Update on Chaos in the Union of Jewish Students 10th November 11
As you can see from today’s Jewish Chronicle the Union of Jewish Students ‘liberation’ campaign, which had included flying Palestinian flags, has collapsed in chaos. Jonathan Hoffman, using his well-worn tactics, has effectively smeared UJS with the idea that it is has become a Hamas front organisation.
His call for the resignation of Dan Sheldon, its Campaigns Officer, is part of that campaign.
The difference though is completely tactical. Much fun has been had by this blog at the expense of Hoffman and his antics, but a more serious point needs to be made. At a time when the BDS campaign has made great strides, there is a genuine debate taking place inside the Zionist movement about how to respond. Hoffman represents the neanderthal wing of Zionism, which is to deny any vestige of recognition to the Palestinians and to give complete support to the settlers. If this means a de facto alliance with the Jewish Defence League and EDL so be it.
UJS, being slightly more in tune with the feeling of Jewish students isn’t comfortable with this approach and would prefer to continue on its hold hypocritical way of talking about ‘mutual recognition’ as if the Palestinians had equal power to Israel whilst in practice giving no support. It is remarkable down the years that despite its pretence not once has UJS actually criticised any manifestations of Zionism and the settlements. Not once has it criticised the JNF’s apartheid land policies, the eviction of the Bedouin village Al Arakabh in the Negev or even so much as remarked on the fact that 60% of Israeli youth would like to strip Arab Israelis of their citizenship.
The main differences therefore between Hoffman and UJS are ones of semantics, appearances and form. But in substance there is no disagreement.
So we can therefore look on with amusement as the two wings of Zionism fight it out, not least because of Hoffmann’s inability to understand that you cannot just pretend that it is Hamas that is responsibility for Israel’s regular wars, confiscations, land thefts etc. UJS have played a somewhat longer game which is one reason why they been able to attune to New Labour and ensure that NUS remained a bastion of Zionist support (looking more and more wobbly these days).
By Marcus Dysch, November 10, 2011
The Union of Jewish Students has been forced to cancel plans for a week of Israel advocacy events on campuses.
"Liberation Week" was due to begin on Monday. UJS had intended to send a "battle-bus" of Israeli students around the country promoting the organisation's Liberation campaign.
The initiative would have replaced the successful Israel Awareness Week, which was praised in March when 25 Israelis helped tackle anti-Israel activity at student unions.
But the JC understands a catalogue of logistical problems, including arguments over how many Israeli students would be involved in the tour and how it would be funded, contributed to Liberation Week's collapse.
The Liberation campaign was initially launched by UJS before Freshers' Week in September. The plans, to encourage students to speak up for the rights of both Israelis and Palestinians and to distribute Palestinian flags alongside Israeli ones on campus, polarised opinion and sparked debate across the community.
UJS accepted that some JSocs might choose not to promote the campaign on their campuses. That belief was well-founded; at the country's four largest JSocs there has been little desire to run Liberation-branded events.
In Manchester, students discussed the campaign and produced a "mixed reaction", said JSoc's Maggie Suissa. Non-Jewish student groups had responded more positively, she said.
Rob Prager, a Leeds JSoc member and outgoing UJS National Council member, said: "There still remains much confusion as to what the Liberation campaign actually is. UJS should be castigated for its inability to communicate this campaign to its membership as well as the wider Jewish community.
"Perhaps once UJS has decided what the campaign is about, real scrutiny can begin and the membership of the union will for once have its say."
Eytan Halon of Birmingham JSoc said discussions were ongoing over whether to implement the campaign on the campus. He said the society encouraged debate on the "strengths and weaknesses of particular campaigns".
Nottingham JSoc's Adam Charlton said: "We are not running the campaign because we did not think it was appropriate for our campus. It's not that we disagree with its aims, just that some of the slogans do not work at Nottingham."
Dan Sheldon, UJS campaigns director, said: "There's certainly been a lot of interest in the Liberation campaign. Some didn't like it; some loved it. The main issue is to make things happen. We have not had a culture of activism, with students handing out leaflets or collecting email addresses, for a while.
"I think we are getting there. People are engaging with it. Others may be upset because they don't agree with the tactics. But it has made people think about how we do Israel on campus."
One session carrying the Liberation branding did take place at Middlesex University in north-west London on Tuesday, with students at King's College and the London School of Economics also showing an interest.
Defend Jonathan Hoffman’s Right to Free Speech – Sack UJS’s Dan Sheldon
Once again the Union of Jewish Students have sought to stifle the free expression of their critics.
I have had my differences with Jonathan Hoffman in my time, but no one can doubt the dedication and commitment of Jonathan Hoffman. Indeed he is worth his weight in gold (well almost!). To those of you who think this is irrelevant to the Palestinian cause I just say this.
Without his untiring efforts, Ahava, the Israeli shop in Covent Garden that used to sell stolen ‘beauty’ products from the Dead Sea might still be open for business.
I know it may stick in the gullet of most readers of this blog, but I urge you to put your differences aside over little matters like Zionism and approach the matter as one of free speech.
UJS, careerists to a man (& occasionally woman) don’t like to get their hands dirty. Pickets week after week are not for them. Instead Jonathan Hoffman and his brother (?) – the equally well proportioned Harvey Garfield - brave the elements year in year out to ensure that the case for Israeli Apartheid doesn’t go unsupported. The least you can do from the comfort of your homes is to support this dedicated fighter for oppression.
The way that Jonathan Hoffman, who is one of the most dedicated supporters of the Palestinians, I mean the Zionist movement, has been treated by UJS is nothing short of disgraceful.
Dan Sheldon should be sacked on the spot for referring to the delicate matter of the EDL and Hoffie. Sheldon disgracefully exploited this little matter without looking into the background. The fact that Hoffie admitted lying about his dance down Monmouth Street with Roberta Moore of the Jewish Division EDL is neither here nor there. Just as diplomats are sent abroad to lie for their country, Hoffie is allowed to lie in support of a greater cause. The fact that he isn't known for his diplomacy is neither here nor there. In any case even Hoffie, and maybe especially Hoffie, is allowed a romantic dalliance once in a while.
If Jonathan Hoffman feels it necessary to demonstrate alongside the fascists of the EDL that is his democratic right and it is none of UJS's business to suggest otherwise. Zionists have always allied with anti-Semites against their anti-Zionist opponents. Was it not Herzl himself who said that “the anti-Semites will be our most dependable friends... our allies.” [The Complete Diaries of Theodor Herzl, pp. 83-4] Do we not ally with John Hagee of the Christians United For Israel group in the USA – despite the fact that Hagee is on record as describing Hitler as God’s messenger? Why all this nonsense about a tactical alliance with the EDL and an affectionate hug with Roberta Moore?
I am minded to put the ‘Defend Jonathan Hoffman Campaign' on a formal footing and hold a founding AGM, where JH could attend and give us a demonstration of why he is our favourite Zionist.
UJS’s behaviour reminds me of what Oscar Wilde once wrote. UJS have every quality of a dog except loyalty. Please can I urge all supporters of the Palestinians to go to the petition below and sign it.
For your information I include a transcript of the disgraceful speech of Dan Sheldon, UJS Campaigns Officer. Add your weight to the calls for the sacking of this young pup and sign the petition.
“The Union of Jewish Students have every quality of a dog except loyalty'. Thomas P Gore/Sam Houston”
I have signed the petition thrice now. Unfortunately some UJS Hacker type seems to have removed my name. So I would urge, when you sign the petition, not to reveal that you support the Palestinians or your anti-Zionist identity. We don't want people saying we are trying to rig the poll. But be under no doubt. I am reliably assured that your support is welcome. No sooner than I had signed I received the following message:
Dear Tony Greenstein,I couldn’t have put it better myself!! And please do distribute to your friends (if you have any! - Oscar Wilde). Below is a transcript of Dan Sheldon's attack on Hoffie.
Thank you for signing the "A Call on the UJS to 'do the decent thing' " petition at iPetitions.com. Your signature is valuable and makes a real difference.
Please encourage others to sign the petition as well. Forward the text below to everyone who might be interested:
------- FORWARD THIS TO YOUR FRIENDS -------
Hi, I wanted to draw your attention to this important petition that I recently signed: "A Call on the UJS to 'do the decent thing' "
I really think this is an important cause, and I'd like to encourage you to add your signature, too. It's free and takes just a few seconds of your time.
Dan Sheldon takes Jonathan Hoffman to task
On Monday evening, in an event hosted by Leeds JSoc, UJS Campaigns Director Dan Sheldon debated the activist Jonathan Hoffman on the best way to stand up for Israel on campus.
Jonathan has been a consistent critic of UJS for many years. So it was no surprise to see him attack UJS again in his speech on Monday.
Our response is clear: Jewish students don't need a lesson in how to support Israel from Jonathan Hoffman.
Dan Sheldon's speech is below. Video uploaded by CiFWatch
Good evening and thank you to Leeds JSoc for hosting this debate.
And - of course - I'd like to thank Jonathan Hoffman for agreeing to taking part.
I think it is important - in internal discussions such as these - that we treat each other fairly, with the courtesy we'd extend to friends or family. At times when Israel needs all the friends it can get, the last thing we need is for people within the Jewish community to start turning against each other when it comes to Israel.
But that's precisely what is happening. Where once Israel united the Jewish community, more and more it now divides us. Every week, battles are being pitched between Jews. And unfortunately, my opponent tonight is often the one launching the salvos.
For Jonathan, there is only one way of doing Israel - his way. In his own words, "the right response is to pack the hate meetings heckle and give our fliers which tell the truth". Those organisations who believe that there are other - perhaps more sophisticated - ways to stand up for Israel are subjected to a torrent of abuse from Jonathan.
UJS has for many years been a key target of Jonathan. We are weak livered liberals, cowering in the face of antisemites and Israel bashers. And he doesn't just mean me - he means all of us sat here. Every year he sends us emails, and writes letters telling anyone who will listen that he knows best how to support Israel on campus. Forget actually asking students what the campus atmosphere is like - he knows best, and he's been whipping up hysteria, telling the JC - and your parents.
He has even tried to undermine our fundraising efforts by spreading lies and misinformation about our activities. His intention was to take money away from UJS - ultimately from JSocs and Jewish students - just because he doesn't agree with the way we do Israel.
This is a man who has called for a boycott of the Guardian; who wears crash helmets to peaceful pro-Israel demonstrations; and who is happy to demonstrate side-by-side with members of the EDL Jewish Division. He lied about that last one by saying the picture of him with the EDL was photoshopped, but - after a legal intervention - was forced to admit that the photo was completely genuine.
Anti Zionists rejoice when Jonathan attends one of their events. They know he will scream and shout, make a nuisance of himself. They know he will make them look like the sensible ones, and pro-Israel activists like crazies. In fact, one prominent anti-Zionist started a 'Defend Jonathan Hoffman Campaign', to demonstrate their approval for his ultimately self-defeating antics.
But despite all this, I still think Jonathan plays a valuable role in our community. His energy and enthusiasm for challenging anti-Israel rhetoric is admirable. He is no armchair Zionist - he gets off his arse, and does stuff. Not always the right stuff, but stuff all the same.
Unfortunately, as I said before, Jonathan hasn't always had a similar tolerance to those in the Jewish community he disagrees with. In fact, not only has he questioned the pro-Israel credentials of some within the community, he's also questioned their Jewishness.
Helpfully, Jonathan has written a little quiz, to determine who is - and isn't - Jewish in his mind.
"To the Jewish Israel bashers:
Please confirm the following:
1. Examples of active participation in synagogue services over the last six months
2. The number of mezuzot in your home
3. Fluency in reading/speaking Hebrew
4. Participation in rabbinical shiurim in the past six months
5. Positions held within the Jewish community
6. Extent of kashrut observance
7. Examples of active support for Israel in past six months
8. Frequency of synagogue attendance"
Seemingly only those who pass this test qualify as Jewish in Jonathan's mind. The rest are somehow sub-Jewish, unable to pass comment on Israel.
Who needs the Beth din when we've got Jonathan?
I believe that, as a community, if we spent more time tackling those who are motivated by a hatred of Israel than we do tearing shreds out of those with whom we have minor or tactical disagreements, but who have a genuine love for Israel, then we might get somewhere.
But for Jonathan, nuance is a foreign country. Instead, the tactics are usually to shout about Hamas terrorism, call everyone a liar and disrupt meetings.
If I thought those tactics would work, I would be organising a training programme for Jewish students on how to shout and heckle. But it clearly isn't going to get us anywhere - it only serves to make us look as bad as the anti-Israel brigade, entrench divisions and contribute to a negative campus environment for Jewish students.
Instead, we must have a genuine engagement with those who are critical of Israel. Talking with them, not shouting at them. Otherwise what is the point of Israel advocacy? Either we are seeking to change people's perspectives, or we are just talking to ourselves.
So you can forget the quiet work we've been doing with SUs and NUS for years - which has ensured that NUS is the only national trade union without a boycott policy against Israel. You can forget the Cabinet ministers we have forged relationships with since they were students. You can forget all the fascist and racist groups we've no platformed from campuses. You can forget the work we've been doing with the government on tackling hate speech in our universities.
Because all you need is an Israel flag, a copy of the Hamas charter and a crash helmet, apparently.
My appeal - if I am to make one, is not to say Jonathan is wrong and we are right. The view that there is only one way to do Israel is not mine, it's his.
My appeal, is instead, to employ the right tactics, at the right time in the right place. The way we speak to a young, centre left student from North London who is critical of Israel will of course be different to the way we speak to a gun-totting Republican in the Bible Belt. Smart Israel campaigners recognise that a diverse approach is a successful one.
And this diversity must extend to our own community. We need a big tent, not an ever shrinking sleeping bag. We must be able to discuss Israel without the likes of Jonathan accusing us of being Anti-Zionists or - worse - not even Jewish. I'm not calling for the end of a vibrant dialogue on Israel, I'm calling for the beginning of it.
And I'm not calling for to abandon our loud and active support for Israel. As Jews, as Zionists and as right minded human beings, we must challenge those who seek to destroy the Jewish state. And I share Jonathan's view that the Jewish community hasn't been loud enough nor good enough at challenging grassroots anti-Israel activity.
But when we engage in all this, we must remember to treat others as we would like to be treated ourselves. When we complain about the vile antics of Palestine societies, we must then aspire to the highest standards ourselves: honesty, politeness and willingness to listen as well as talk. The Chief Rabbi has called this the lost 'culture of civility', and I believe we need to get it back.
It is in that spirit that I end my remarks and extend the hand of friendship to Jonathan and ask him to work with Jewish students in standing up for Israel.