Friday, January 30, 2009

Not a student rag, but righteous student rage

SO, it was a red rag to a bull, but was it a load of bull? And can we draw any lessons?

As students returned to their colleges this term we have seen a wave of occupations protesting the Israeli onslaught on Gaza. I was even able to 'join" the occupation at Kings College, London, one evening when the students allowed us in to hold a meeting, organised by Hands off the People of Iran(HOPI), on the Gaza war in Middle East context. The speaker, Israeli socialist Moshe Machover, was amused as a professor emeritus of Kings to find himself in a student sit-in, and happy to help the students drawing up their case for revoking Kings honorary doctorate to Shimon Peres.

Police were called to BBC headquarters in London to drag out demonstrators protesting its refusal to broadcast the emergency aid appeal.

Then yesterday came what appeared to be a leaked e-mail:

"London Student Centre in Euston, 6.30pm,

London Jsocs will be hosting Colonel Geva Rapp, the head of the ground operations in Gaza (Operation Cast Lead)! This talk should be extremely interesting and valuable.
However, please do not talk about this event on facebook due to security concerns and current high tension surrounding the conflict.

'Aish UK together with London JSocs and Panim el
Panim are hosting Colonel Geva Rapp (IDF reserves)for a lightning
tour of the UK this week. Colonel Rapp was the deputy commander of
ground forces in Operation Cast Lead in Gaza this month. Geva is
the Founder and Director of Panim el Panim- an organisation
committed to unity in Israel and the teaching of Jewish values
amongst young Israelis in preparation for their army service. He
lives with his wife Dina in Jerusalem. They have 7 children."

JSocs means Jewish Societies at the various colleges. Aish UK is a spreading, well-heeled outfit operating among Jewish school students. Many parents have expressed misgivings about its brand of Judaism.

Doubters pointed out that Geva Rapp, though an obnoxious right-wing settler leader, was a retired colonel, a reservist, not that high-ranking in the military, and he had not commanded the Gaza operation. But he was worth a protest anyway.

Last night a crowd assembled outside Hillel House, the London Jewish student centre in Euston, where Colonel Rapp was due to be speaking. Inside there were about 20 people patiently waiting. The crowd grew to block the busy Euston Road. Police tried to get down a young man who had climbed on to the building to look into an upstairs window. They shoved people about, and witnesses say one woman was nearly shoved into the path of of an oncoming bus by an over-enthusiastic policeman.

Eventually after almost two hours, a police officer announced through a loud-hailer that the colonel was not coming and the meeting had been cancelled. The demonstrators started to disperse.

If this event had been intended as a wind-up, then it worked. But it was the students waiting in Hillel House who were disappointed and must feel misused, while the people who came to demonstrate outside can feel proud that they turned out at such short notice, and satisfied that the colonel's meeting did not take place. I congratulate them.

Two memories came to mind for me. One was the time when I stood outside a lecture theatre on the Lancaster University campus with a crowd of students, and (I can now reveal) some building workers from the Heysham power station site. The University Monday Club had invited National Front leader Martin Webster to speak, and vice chancellor had rejected appeals to cancel this; but in the end, sensing the mood and what might happen (police and ambulances were standing by), he changed his mind. Webster remained at his hotel, and the rightists did not invite anyone like that again.

The other was of an evening at Hillel House some years ago. The student centre was hosting a public political and cultural event (it might have been the Jewish Quarterly' symposium) and some members of the Jewish Socialists' Group came early, so we could leaflet and sell our magazine outside to people as they arrived. Two officials, one male and one female, came out to request that we stop doing so, on "security" grounds. I don't think they invited us to sell inside instead. Security? The lady explained that by standing outside on the pavement we were drawing attention to the place, and this could lead to a terrorist attack. As though some passing terrorist might say "Gosh, I never noticed that place before, now where did I put my bomb?"

Maybe such threats are no longer the laughing matter I found them then; but I wonder, have those responsible for Hillel House and its safety, and that of students who use it as a place to eat or stay, considered the sense of letting it be used for what was not just a controversial meeting but a blatant provocation, at a time like this.
If a couple of people selling magazines outside for ten minutes was worrying in days gone by, now they have had a crowd blocking the Euston Road for a couple of hours.

If anyone is dim enough to think this was about "free speech", I suggest they try ringing Hillel House and booking a meeting room for, say, Professor Norman Finkelstein. And in the unlikely event they succeed, see how long it is before the Union of Jewish Students protests and calls Finkelstein "antisemitic" because of his views on Israel and the use it has made of the Holocaust. Even the Oxford Union, though it went ahead with inviting Nick Griffin, had trouble with that one.

But here's an ongoing issue. Not Finkelstein, nor even Colonel Rapp. If there 20 Jewish students waiting to hear the colonel last night, there could have been just as many in the crowd outside. But the JSocs and the Union of Jewish Students like to claim they are speaking for all Jewish students, and that their pro-Israel Zionist view doesn't just happen to reflect a majority view but is essential to their identity. The National Union of Students
officialdom, like that of the European Union, seems to have fallen for the Zionist lobby-fostered lie that equates opposition to Zionist ideology with antisemitism. At least before the latest war, they did. Yet I heard from more than one non-Jewish student friend on Tuesday that they were on their way from Gaza occupations to attend Holocaust memorial day events. And for the same reasons.

As for Jewish students, not long ago at a meeting of the new Independent Jewish Voices, I heard a young woman describe how as secretary of her college Jewish Society she had requested some material for Freshers week from the UJS. Instead of the literature on Jewish history, religion and culture she had expected, what arrived was a package of Israeli government propaganda, so that she might as well have asked for it from the embassy. You need not be a committed anti-Zionist to feel unhappy that your religious or cultural affinity is being treated as a licence to count on you as a lobbyist; or even line you up with war criminals and racialists.
They don't even wait till you're at college. At the same meeting we heard from a young man at a Jewish secondary school, - state-funded - unsure if he wanted to go ahead with the hasbara (propaganda) training when he went into the sixth form.

Jews for Justice for Palestinians, which has student supporters as well as a lot of academics, has a meeting on Sunday evening, February 1, with Prof Avi Shlaim, speaking on 'Israel's war with Hamas, Rhetoric and Reality', at Friends Meeting House, 120 Heath Street, Hampstead, NW3. Doors open 7pm

Independent Jewish Voices is holding a book launch meeting on February 3,at SOAS.Thornhaugh St, WC1 and they have invited veteran Israeli peace campaigner Uri Avneri for a meeting in March.

The Jewish Socialists' Group has a meeting on Wednesday, February 11, with Karma Nabulsi, Gerald Kaufman MP, and Yishay Mor. That's 7.30pm at the Imperial Hotel, Russel Square, WC1, and the subject is "After Gaza - What next for the Palestinians, and how can Jews and Israelis help?'

One way to help, to do justice to themselves at least as much as the Palestinians,is for Jewish students who don't want to be used to defend the indefensible, or in devious provocations, to raise their independent Jewish voices. Take over existing societies where you can, or set up your own. No need to argue over a label, stick one on the Zionist Right to isolate it.

Independent Jewish Voices:

Jews for Justice for Palestinians:

Jewish Socialists' Group:

Playing With Fire, Cliff Singer on the Aish project:

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At 5:06 PM, Blogger white rabbit said...

Inevitably this character is a Colonel...

What is it with Colonels? Remember the Greek variety?


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