A few months back, the Union of Jewish Students (UJS) launched a bold new campaign, which provoked a lot of debate. Personally, I think the campaign has things going for it, particularly its creative and imaginative spirit.
I haven’t set foot in a university campus for over a decade, so I will assume UJS members know more about 21st century student life than me. More crucially, I agree with them that some of the methods people have used to advocate for Israel are no longer working.
I think that far from attacking people for having fresh ideas we should be welcoming them.
Simply parroting that the security barrier is needed to stop suicide bombers, that Barak offered Arafat 91 percent of the West Bank and that there are Arab members of the Knesset isn’t enough. Robotically and uncritically repeating the Israeli government line on everything is also not going to convince anyone with a functioning, critical mind.
So as we watch Israel’s image sink, will we try new ideas to raise it back to buoyancy, or will we wave it off with one last shriek of ‘But Sharon withdrew from Gaza in 2005!’
When the UJS was first attacked for its new campaign, it cited the example of Tony Blair’s modernisation of the Labour Party in its defence. This was a sound comparison: like them he faced opposition from the dinosaurs of his movement whose pride and egos meant they would sooner go into political extinction than consider that people younger than them might understand modern Britain better.
The positivity of groups like the UJS and FZY is admirable and important, particularly given the prominence of gloom-mongers in our movement, with some of our key commentators repeatedly issuing demoralising messages about Britain ‘sleepwalking into an abyss’ and peddling insane fantasies that the entire British nation is obsessively demonising Israel 24/7.
Let’s be clear: most people in Britain don’t give Israel or the Palestinians a moment’s thought. Why would they? They’re busy thinking about their own lives, what’s on the TV, how they’ll pay the rent, their family, where they’re going on holiday, what the kids want for Christmas.
The aforementioned negativity prevalent in sections of our ranks is in contrast to the atmosphere of Palestinian lobby groups who, for all their obvious faults, are effective at recruiting the general public to their cause, due in part to the positive ‘we can win this’ mentality they exude. While our side are telling a diminishing number of sympathisers that we’re sleepwalking to an abyss, the Palestinian groups are telling their swelling numbers they can march to victory. Go figure.
I don’t think the UJS have all the answers. They don’t claim to either. I’m actually suspicious of those who do insist they always know best. Give me an open mind any day of the week.
When someone in our number is honest and brave enough to put up their hand and say: ‘This isn’t working – shall we try something new?’ we should welcome and encourage them.