DEBATE: Should EUSA cease to be twinned with Birzeit University?

Yes, our relationship with Birzeit University endorses anti-Semitic discrimination: 

I was recently horrified to find out that Edinburgh University Student’s Association (EUSA), which supposedly represents my interests, is affiliated with an anti-Semitic university. Birzeit University, a university in the West Bank that openly prohibits Israeli-Jewish students and lecturers from entering its campus. This affiliation has been a EUSA policy since 2005, but has only just come under scrutiny following the controversial removal of an anti-Zionist Israeli reporter from its campus. This relationship with Birzeit University must cease to exist.

Last week, a reporter from Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper, was told to leave a conference on ‘Alternatives to Neo-Liberal Development in the Occupied Palestinian Territories’. This pro-Palestinian Jewish-Israeli reporter, upon questioning why there was a problem with her presence at the University, was told “it is important for students to have a safe space where (Jewish) Israelis are not entitled to enter”. What exactly do they mean by a “safe space”? Are Jewish people a dangerous collective who need to be locked away from Palestinians, so as not to convolute their ideologies? Surely, suppressing dialogue and promoting disengagement is not the way to nurture a future generation and to foster peace. What stereotypes are they instilling in Palestinian youngsters? This is simply a recipe for hatred.

It is not only Jews who aren’t allowed to step foot on their campus. Only last year a British Envoy was prevented from entering the University, while the students attacked his car and prohibited him from speaking. This is a patent example of the damaging implications of the measures taken by Birzeit University, resulting in students with no patience for dialogue and understanding.

Ray Hanania, a Palestinian-American journalist for The Arab Daily News, said “Palestinian minds are being controlled by Islamic fanaticism that is growing in strength and power, fuelled on the rising extremism in the Arab and Muslim Worlds.” Ironically, Birzeit is actually funded by a foundation set up by George Soros, a Jewish billionaire.

Birzeit University released a statement in response to the removal of Amira Hass from their campus, implying that it does allow Israeli Jews, providing they have the “correct” opinion on the Israel-Palestinian situation. This was clearly not the case with the reporter who had strong Palestinian sympathies. However, even if it is true, this does little to make it any more condonable. How exactly do they plan to adequately implement this policy? Do they plan to ask each Jew to explain their beliefs before they pass through the gates? This is a controlling, dictatorial measure, which disallows discussion and perspective.

This is a university which EUSA has open ties with, as explicitly outlined in a motion passed in 2011, entitled ‘Solidarity with Students at Birzeit’, facilitating academic exchanges and relationships with their students. Furthermore, EUSA actively encourages societies to donate to Friends of Birzeit University through EUSA’s “twinning partnership”, which directly funds this discriminatory institution.

EUSA’s support of Birzeit Students Union should not be tolerated until Israeli Jews are allowed back onto their campus irrespective of their views. Encouraging relationships and dialogue between Israel and Palestine is fundamental to future peace. An institution which actively prohibits this and discriminates against Jews, should not be supported, let alone sponsored, by our student union.

By breaking off its ties with Birzeit, will send them a clear message, and demonstrate that EUSA does not support discrimination. EUSA represents you and I. Therefore, whatever your political stance, we should to refuse to stand for EUSA’s affiliation with a discriminatory institution.

Natasha Goldstein

No, we should support the provision of safe spaces for marginalised Palestinians:

EUSA is currently twinned with the Palestinian Birzeit Students Union (BZU). This policy was passed at general assembly in November 2005 and has subsequently passed every time it has come to the Student Council. The twinning is part of an ongoing campaign started in Birzeit that has now grown to be a worldwide week of action – Right To Education (R2E) – which aims to raise awareness of and combat the physical and institutional barriers faced by Palestinian students in accessing education.

The calls for EUSA to end its ties with BZU, in response to what it calls the alleged racial discrimination of Israeli Jews, refers to the ejection of Israeli journalist Amira Hass from an on campus conference in September. This ill-informed anger misunderstands and misrepresents the events of September, labelling Birzeit as an anti-Semitic university; some have stated as fact that Jews are prohibited from being on campus. This is literally false.

Having spent time travelling around Palestine and the declared state of Israel with a delegation of students from across Scotland, I can assure readers that this is not the case. Several members of our delegation were Jewish, and were faced with absolutely no questions in either the meetings we had with various groups which operate on campus, or while being shown around the campus.

It must be emphasised that Birzeit University seeks to provide a safe space for Palestinian students. A safe space is open only to people of the same or similar marginalised backgrounds; this is not new, and it is certainly not discriminatory. Safe spaces are often a necessity in order to minimise discrimination. Within EUSA we have Liberation Groups. These groups are not open to everyone; the women’s group is open to only people who self-define as women. This is necessary because of the marginalisation women face within university and the student union as well as in wider society. Birzeit is no different.

Palestinian society, including the many academics and students working within Palestine, the declared state of Israel and the diaspora experiences marginalisation and racialised oppression. The Palestinian collective memory and consciousness is one of occupation, of lack of personal and community space, of lack of freedom of movement, even of freedom of art and creation; of threats to personal freedom and safety, of insecurity and ongoing military oppression.

The University of Edinburgh has played host twice in the past three years to the Israeli Ambassador, Daniel Taub, along with all of his private and Israeli state security. His visits to the University campus posed a very real threat to the safety of Palestinian students, both to their mental health and wellbeing, as well as to their physical safety within Palestine and the declared state of Israel. One Palestinian student who spoke against the Ambassador’s visit in 2012 – on the basis that Taub had been instrumental in Operation Cast Lead in 2008, in which the student had lost many family members – was questioned extensively as they crossed the border from Jordan to their family home in the West Bank. The student’s statements made in EUSA council meetings were quoted back to them, and the student was detained for longer than is customary simply for being active on their campus against Israel.

It is the people who face oppression who require safe spaces the most. In the context of the historical and ongoing oppression that Palestinians have been subjected to, as victims of Israeli settler colonial aggression, their claim to maintain their own self identifying safe spaces is a vital part of the process to achieve a just peace. The ejection of a person who does not self-identify into an identity group such as one defined by race or nationality, a space specifically for people of a shared identity, is not a form of anti-Semitic discrimination that is being criticised. It is not even “anti-Israel”. It is simply a measure taken to maintain the shared identity of a group.

Bettie Scott

   

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