A Dark Day On Campus

On Wednesday across the globe people of many nations and ethnicities commemorated international Holocaust Memorial Day. This is not a Jewish event. This is one which was mandated by the United Nations and supported by the majority of Western governments. It indeed is no longer limited to the six million Jews and countless more millions who died as a result of the evil of Nazi Germany, but to victims all across the globe, ranging from the Armenian Genocide to those in recent memory who lost their lives in the Rwandan Genocide.

The University and Guild of Students chose to mark this occasion with a large meeting in the Guild attended by a wide variety of students from diverse backgrounds and inviting two speakers, survivors of the Holocaust and Rwandan genocide.

Unfortunately this was not the only place on campus the Holocaust was being discussed this day. The Birmingham Friends of Palestine Society, and their guest Mike Prysner, sought to not only draw parallels between the nature of Gaza as a concentration camp, but indeed to suggest that the Jewish state of Israel is indeed filling the role of the Nazis. This is certainly not a new assertion, much like the many nations across the world where the ‘Elders of Zion’ is seen as being a key text, this hateful statement has reached a level of mainstream consciousness unthinkable in generations gone by.

We are increasingly seeing a separatist part of university. They are extremists, their choice of speakers and rhetoric marks them clearly out as such. Over my time at University many of us have witnessed firsthand the hateful, homophobic, racist and deranged supporters and spokespeople of Hamas and Hezbollah given raucous applause by my fellow students. On this occasion on Wednesday, Prysner himself was quoted by and attendee as saying:

 

“I think that history will not just remember these people as fools but really in the context of other atrocities we’ve seen in particular that the Nazis waged during the Holocaust. I think you really can draw an equals sign between what was done there in Germany and what is done to the people in Gaza”


I do not wish to dwell on this dark occasion, marring it further. But instead I would like to go back to an event two years ago where I first hand experienced this new hate and ignorance spreading across our University.

It was this same time of year in 2009 that in response to escalated conflict in Israel and the disputed territories, many students of all manner of backgrounds took to the main quad carrying both Israeli and Palestinian flags, campaigning for not only a two state solution in the Levantine Middle East, but indeed for the sanctity of race relations on our own campus. This was an unprecedented example of solidarity and it sought the chance to establish a new consensus. We stood singing songs such as ‘Salaam (Od Yavo Shalom Aleinu)’, a Hebrew and Arabic collaboration which has become a symbol of what can be achieved by collaboration rather than conflict.

 

However above us on the small terrace surrounding the Arts Building stood a far greater number. Carrying imitation blood drenched placards, and symbols of their chosen ideologies. The screeching cry of chants reverberated around the quad and off the red bricks of Campus. They loudly proclaimed their desire for the liberation of ‘Palestine’ and for the destruction of Israel. Their favourite chant ‘Palestine shall be free, from the river to the sea’ demanding a territory larger any Palestinian Authority negotiator has ever called for and eliminating Israel, clearly setting them above the mainstream.

On this side stood in collaboration, a collection of people disinterested in mainstream politics and rhetoric. They may be described in many ways, but seeking to avoid emotive language, I shall refer to them merely as extremists. They were members of Socialist movements who believe in the destruction of our world, Anarchists who set themselves apart from society, and a large number of Islamist students, radicalised away from their original faith and towards a politicised movement constantly at war with the civilisation of the West.

It is the nature of University of Birmingham politics that there needs to be at least two sides to every single discussion or conflict. The Guild or one of its hegemonic institutions, such as the debating society, mediate between and declare a victor who no one truly supports. However in this case there was a pluralistic movement pushing not only for the widely supported effort needed to end the Middle Eastern conflict, but indeed looking for solidarity on this campus. They were quashed on this day by the rhetoric of hatred.

To discuss the Holocaust and the contemporary situation in Israel is indeed to open a modern day Pandora’s Box. So many ignorant people on both sides of the conflict seek this emotional heritage to draw fast conclusions without merit. I will say only this, the millions who died did so as a result of blind extremist hatred, this was not merely the action of an elite, but indeed came from the general population, only by remembering this event and keeping it in popular consciousness can one truly hope to prevent its repeat.

 

Adam Jenner

BUCF VP

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14 thoughts on “A Dark Day On Campus

  1. Absolutely fantastic post, very well written.

    I was talking with someone only today about the extremist state that campus seems to have allowed itself to play host to. Dangerous extremism is unacceptable in any case, whatever the cause may be.

    Sophie

  2. The holocaust memorial yesterday held in the Guild was a humbling experience, whatever your political allegiance, whatever your views on the ongoing strife between Israel and Palestine, the holocaust is a hugely symbolic memorial event which represents all genocides taken throughout humanity’s history. It was shame BUCF were not there (this is not to make a petty point, rather many of the new BULS committee were hoping to introduce themselves and meet their Tory counter-parts).

    Now, I’d regard myself as a “Friend of Peace in the Middle of East” rather than “Friend of Palestine/Israel”, so there’s a lot I’d criticise about the state Israel state as much as the state of Palestine. But, to host an event an hour before one of the tentative memorial events of the year, especially for those of the Jewish community, with language comparing Israel and Gaza to Nazi Germany and the Holocaust is nothing less than disgraceful, divisive politics of insensitivity and border-line hate.

  3. Max we would have been delighted to introduce ourselves properly to the new committee. I’m sure many members of BUCF were there, but a few of the committee were at an event in town with Baroness Warsi.

    I myself produced a video that the Holocaust Educational Trust now use to educate children in secondary schools around the country about the horrors of the Holocaust, with particular reference to Auschwitz, and so the topic is one close to my heart.

    Agree with your last statement wholeheartedly.

    Soph

  4. I will be replying to this blog on the BULS blog more substantially early next week (post essay). Firstly, this event was organised a long time ago, and specifically not organised on holocaust memorial day. It was also timed to end so everyone could attend the holocaust memorial. On that point the society in question cannot be criticised.

    Also, I was at this event, which it does not sound like the you were Adam. The language of Mike Prysner was neither extremist nor offensive on most points. There was much debate at the event among those attending, which was encouraged and permitted, on the palestinian question and humanitarian intervention.

    His speech was about his experiences as a soldier in Iraq, of torture and humiliation of Iraqi civilians by American troops, and his belief that US Foreign policy is driven by economic interests and as such cannot justly engage in military humanitarian intervention. The Palestinian issue was discussed in response to questions put to him regarding his views about resistance.

  5. As someone who organised this event, I advise you to read the facebook I made on the talk, and the comments made in discussion about the talk:

    http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=188319107853441

    A summary:

    The aim of the talk was not to draw comparisons between Nazis and Jews. It was to pay respect to the 1400 Gazans killed by Israel in 2009. The fact that Mike Prysner labelled Gaza a ‘concentration camp’ may have been interpreted in a way that caused offense to students on the anniversary of the Holocaust. However, his intention was clearly not to rubbish the memory of the Holocaust, but to draw attention to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza caused by the inhumane Israeli seige of the impoverished territory. In retrospect, ‘prison camp’ would probably have been a more sensible choice of words, and less likely to be misinterpreted the wrong way.

    Mike Prys­ner high­lighted the Gaza Mas­sacre as a prime exam­ple of the cat­a­strophic fail­ures of US-Israeli pol­icy in the region over the past 60 years. The mur­der of 1400 peo­ple (400 of which were chil­dren) is a mas­sive stain on the rep­u­ta­tion of not only Israel, but its key ally, Amer­ica. With­out the annual $3 bil­lion of mil­i­tary fund­ing from the US, Israel would cease to be an apartheid state, and would be forced to abide by inter­na­tional law and end its dis­crim­i­na­tion against the Pales­tin­ian people.

    With regards to Adam Jenner, you participated in a protest on campus 2 years ago in solidarity with Israel at a time when it was bombing schools and hospitals in Gaza. You are damaging the reputation of the Conservative Future Society, as I doubt the majority of their society would support the mass-murder of 1400 people.

    I covered the 2009 Gaza bombing protests in a separate blog, which is also highly relevant to your attack on the Friends of Palestine Society: http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=175849735767045

    Regards,

    Faris

    President
    Friends of Palestine Society

  6. “Their favourite chant ‘Palestine shall be free, from the river to the sea’ demanding a territory larger any Palestinian Authority negotiator has ever called for and eliminating Israel, clearly setting them above the mainstream.”

    As is natural for Conservatives, who like to stay within their own bubble, I assume you’ve not heard of the ‘Palestinian Papers’ that were leaked recently? The PA is in the pay of the Americans, and was encouraged by them to ask for much smaller areas of Israel than many native people want.

    “They may be described in many ways, but seeking to avoid emotive language, I shall refer to them merely as extremists.”

    Well you failed there. The hysterical nature of your post makes it slightly difficult to respond logically, it seems to be that you emerged one day from your aforementioned middle-class bubble, and were unfortunate enough to encounter people who actually believe different things to you, which appears to have shocked you deeply.

    ‘Prison camp’ would have undoubtedly been a better turn of phrase for Prysner to use, instead of ‘concentration camp’… but speaking of “rhetoric of hatred”, let’s remember that before 1945, there were many Jews, Palestinians and Christians all living as neighbours in the same streets in the British Mandate, in peace. It was the Zionists who launched a war against the Palestinians and stole the country – this is fact.

    Zionists believe that they are “God’s chosen people”, so along with this belief and the forcing of refugees into the Gaza Strip prison camp, can you not understand how, perhaps incorrectly, people are drawn to see parallels with the Nazis?

  7. I’m not sure I was at the same talk as you Jake, as your account of it seems slightly warped.

    If I may give you the quote from the talk, which was considerably before the floor was opened up to ‘questions’, here it is:

    “I think that history will not just remember these people as fools but really in the context of other atrocities we’ve seen in particularly that the Nazis waged during the Holocaust. I think you really can draw an equals sign between what was done there in Germany and what is done to the people in Gaza.

    Because Gaza, quite literally, is one massive concentration camp where people are kept just hanging on by a thread ”

    When questioned, Mike Prysner added:

    “Since then, Palestinian … rights in Israel like Jews were denied rights in Germany. They’re killed with impunity, they’re massacred with impunity. I think you can very much draw an equal sign between what the Nazis did to the Jews and what is done to the people of Palestine.”

    But I think it should be emphasised that “Questions & Answers” should be used in the most loose of terms. When Jewish students in the room, most rightly appalled by the talk, looked to contest the absurd comparison between the Holocaust and Gaza, they were heckled and shouted down. When the deeply offensive ‘answers’ were given, a mere reiteration of the comparison, it was met by loud applause and cheering.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, Jake, but this does not sound like ‘encouraged and permitted’ debate.

    The talk was advertised as giving solutions to the conflict, but all it did was cause great offense and question the right to Jewish self-determination.

    I’m not sure I’ll be taking any history lessons from you, Jake, about the Israel-Palestinian conflict anytime soon, you don’t even seem to have your facts right on Wednesday’s event.

  8. I don’t see why we should take lessons on the Middle East from the Tory students. The talk did offer solutions to the conflicts. Here is the solution and it is easy and simple. Israel must cease to exist. If you support peace in the Middle East you must be opposed to the existence of Israel. Most white middle-class English people involved in mainstream political parties have no idea what people around the world. Nothing unites the Arabs more than their total rejection of Israel. Why do you think Israel needs Arab countries to be brutal dictatorships for them to make peace treaties with it? Just because a few Arabs who come to the West are nervous to say their real views on Israel because they think they’ll be condemned. Well I’ll put it to you straight: I am proud to never ever recognise that racist terrorist usurping entity and look forward to its demise. Israel is doomed.

  9. @ Sophie, thank you for your kind words.

    @ Max, I can sympathise with your outlook and agree that these actions do constitute border-line hate, something that has no place in this country, nor the campus we all study on.
    You are right it is a shame that our committees still haven’t manage to meet yet. I hope this is something that can be rectified as soon as possible. With this manner of outrageous and extremist action on campus it is vital that those of us who believe in democratic politics and liberty should stand together, regardless of party allegiance.

    @ Jake, you are correct in saying that I was not at the event in question, but am aware of his role with the Marxist “Party for Socialism and Liberation”. The nature of his rhetoric and indeed the quote I used has been told to me by numerous individuals who attended the event and believe is as factual as hearsay can ever be. The fact that “Talk Attendee” verifies this statement, almost to the letter. assures me that this is so.

    @ Faris, I cannot speak for the entirety of my society and for their views on the ongoing conflict. I can however say that at BUCF we have maintained a policy of being friends of the Palestinians as well as the State of Israel. As such I highly resent your accusations of doing damage to a society which I have sat on the committee of for nearly three years and hope have contributed to substantially.
    Your mentioning of the defensive aid distributed to Israel by the Department of State is an altogether tiring and repetitive quote I have heard since school. The fact is the majority of this money is spent on defence equipment used to protect Israeli civilians; be they Jewish, Muslim, Druze or any other minority who call Israel home; from external threats across the region.
    As already mentioned in my post, the rally which I attended was one which sought an end to the hostilities which arose from Operation Cast Lead. To suggest that we were somehow celebrating or encouraging the awful loss of life is both insulting and clearly demonstrates that you have a black and white mindset on the subject. We carried with us (as clearly visible in the photo above) a selection of banners and signs which incorporated the flags of the Palestinian people, the State of Israel and the universally recognised peace symbol.
    I had the dubious fortune of reading your post fairly soon after it was written and was shocked and dismayed by the viscous personal attacks of many of your associates in the comments section, a complete misunderstanding of historical facts and indeed a dangerously misguided view of Judaism.

    @ V, your post lacks the charm of Faris’s and the aimless offensive radicalism of Ali’s below. Frankly I have no interest in responding.
    But in the nature of fairness I will simply ask why you think the 28 year long period of British governance was such a golden age?
    – Was it the constant pogroms launched against the local Jewish population?
    – Or was it was the union of Former Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin al-Husseini with Hitler? (Desribed by Adolf Eichman as: “one of the initiators of the systematic extermination of European Jewry”).

    @ Ali, I would not seek to teach you a single lesson on anything. You teachers and any other educational influences upon you appear to have failed, and I personally see no need to flog a dead horse.
    I would however like to raise an issue with your assertion of being “white middle class English”. I am neither white nor English and although take no offense in being associated with either, do resent being racially pigeon holed as a result of my political opinions.
    I feel that I am able to write about and discuss Middle East politics as a result of lifelong interest in the subject, travel to many nations and enclaves involved as well as my own research.
    Your hopes for a destruction of Israel can and will only be seen in the future, but I have no doubt that it will exist far beyond the day that you meet your own fate.

  10. I didn’t attend the Mike Prysner event so I won’t comment. However, I have commented intermittently on this blog with criticisms nearly always removed by the BUCF blog editor… needless my comments were far more acceptable than “Ali’s”, which has somehow got past the rigorous PR obsessive censorship… cynically, I could say this is probably because it paints the exact kind of caricature that suits you.

    I did take part in some of the other events you describe notably, the occupation and protest over the Gaza massacre. The attempts at the time to paint it are a group of organized extremists was laughable. What was not funny was the troubling mix of peace signs and the apologist literature being pushed around by the rally you attended only talking about Israel’s ‘proportionate response to the issue and the right to defend itself while 400 children were murdered.

    I remember at the time some BUCF committee member writing and publishing something truly offensive considering the tragedy which was very damaging to BUCF’s reputation.

  11. I would like say how rude I found the actions of some of those who most strongly opposed Mike Prysner’s views. Of course they are entitled to their opinions, but it was the manner which certain individuals went about this that I found so out of line. In the last 15 minutes of the talk 2 ‘Jewish students’ walked in not at all respecting the speaker, then whilst the talk continued, at least one of them played games on his phone with some noise, whilst simultaneously loudly whispering ‘when does this end?’ to people across the aisle, then when questions began they straight away fired blanket statements at Mr Prysner, whilst I encourage an open discussion on the Israel/Palestine issue, I find their actions offensive and not in anyway constructive. At very least I hope that next time they will prepared to listen to the entire talk before making a judgement.

  12. I’d like to agree with An Attendee above, who rightly points out the fact that some of the most vociferous of these “appalled jewish students” actually jsut walked in, asked pre-prepared questions, and then walked out. I entirely agree that the emotive language used by Mike Prysner could in fact be detrimental to the cause of the palestinians. However, I fail to see how Adam Jenner can describe those who object to the killing of 1400 civilians, and use of illegal weapons as extremeists. Mike Prysner did not call for the obliteration of Israel. He simply argued that the dehumanisation of the arab people in Israel is wrong and must stop, and that the impunity with thich Israel acts prevents this end being achieved. Gaza is a prison camp, with the most horrific conditions. But those of us who have also visited the West Bank will know that even that is a prison, if one in which the people are treated by their own leaders with a little more care and respect.

    I was wrong Talk Attendee, he did say that before the Q&A. But I refuse to accept that just because a people have suffered an horrific and disgusting crime against them, it allows them to committ another, at least analagous crime against another people. I, like most, believe that a country of equality and freedom between arabs and jews is the best solution for Israel-Palestine.

  13. It is only with hindsight I realise how lucky I was to have Edd Bauer, spokesperson for the perpetually oppressed comment on my blog.

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