By Liberty Strong
UWE has become the centre of a massive debate recently. A debate that, without question, should be discussed, but one that is much bigger than the university. A debate that is understood by very few.
The lines between the definition of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism have undoubtedly been blurred over the course of 62 years. This is something that scholars have tried to silently establish for decades, but disparities still exist. Disparities that are hindered by figures such as Donald Trump, who recently endorsed Israel and was accused by pro-Palestine activists and the mainstream media of being a Zionist.
Is that a bad thing? To some, not necessarily.
Is that a good thing? To others, not necessarily.
An event like this unfolded at our humble university in November. Since then, accusations have been thrown around and an intense smear campaign has been launched.
I am of course referring to comments made by our current SU president, Zain Choudhry.
We as a democratic student body, and moreover as global citizens, need to understand the centuries old background to the Israel/Palestine debate before any judgements can be made. Students are quick to judge and subscribe to biases. This has been evident over the course of the disciplinary investigations.
I’d like to at least provide a loose background that is sufficient to understand why this debate exists, differentiating between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. In addition, I’d like to then analyse the comment made by Choudhry that led to his investigation, and how the approach taken to it was unfairly biased.
Israel / Palestine: A Brief History
Zionism is officially defined as the creation and protection of a Jewish state. This idea was established in 1897, but was not followed up on until 1946. The creation of the country we now know as Israel was the product of this. The British and French led the operation to create this new state after the suffering endured by the Jewish people after World War Two and the holocaust.
However, the anti-Zionist movement exists not to slander the Jewish population, which now resides on the land on the coast of the Black Sea in the Middle East. It exists to challenge the rightfulness of their ownership of the land.
Israel was established on an already existing state inhabited by a vast, predominantly Muslim population, in state formerly known as Palestine. This land has been contested back and forth between Christians, Jews and Muslims for centuries. But the Muslims were the outstanding majority population in 1946. This Muslim population has now been pushed into the small areas of Israel now known as the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, where persecution of Muslims is rife. These areas have become violent and unsafe. Essentially, perpetual war zones.
This is where the contention begins. Who rightfully ‘owns’ the land? Is there an issue with calling someone a Zionist? This is not something you or I can answer. It is a debate much bigger than us. But understanding the basic background information to this very complex matter is the first step to building a consensus among individuals. It is still in our hands, and very important that it is talked about. It is imperative that as citizens of a global democracy that we engage in politics and formulate our own opinions.
Anti-Semitism: Where Is The Line?
Anti-Semitism is undoubtedly mostly associated with the holocaust and the atrocities perpetrated by Adolf Hitler. Simply put, anti-Semitism is the hatred and persecution of Jewish people because of their religion. Anti-Semitism is deeply offensive and should not be tolerated to any extent.
But anti-Zionism does not mean anti-Semitism.
This should be remembered. To make a derogatory comment about a Jewish person’s religion would be anti-Semitic. But to make a comment about someone’s view on the state of Israel is a conflict of opinion. The Zionist vs Anti-Zionist debate is not based on religious belief, but instead is based on the right to religious land.
Although it is true some anti-Semites do hijack the anti-Zionist movement, it should not be instantly assumed. These are the extreme cases. The much-loved politician, Jeremy Corbyn, is a notable anti-Zionist, yet he opposes the state of Israel while maintaining an acceptance of all religions. He is not an anti-Semite. Likewise, David Cameron is a prominent example of a pro-Israeli politician, yet he is not an Islamophobe.
A Victim of Confusion and Slander
So returning back to our tiny microcosm of debate, I don’t believe students at UWE know the facts. More to the point I think many students will disregard the matter because of their lack of understanding. But if you’re still reading this, thank you for taking the time.
If you weren’t aware, the comment made by SU President Zain Choudhry stated that a candidate for the Democratic Procedures Committee position was a Zionist. This comment was made privately on a group chat, not openly to the student body. This led to said candidate launching a smear campaign against Choudhry in order to rally votes, including the fabrication of memes to slam other aspects of Choudhry’s presidency, all of which are in fact false.
While Choudhry should be penalised for interfering in the election process, he should not have accusations of anti-Semitism thrown at him. As a person of Islamic descent, he is well-versed in the history of the Islamic/Jewish divide and is undoubtedly going to take a different stance to Zionists on the question of Israel. His comments did not degrade Jewish people. But these accusations against him since have misconstrued students’ interpretation of the situation.
Choudhry has been subject to harsh comments and slanderous articles written about him. This has brought the debate to the fore, but in the wrong way. His unfair treatment should be taken into account. Students in the campaign against our President have even linked him to extremism due to his activism in October for Islamophobia Awareness Month. The lines of religious intolerance are blurred. This has become a tit-for-tat battle for moral supremacy through hateful propaganda against Choudhry.
Hate speech is no way to run a professional campaign, especially when the grounds for your own debate are anti-hate speech. Students must exercise their privilege to engage in politics and educate themselves. Knowing the facts is key to formulating opinions.