The Oxford University Labour Club (OULC) last week endorsed Israeli Apartheid Week, the annual campus event designed to delegitimise the Middle East’s only functioning democracy. Israeli Apartheid Week is closely associated with individuals who deny Israel’s right to exist, and undertake anti-Semitic harassment, intimidation and bullying. True to form, it has emerged that during the endorsement debate speakers expressed sympathy with terrorist organisation Hamas, and used the insulting term ‘Zio’ to describe Jews, a phrase normally confined to the Ku Klux Klan.
The Club’s co-chair, Alex Chalmers, stood down in disgust, writing in his resignation letter that ‘a large proportion of both OULC and the student left in Oxford more generally have some kind of problem with Jews’. Following his resignation the university’s Jewish society released a dossier of eight other anti-Semitic incidents: in one an OULC member organised for people to call a Jewish student a ‘filthy Zionist’ whenever they saw her.
Sadly, it is not just the student left in Oxford that has a problem with Jews. Campuses across the world are increasingly hostile places for Jewish students. In 2014, the Anti-Defamation League’s Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents found 64 incidents of anti-Semitism on American college campuses. In January this year a student was expelled from France’s prestigious Sciences Po for making anti-Semitic comments during an online discussion about Israel.
Rather than address the barbarism of Daesh, the totalitarianism of North Korea, or corruption in Russia, the Left’s almost singular foreign policy focus is Israel. In the minds of the modern Left, Israel and Jews who support their historic homeland are now the white, privileged, oppressors. Jewish students are therefore seen as legitimate targets for bullying, harassment and intimidation.
Ironically, much of this activity comes from the same people who stifle free speech in the name of creating so-called ‘safe spaces’— places where individuals of racial, ethnic, religious and sexual minorities are supposed to feel comfortable and welcome. If you are part of the modern Left’s chosen victim groups you are a protected species, exempt from criticism, debate, question and argument. Jews simply do not make the cut.
Australian Jewish students have faced the full intensity of campus anti-Semitism in recent years. Jewish student events, many with no connection to Israel, are regularly picketed. At the University of Sydney, a faculty member joined a protest at a guest lecture, yelling comments towards members of the audience. At UNSW, two individuals harassed a student for carrying an Australasian Union of Jewish Students bag. Five Jewish students at Monash University were stopped from entering a public lecture organised by the campus Left on the basis of their assumed religion. The fledgling ANU Jewish Students’ Society were harassed during the annual orientation week. The group was doing nothing more then signing up new members to their recently founded society, only to find members of the student left yelling out phrases such as ‘Israeli bitch’ and ‘dirty Jew’ when they passed. Later that day a paper aeroplane was found laying in front of the society’s stall. On one side there was a left-wing refugee petition, and on the other the scrawled message ‘Death to the Zionist entity Love from Hamas’.
Jewish students are barraged with blatantly false claims about Israel and harassed if they attempt to confront them. Students have been assaulted when putting up posters and confronting individuals spurting anti-Israel propaganda. I was once criticised at a Student Council meeting for simply having visited Israel.
And in one particularly heinous incident at La Trobe University a Jewish student, and member of the Labor Left caucus on campus, faced an extraordinary campaign of bullying, intimidation and harassment. The individual, in her capacity as the Secretary of the La Trobe Student Union, successfully led the unanimous opposition to a nonsensical anti-Israel motion put to the Student Council. In response the Socialist Alternative launched a poster campaign with her face plastered around campus claiming she supported ‘genocide’, bullied her on social media, and instructed other members of the ‘safe space’ brigade to abuse her on campus. She was repeatedly called ‘a genocidal pig’ and a ‘Zionist piece of shit’. As a consequence she stopped attending university altogether.
Perhaps even more worrying than the bullying was the lacklustre official response. After months, the university eventually suspended just one of the students. The victim’s fellow Labor Left caucus members, including the student union president, not only refused to provide any support or representation, but instead signed a coalition agreement for the upcoming student election with the individuals responsible for the bullying. The agreement included the extraordinary caveat that the Jewish student would not be part of the upcoming campaign. The responsible student union president was subsequently promoted to the presidency of the National Union of Students – Australia’s peak student representative body.
The Australian Left’s relationship with Israel was not always this fraught with hypocrisy. Socialists and trade unions almost universally backed Israel’s establishment. The Chifley Labor Government supported the UN partition of Palestine into Jewish and Arab states, and even the Communist Party of Australia expressed support for Jews entering ‘their historic homeland’. In the shadow of the Holocaust the Jews were seen as the oppressed, today, likely due to Israel’s astonishing success, they are portrayed as the oppressors. Left-wing students, rather than partake in civilised debate on complex issues, seek to aggressively shut down those who do not conform to their worldview. Universities, once the beacon of knowledge and investigation of differing ideas, are now places where opposing voices are bullied. Jewish students, purely due to their association with Israel, face the full brunt of this new reality.
Matthew Lesh is a former Director of the Australasian Union of Jewish Students
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