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February 21, 2019 6:48 pm

Amnesty International Campus Group Torpedoing Creation of Jewish Society at University of Essex, Students Say

avatar by Shiri Moshe

The Students’ Union at the University of Essex’s Colchester campus. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Jewish student leaders on Thursday blamed a campus branch of the advocacy group Amnesty International of seeking to block the establishment of a Jewish society at the University of Essex in England.

In a statement issued after some 200 students voted against a routine resolution to ratify the Jewish campus group, the Union of Jewish Students (UJS) accused members of Amnesty Essex of being “either ignorant or prejudiced” and showing “disregard for human decency and the rights of all peoples to freely explore and full express their distinct identity.”

In an earlier message — the text of which was shared to a private discussion group run by the University of Essex Politics Society, but could not be immediately verified — Amnesty Essex allegedly denounced the Jewish society’s manifesto for containing “something very problematic and upsetting.”

“The society has mentioned that it will celebrate Israeli national day which has nothing to do with Judaism,” the message read. “It is a day where 700,000 Palestinians were illegally expelled from their homes and ethnically cleaned from historic Palestine. Amnesty Essex is against this.”

The group allegedly then urged supporters to “please vote no” on the society’s ratification “until they are politically neutral,” saying they “support a Jewish society that represents all Jews no matter where they lie on the political spectrum.”

UJS said Amnesty Essex — a recognized student group listed on Amnesty International UK’s website — was arrogantly attempting to dictate to Jewish students what Israel and Zionism mean to them.

“It is antisemitic to deny the Jewish people their national self-determination,” asserted UJS, which represents more than 60 societies in the United Kingdom. “Educational activity on Israel and Zionism is not ‘taking a political stance.’ Jewish students should not and will not change our identity to appease others’ prejudices.”

Representatives for Amnesty Essex and Amnesty International UK did not immediately answer requests for comment. The latter has previously attracted criticism from the UK Jewish community for cancelling a 2018 debate sponsored by the UK Jewish Leadership Council, as well as for rejecting a motion at its 2015 annual conference that called for a “campaign against antisemitism in the UK.”

Earlier on Thursday, addressing the relatively strong opposition to the resolution to ratify the Jewish society, the Essex Students’ Union said it was made aware of “an irregularity” that allowed non-eligible individuals to cast a vote.

“As soon as this was brought to our attention we investigated and as a result have declared the current vote null and void, due to us no longer being able to ensure the vote has been free and fair,” the Union explained, before pledging to open a fresh vote on Friday that will run for three working days.

The Board of Deputies of British Jews, the main representative group for British Jewry, weighed in on the controversy on Thursday, saying, “It is terrible to see that an Amnesty group at the University of Essex campaigned against the formation of a Jewish Society.”

“It is almost impossible to come to terms with the fact that in 2019, a large number of students have voted against the right of Jewish students to have their own space to celebrate their Jewish identities on campus,” the Board of Deputies wrote in a separate statement. “This is racism, pure and simple. Those students who voted to exclude Jewish students should hang their heads in shame.”

It further condemned Maaruf Ali, a University of Essex computer science lecturer who recently warned that “the Zionists next want to create a society here at our university,” according to a report published by The Jewish Chronicle on Wednesday.

The JC accused Ali of sharing several controversial posts on Jews and Israel, including a picture claiming that “50,000 Jews protest[ed] Israel” in 2016 in New York City, but that the event was subject to a “total mainstream media blackout by the Zionist mafia.”

Another image reportedly posted by the lecturer claimed that a Muslim police officer who was killed during an Islamist terrorist attack in Paris in 2015 was in fact “a Mossad agent alive and well in Buenos Aires” and one of the “crypto-Jews in the service of Israeli intelligence.”

He also allegedly shared a photo with a quote from Edgar J. Steele, an attorney who defended white supremacist Richard Butler, which read, “In all of German Occupied Europe, there resided 2.4 million Jews before the war, according to the world Jewish encyclopedia. After the war, 3.8 million Jewish ‘Holocaust survivors’ were receiving pensions from the German government. Tragically, the remaining 6 million were lost.”

Ali’s postings were condemned as antisemitic by both the UJS and the Board of Deputies, which pledged to contact the university “to express our disgust and to call for a full investigation into comments that include Holocaust denial, conspiracy theories and Israel-Nazi tropes.”

A spokesperson for the University of Essex said the school had “clear guidelines for student and staff conduct and we have zero tolerance towards harassment or hate crime and will always take appropriate and proportionate action.”

“We are looking into the allegations as a matter of urgency in accordance with our zero tolerance policy,” the statement continued.

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