Yesterday, 24th Feb 2017, I went once again to SOAS. I had heard that Israeli and UK Jewish students were setting up a stall outside the main SOAS building. They came to engage SOAS students that were interested in dialogue. SOAS is the ‘capital city’ of the UK campus ‘haters’, and has several Palestinian students. This promised to be an interesting event. It was a worthwhile journey.
For those that don’t know the SOAS set up, it is just a short walk from Russell Square in London. Sitting on a pedestrian walkway, with a building on either side. Each building containing many students who would happily see Israel burn. For a Zionist Jew, it can be intimidating.
But yesterday was different. In the square, positioned between the two buildings, a group of Israeli and local Jewish students came to talk. The Israeli flag was out and being waved, proudly held in a place that I don’t think it has visited in a while.
The event passed successfully. I was surprised by the amount of students that engaged. Israeli chocolate was handed around, very few SOAS students refused. I think it highlights how minority opinion is allowed to rule over everyone, even in (especially in?) the most hostile of environments.
I did what I normally do, and wandered. Listening to the exchanges between Israelis, and some of those, who in a few short days, will be screaming about the ‘Apartheid state’. I had a few interesting exchanges, but not many. The SOAS Palestinian Society had set up an ‘opposition stall’, but they were ineffective. However, the message I want to deliver today is not about the successful event, but rather to tell a short story through one Palestinian SOAS student I met there.
Hope not Hate
As I was considering that the majority of feedback I was hearing was positive, I came across two of the Israeli girls talking to someone who identified as a Palestinian SOAS student. I listened intently for about 10 minutes. Question, answer; another question another answer. But this was a two way street and the Israelis were interested in asking questions too. It proved to be an opportunity for real dialogue between two groups of people, who are normally unable to engage properly. Exactly what we should be used to seeing on campus. After a while, I said to the Palestinian student that I wished there were more like him, and went away.
Shortly after this, he left the crowd where the Israelis stood. I saw him begin to make his way back into the SOAS building. A couple of girls from the SOAS Palestinian Society stall were clearly unhappy that a SOAS student, and a Palestinian one, had spoken to the ‘enemy’. So they approached him to bring him into line.
This is the exchange:
“This is what is wrong” says the Palestinian
This is a fascinating exchange on so many levels. The central driver here is the pressure being applied by non Palestinians on a Palestinian by the SOAS PalSoc. It shows what happens when someone becomes interested in dialogue. This student has real personal investment in finding a solution to the conflict, but it is discarded by those whose only investment is hate. He may not be the ‘norm’, or maybe he is, how would we know, if any effort made by people like this, is shunned and diverted towards a more extreme stance.
Is that what our universities are for? To teach a Palestinian that dialogue is not the way? SOAS must be proud. To allow extremist elements to take over the conversation, to drive the narrative and to force any inclination towards moderation back into the shadows. How different, if a student like the one engaging was to be the head of the Palestinian Society? In the end, only the extreme ones are left standing. Only Palestinians that want to see Israel burn. It is a twisted form of virtue signalling within a group where ‘virtue points’ are gained through extremist positions.
Once this exchange had finished and the two had walked away, the PalSoc team went for reinforcements. A minute or so later, two more came to try again. They were treated cordially but failed. This one wanted to talk. Once everyone had given up, I approached him again, we had an exchange about how we both believe the conflict could end. Whilst talking, I corrected him on his misunderstanding of Zionism.
A twisted definition of Zionism
For those that watched the video, it cannot have escaped notice that he described the Israelis he had spoken as not ‘Zionists’. He was wrong. They were 100% Zionists. This is part of the stolen narrative, the propaganda machine through which all Zionism is smeared.
In the recent undercover investigation into the PSC I released last week, I found this, part of a post from Chester PSC in 2014:
“Zionism is a virulent form of Jewish nationalism opposed by many Jews. It asserts the right of the Jews to the land of Israel as defined in biblical scripture- a land significantly bigger than Israel’s current border. Clearly many believe that the policies pursued by the Israeli government gave elements of Zionism…”
The Palestinian I spoke to yesterday, has fallen for the same fake narrative. It shows just how deep rooted this smear has become. Zionism is defined as only the extreme, so to be a Zionist or a Zionist state, automatically makes you an extremist. The Palestinian spent some time talking to Israelis, those willing to talk, to understand, to compromise, and that, for the student was enough to suggest they were not Zionists. This, even as they wore the Israeli flag.
An impossible peace
The problem described here and witnessed in the video above, is from my own experience, the major issue with discussion on the conflict in the UK. Extremists, those who don’t want dialogue, have pushed away those that do. In turn they have made the environment so unwelcoming for supporters of Israel, that there is little left to counter the hate that exists. It is not as if the discussion is not difficult enough, but a hate that will not be quenched, has entered the debate.
I will end with a simple question. Research showed that 42% of the activists at the recent anti-Netanyahu demonstration on the 6th February, push hard core Jewish conspiracy theory. That means they seem to believe Jews were behind 9/11, 7/7 that Judaism pushes pedophilia, the Mossad did Charlie Hebdo and that ISIS is Israel. These are the people leading the protest.
How on earth can any Jew make peace with that?
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