by Faris Karouni
Calling all Birmingham students, let’s take a short journey into the past…
15th January 2009: Blue and white stripes flying everywhere, the colours of an apartheid state. There is a crowd of people standing by the clock tower at the University of Birmingham. Their message is a political one; ‘We support Israel, and we will defend its actions at whatever cost, despite any international outrage and condemnation that may result from its actions’. Israel has just been accused of destroying hospitals and schools in Gaza, during a wide-scale aerial bombing raid that has resulted in the deaths of 1400 people, 400 of which are children.
The Zionist dream was realised 62 years ago, when a ‘Jewish State’ was proclaimed in Palestine (later named ‘Israel’), a land in which Muslims, Jews and Christians had coexisted for hundreds of years, but nonetheless had a Jewish minority. This was purported to be a state in which Jews could live in dignity and have the right to self-defence; given the atrocities committed during the Second World War. Jews worldwide were to be offered automatic citizenship to the new state, encouraging immigration. The majority of the indigenous people in Palestine however were not Jewish, and their rights were immediately being threatened.
The founder of the state of Israel (and commander of the terrorist organisation Haganah), David Ben Gurion, declared “We must expel Arabs and take their places."
Thus, Israel came to existence in the most appalling circumstances with 750,000 people being terrorised into leaving their homes simply because they were not Jewish (and their homes repossessed by incoming Jewish immigrants); a racially motivated war crime that is shockingly under-publicised in the international media, yet it is the root cause of the Israel/Palestine conflict.
Absurdly, Birmingham University is a very special place for Israel. The Guild of Students has a very well organised and influential Zionist lobby that defends Israel’s actions whenever under scrutiny from students who stand up for human rights and try to condemn it.
When the flags of Israel were flying on our campus in 2009, a clear message was being sent out: ‘Israel must not be criticized, because doing so is attacking the Jewish people’. This terrible fallacy, regularly trumpeted by the Israel lobby, is an insult to the diversity of opinion that exists in the Jewish community. Are Jews assumed to naturally defend indiscriminate Israeli massacres of innocent Palestinians simply because it is in the interest of Israeli’s on-going apartheid policy? No.
Birmingham’s Guild Officer Team have typically been easily influenced by the Israel lobby on campus. The Guild historically has very low student participation outside of the main Officer Elections in Spring-time. Its decision-making council has a shamefully low turnout for elections and a large number of seats are awarded to students in uncontested elections, often with a turnout of less than 5 votes in constituencies where there are hundreds of students. This disastrous undemocratic system has poisoned our Student Union, and has led it to be so easily corrupted by the views of a few.
Policy that is highly offensive to students has been passed by the Guild Council over the past few years. They refused to condemn Israel during the Gaza massacre in 2009, saying that they ‘did not want to take sides’. Tom Marley (Vice President for Education and Access) and Hollie Jones (Vice President for Welfare) were both responsible for this decision. In May 2010, the Guild president Fabian Neuner spoke in support of a new policy calling for the Guild to label critics of Israel as ‘Anti-Semitic’ if they refer to Israel as a racist endeavour. This outrage sparked a facebook campaign with hundreds of students opposed to the motion, but the policy still passed with a majority vote.
The current Guild President, Dora Meredith, has stood on a platform of making the Guild more relevant to students. She has the potential to do this, but we need a broad student movement to support her. Also, unless other Guild Officers help her in this endeavour, it will be a difficult battle to win, and I call on all Vice Presidents to consider this in the next few months.
The recent NUS (National Union of Students) elections have been a huge victory for students on campus.
Edward Bauer, Adam O’Connell and Hannah Dadd have been elected (out of the 7 positions available). I can testify that these people have dedicated endless hours of their time to work on grassroots campaigns that benefit not just students, but society in general.
‘If you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Liberal or Labour’ was the slogan the Tories used to secure a shock victory at the 1964 general election in Birmingham Smethwick. 42 years ago the Conservative MP Enoch Powell gave his infamous speech in a Birmingham hotel warning that continued immigration into Britain would result in ‘Rivers of Blood’. These events have all happened in our city, and as students of Birmingham we should strive to use our knowledge and learning potential to create a world where history is never allowed to repeat itself and all peoples’ voices are heard.
Let’s work with each other across different backgrounds/religions/races/interest groups to fight racism and discrimination in all its forms, from Anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, gender discrimination, to cuts in education, human rights violations, and the general damage to society that we see in today’s distressing economic climate.