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Dan Sheldon’s Week

This is a cross post by Dan Sheldon of UJS

Since last Monday’s debate between Jonathan Hoffman and I, there have been a flurry of accusations flying round the blogosphere and email lists. The usual internet warriors have come out to spread their bile against UJS, accuse me of supporting the “death of Jews” and call for my resignation. I have been called a prick, a “lefty wanker” and – worst of all – a former SWP member.

But that’s part of the rough and tumble of discussing Israel. As I said in my speech “Where once Israel united the Jewish community, more and more it now divides us. Every week, battles are being pitched between Jews.” Unfortunately, it’s what we’ve come to expect, but I certainly wouldn’t threaten to sue or sack fellow activists.

In his speech, which preceded mine at the debate, Jonathan repeated the falsehood that UJS are planning to hand out Palestinian flags. Following the debate, a nasty letter circulated that falsely accused me of Islamophobia.

Much criticism – in particular Alan A’s thoughtful piece on Harry’s Place – has centred on the part of the speech where I said:

“He is happy to demonstrate, side by side, with members of the EDL¹s
Jewish Division”

I shouldn’t have said that Jonathan was “happy” to protest alongside the EDL, and I’m sorry if Jonathan’s feelings were hurt by this.

It is important, however, to challenge the notion that my speech somehow played into the Anti-Zionist canard that links the EDL and the pro-Israel Jewish community.

Now, as it happens, I have a bit of a track record on exploding this particular myth. I started the UJS ‘Not in Our Name’ campaign, which attracted widespread support from across the Jewish community – from the Zionist Federation to Jews for Justice for Palestinians – in condemnation of the racist thugs of the EDL. We got plenty of hate mail for that one, too.

Likewise, Jonathan has voiced his opposition to the EDL. When the EDL attended the same demonstration as him, he told them that “I do not welcome it” and asked the police for a separate pen.

But really, this dispute has nothing to do with my remarks about Jonathan and the EDL. It has everything to do with two different approaches towards Israel engagement. Either we can draw up the barricades and shut out those with whom we disagree, or we can help build a genuinely broad coalition for Israel on our campuses. Jewish students, motivated by a positive vision of Israel, are doing the latter.

That’s the bottom line. We should be able to discuss our differences, but we must have zero tolerance for intolerance. The major bodies in the Jewish community were right to refuse to support the ‘Big Tent for Israel’ event until it was open to Reform Rabbis. And we should have no truck with those who throw accusations at fellow pro-Israel activists with whom they disagree.

Therefore I repeat the offer I made at the end of my speech – to extend the hand of friendship to all those within the Jewish community, and beyond, to work with Jewish students, not against them.

In a week when Jewish students, led by UJS, have stood up to the likes of Norman Finkelstein and Gilad Atzmon on our campuses, I dare say it would be a better use of our time than these unseemly intra-community battles.

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