The silence about campus anti-Semitism

At City University, BDS has been introduced by the back door.

The students’ union at City University recently came under fire for banning the sale of the Daily Mail, the Daily Express and the Sun. This enraged the journalism department, and students are now embroiled in a highly controversial dispute with the SU.

What very few people have noticed, however, is that another motion, backing the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, also passed at the same SU meeting. It’s hard not to think that union officials purposefully hid the BDS motion behind one that would, inevitably, attract more press attention.

BDS, which calls for a boycott of Israeli goods, artists and academics, has become popular in campus politics. And the singling out of Israel has created an intolerant climate towards Jewish and Israeli students, which often crosses the line into anti-Semitism. Israeli speakers are routinely banned or protested against, with BDS activists pulling fire alarms, banging on windows and breaking into rooms to stop events from taking place. This City motion doesn’t bode well.

Only 189 students turned up to the SU meeting. I spoke to the SU president, Yusuf Ahmad, last week. He told me all students were informed by email about the meeting and its motions. But I haven’t found any non-union-active students who had been told about it.

Interestingly, Ahmad told me he abstained from the vote, saying there were arguments on both sides. I put it to him that BDS was marginalising Jewish and Israeli students, and asked if he thought his abstention would make some think he was indifferent to this. ‘Universities are meant to be Safe Spaces for all students’, was his reply.

While Safe Spaces have become an insidious means of censorship – with safety coming to mean safety from ideas you dislike – Jewish and Israeli students often feel physically intimidated on campus. Just last week at King’s College London, students had to walk through airport-style security to attend an event where an Israeli writer was due to speak. Forget some students wanting to be protected from ‘uncomfortable’ ideas, pro-Israel student societies now need an entourage of university security in order to hold events.

City University management has refused to condemn the motion. And student journalists, such as myself, have been stonewalled. The only response I’ve managed to glean from the City press office was a shallow explanation of what the BDS motion really means (in their odd interpretation), and how it doesn’t necessarily mean Israeli goods or academics will be boycotted.

Even if they’re not actively campaigning for BDS on campus, students’ union and university officials are standing back and watching as a truly ugly climate develops.

Jacob Diamond is a reporter for the London Student. Follow him on Twitter: @jacobsebdiamond

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