political perspectives.
StandWithUs UK is built on a foundation of open dialogue and discussion. We are proud to provide an opportunity for students to learn, gain valuable skills, and participate in open discourse. We welcome all people who have a genuine interest in education, discussion, and respectful debate.
Our conference was a reflection of these values. Jewish, Christian and Muslim speakers, politicians and academics each spoke about Israel from their diverse perspectives. Students from Exeter to St. Andrews came to learn and engage honestly. We facilitated wide-ranging discussions and debates about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Israel's internal social issues. Different opinions, ideas and convictions were voiced across the room, in an atmosphere of openness and respect.
The shouters in the back did make an important point, albeit unknowingly. They chose to disrupt, rather than engage. They chose cheap slogans, rather than honest dialogue. They showed everyone in the room what not to do.
They claim there is too little criticism of Israel in our community. I disagree, but am more than happy to have a respectful debate about the issues, as are others involved with StandWithUs UK.
What we cannot accept is disruptions aimed at shoving an anti-Israel political agenda down the throats of our students. That’s fundamentally wrong in my view as an educator. Students should be exposed to a wide range of perspectives and educational resources, and empowered to make up their own minds.
A wise man once told me "you cannot learn from someone who agrees with you". I urge students to educate themselves, debate controversial topics, and learn from each other. That is the only way to encourage honest Israel education. Members of Na'amod are welcome to put aside the masks and slogans, and engage with us. If you “cannot stand silent” – don't. Come speak to us with honesty and respect. There are no elephants in our room.
Read the article here.