Friday, 11 May 2012

Over 100 UK student leaders condemn Israeli SU racism

UK student leaders have signed a letter condemning a recent decision by Zefat Academic College to limit their Students’ Union presidency to those who have served at least two years in the Israeli military, effectively barring Palestinians from standing in elections.

The recent policy which prevents Palestinian students from running for the role of president in Student Union elections has led to widespread concern amongst student representatives in the UK for the welfare of 
Palestinian students studying at Israeli colleges and universities.  ‘Palestinian-Arab citizens of Israel’ currently constitute around 60% of Zefat College’s student body.
Palestinian citizens of Israel are not required to complete National Service in the Israeli Military, and as a result are often in a disadvantaged position in several areas across society such as employment, where many businesses require that applicants have completed a minimum two years of Military Service.
The letter stresses that the Union’s decision “raises the wider question of the attitude towards Palestinian students (…) at institutions such as Zefat College”.  Student leaders in the UK have been shocked by the racism of the policy, particularly upon learning that 2012 is the first year that Palestinian students at the College have presented a group of students to run for several positions within the Student Union – including the position of President.
Critics of the policy have taken into account the wider issue of treatment of Palestinian students at Israeli colleges and universities.  The ongoing campaign amongst dozens of municipal chief Rabbis to encourage Jewish property owners to refrain from renting property to Palestinian students in the city of Zefat due to a perceived ‘demographic threat’ posed to the Jewish community in the city has highlighted the racism to which Palestinian students are exposed on a daily basis.  Eli Zvieli, an 89 year old holocaust survivor who rented out his spare rooms to 3 students in Zefat, was threatened with having his house burned down and deemed a traitor to Israel for his refusal to discriminate against young Palestinians.
The hostility towards these students is manifested not only in the policy recently adopted by Zefat College but also through daily intimidation and abuse of Palestinian students who attend the college.
The letter condemns the policy as one which “clearly targets Palestinian citizens of Israel”.
One of the major concerns of the signatories is that whilst the motion was passed through the Student Union, Zefat College has made no step toward challenging the decision.
The statement goes on to call for the policy to be revoked and for “Palestinian students to be granted the same opportunities to represent, and be represented, as their fellow students”.
Signatories of the statement include Liam Burns and Dannie Grufferty, who were last week re-elected as President and Vice-President (Society & Citizenship) respectively of the National Union of Students (NUS), as well as Union of Jewish Students and NUS committee member Rachel Wenstone and NUS Scotland President Robin Parker. The NUS is the confederation of Britain’s students’ unions, representing over 7 million students, although the statement has also gained support amongst Unions which are not affiliated to this body.
Students across the UK who are increasingly involved with the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign in defence of Palestinian rights on university and college campuses welcome the support of student leaders in the move to condemn Zefat College Students’ Union, hoping that this legislative example will highlight the extent of the xenophobia which Palestinians endure in every area of society.
The discrimination towards ‘48 Palestinians living in Israel is evident throughout State policy on education, land, housing and employment.  Palestinians are massively underrepresented in the governmental and public sectors, and Palestinian men earn 42% less on average than their Jewish counterparts.  Whilst this discrimination is explicit it is rarely challenged, and endless promises from successive Israeli governments calling for this inequality to be addressed ring hollow to the ears of the Palestinians living in Israel, who experience discrimination on a daily basis because of Israel’s foundational intolerance of the Palestinian people.
Earlier this year, NUS, ULU and KCLSU voted overwhelmingly on a BDS motion to condemn King’s College’s participation in the NanoReTox project due to the involvement of Ahava, a cosmetics company which uses resources from the occupied West Bank. Burns described Ahava as being “deeply complicit with violations of international law, specifically concerning declaration of their products origins within occupied Palestinian territories”.

Below is the statement, which now has almost 150 signatures:
We, the undersigned, condemn the policy recently adopted by Zefat Academic College which requires that any individual who wishes to obtain candidacy in the Students’ Union president elections must have completed national service in the Israeli military. This requirement automatically excludes most Palestinian citizens of Israel.
As elected representatives at our own educational institutions, we understand the vital role that Student Unions play in ensuring the welfare of students. In order to create and maintain safe campuses and learning environments, it is essential that all students are represented throughout bodies such as Students’ Unions. To deny some students the opportunity to participate is clearly undemocratic, and is an impediment to the creation of a representative Student Union.
Whilst there may be some students studying at Zefat College who have not completed service in the Israeli military for various reasons, the policy clearly targets Palestinian citizens of Israel as the largest demographic within the student body who are unlikely to have served. The implicit racism of this policy is deeply concerning as it raises the wider question of the attitude towards Palestinian students who study alongside Israeli students at institutions such as Zefat College.
We call for the policy to be revoked, and for Palestinian students to be granted the same opportunities to represent, and be represented, as their fellow students.
For a complete list of all the signatories of the statement, please visit:


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