December 09, 2006

Leeds Uni zionists: we really can't complain

The Jewish Chronicle headline says "Jewish students gagged at Leeds." It's not quite like that of course. Jewish students have not been gagged at Leeds University, but the zionist organisation known by the misnomer, the Jewish Society, has been stopped from holding up union business, particularly criticism of Israel, by abusing its complaints procedure. Here's the article:
Britain’s largest Jewish student community was in a state of shock this week after being constitutionally gagged against a background of intensifying anti-Israel campaigns and propaganda.

The student union at the University of Leeds has recently become the stronghold of a growing pro-Palestine lobby, which regularly runs campaigns declaring Israel to be a racist and apartheid state. Following a campus-wide referendum last Friday, union authorities have been mandated to ignore J-Soc complaints “as long as Judaism as a faith is not offended.” This policy was carried by 1,421 votes to 895.

The motion, proposed by members of the Palestinian Solidarity Group, catalogues J-Soc complaints against it. It then claims that the existing practice of “considering every complaint received by the student union as a real complaint” constituted “an arbitrary use of authority.”

A further successful motion, worded as a polemic against Israel, resolves to twin the union with the student body at Bir Zeit University in the West Bank, where many seats on the student council are held by the Hamas-linked Islamic List. It brings to a climax a disturbing term for Jewish students — in the last month alone, UK J-Socs have fought against some 11 motions, the majority of which they managed to defeat.

Campus leaders, students and academics have voiced concern that the first motion singles out the university’s Jewish students — thought to number almost 1,000 — and strips them of basic rights enjoyed by all others. They fear this principle will be introduced in other unions, creating a culture where Israeli’s critics have carte blanche to launch tirades regardless of their truth, and where it becomes taboo for any J-Soc to show solidarity with Israel.

They have also reacted with incredulity to the motion’s wording, in which its Palestinian Solidarity Group authors claim for themselves — and to the exclusion of Jewish students — authority to define Jewish identity. Now the motion has passed, Jewish identity is now exclusively religious, according to the union’s constitution.

After the votes, the atmosphere at Hillel House was gloomy. “The motion is trying to tell us what we should and should not think about Judaism,” said Mark Frazer, 21. “Its proponents are saying that Israel should not be part of our Jewish identity; we think is. It should be for us to decide.” Judith Keen, 20, spoke of “feeling let down as the referendum process is meant to help students here, not be used a political tool.”

Zach Esdaile, one of the J-Soc’s campaign officers, claimed it will “add to fear on campus.” He said: “This motion is supposedly about freedom of speech [by preventing complaints], but it delivers anything but that.”

However Damola Timeyin, communications and democracy officer for the union, said that the motion was passed by a democratic forum, and as such is binding.

According to Mitch Simmons, campaigns director at UJS, the motion represents the “stepping up” of a “national, systematic and coordinated attempt on campuses” to blacken Israel’s reputation and delegitimise Israel’s centrality in Jewish identity.

Insiders in the National Union of Students report a growing rift with Leeds over the motion, even though, publicly, NUS respects the autonomy of member unions. NUS president Gemma Tumelty would not “comment extensively,” but confirmed there is a clash.
Unfortunately, I can't find the actual motion itself. If anyone knows where to find it, please let me know. Thanks!

UPDATE: and thanks to Akram Awad in the comments for providing this link to the motion:
This Union Notes.

1. That in November 2004 the LUU Palestinian Solidarity Group (PSG) was refused permission to erect a model of the Israeli wall of separation outside the Student Union as part of the group's campaign against the building of the wall in the West Bank of Palestine.

The Student Union sent security guards and phoned the police to remove the wall from campus after receiving a complaint from one Zionist Jewish student claiming he was offended by showing the wall on campus.

2. That in November 2005 PSG was forced by a Union Executive to repaint the wall model, spending £150 of its budget, before allowing them to display it in a planned event. The repainting was requested to remove the words "Racist", "Apartheid" and "Zionist" from the wall, claiming they were inflammatory.

3. That the International Court of Justice has ruled in July 2004 that "the construction of the wall being built by Israel, the occupying Power, in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in and around East Jerusalem, and its associated régime, are contrary to international law".

4. That the South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu described the apartheid regime in South Africa "a picnic in comparison with the utter brutality of Israel's occupation of Palestine."

5. That in November 2004 and October 2005, PSG were not allowed to distribute a leaflet about Zionism because of describing Israel as a "racist, Zionist state".

6. That in November 1975, the UN General Assembly adopted Resolution 3379 which determined that "Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination." Israel made revocation of resolution 3379 a condition of its participation in the Madrid Peace Conference, in progress in the last quarter of 1991. Under pressure from the administration of US President George H.W. Bush in the United States, the UN passed Resolution 4686 in December 1991, revoking Resolution 3379.

7. That in November 2006 PSG was ordered by a Union Executive to hide the word "Jews" in "Zionist Jews" printed on a banner quoting the Balfour Declaration, an official document issued by the British Minister of Foreign Affairs in 1917. The order was made after receiving a complaint from a number of Zionist Jewish students claiming to be offended by mentioning the word "Jews" in the quotation.

The banner was displayed in several outdoor events on campus in the past and has never received such complaints by any Jewish student.

8. That PSG were ordered by the Student Union in several incidents to make changes to their display material or to end their activity because some students were approaching their stalls or displays causing disorder, disturbing the peace and jeopardising the event.

9. That although the LUU Jewish Society (JSoc)is categorised by the Student Union as a religious society, a principal role for JSoc is to promote the state of Israel via its activities and affiliation with the National Union of Jewish Student (UJS), an organisation which openly declares itself as a Zionist i.e. political organisation.

10. That in February 2006 JSoc organised an Israeli Awareness week in the Riley Smith Hall of the Student Union building. Part of the activity was a huge map of Palestine laid on the floor without any border lines identifying the Palestinian territories, implying that the whole map is for Israel. A number of Palestinian students complained to the Societies Executive about the map but the complaint was ignored.

11. That from 1967 to 1988 the UN Security Council passed 88 resolutions directly against Israel and during that span, Israel was condemned 43 times. During the same time, in the UN General Assembly, 429 resolutions against Israel were passed, and Israel was condemned 321 times. Many other resolutions have been passed by both the Security Council and General Assembly since then. Israel has never complied with the vast majority of these resolutions.

12. That in October 2003, the European Commission conducted a survey representing all EU's member nations and included a list of 15 countries with the question: 'tell me if in your opinion it presents or not a threat to peace in the world'. Israel came first and was reportedly picked by 59 per cent of those interviewed.

13. That all UN resolutions related to the Arab-Israeli conflict starting from resolution 242 in 1967 onwards consider the Palestinian territories (including West Bank, Gaza strip and East Jerusalem) as Occupied territories.

This Union Believes

1. The University's Code of practice on freedom of speech ensures that freedom of speech within the law is secured for members, students and employees and for visiting speakers.

2. Considering every complaint received by the Student Union as a real complaint and taking actions according to it, without having a reasonable and logical basis for that complaint, is an arbitrary use of authority against the other party.

3. Requesting an event to remove or modify any of their display content should be the last resort -not the first- to avoid the breach of peace in the event, as long as the displayed material doesn't contain content that insult the members of a curtain faith or race.

4. It is the responsibility of the University Secretary and the Appointed Officer to ensure that adequate number of stewards, suitable to the Appointed Officer, is available, in addition to any security staff that the Appointed Officer may feel should be present to maintain order.

5. It is inappropriate to blame or take action against the organisers of an event for the disorder caused deliberately by other individuals or groups, especially as it is the duty of the Appointed officer and the security staff to protect the event and the organisers and to ensure they feel safe to speak freely on campus.

6. The Israeli-Arab conflict is, although complicated, not a religious dispute and thus it is open to controversy and debate. Advocates of both sides of the conflict should feel free to raise awareness and educate the university members, students and employees, about the conflict each from their own perspective. The same ruling should apply to all political conflicts and debates.

This Union Resolves:

1. To ensure that all political societies are practicing their freedom of speech without the fear of being silenced for the sake of satisfying other parties with opposing political stances.

2. To request the LUU societies executive to take all necessary security measures mentioned in (This Union believes - Paragraph 4) in all LUU society events to avoid any breach of peace by the organisers, the attendance or other external parties.

3. To formally advise the LUU Jewish Society that promoting and defending Israel in its activities indicate that JSoc is taking and advocating a curtain political stand in behalf of the Jewish students on campus. Therefore JSoc is expected to expect and accept having other parties declaring and promoting opposing stands in the University, as long as Judaism as a faith is not offended.

4. To send a letter to the University secretary with a copy of this motion.
So there we have it.

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