Zionist censors come for another student leader

Picture of Stella Maris, a Black woman in her 20s with long, braided black hair wearing a purple and gold blouse, standing in a wide stone passageway with arches to the left and portraits on the stone walls to the right.
Stella Maris, rector of St Andrew’s university

Yesterday the BBC reported that the rector of St Andrew’s university in Scotland, Stella Maris (right), had faced calls to resign after writing an open letter regarding the ongoing genocide of Palestinian civilians in Gaza. The original letter is fairly even-handed, acknowledging the alleged Hamas massacre in the areas bordering the Gaza Strip on 7th October (these facts are disputed, which she does not mention; perhaps she was unaware or perhaps she disagrees or considers the disputed facts irrelevant), but goes on to spell out the human cost of the Israeli reprisal against Gaza, with (at the time of her writing) 13,000 dead, 24,700 injured both there and in the West Bank, over 1.7 million Palestinians displaced and around 4,000 trapped in rubble. The letter acknowledges the necessity to condemn both Israeli and Hamas war crimes, but calls for an immediate ceasefire and demands “a comprehensive recognition of the long history of mistreatment faced by Palestinians and the need for affirming and empowering their rights to freedom and stability”.

The response letter, which is anonymous but which, the Daily Mail claims, was co-signed by “1,400 students, alumni and their families”, accuses Ms Maris of demanding that Israel not fight to protect its civilians, “is an unacceptable standard to hold a state to”, especially considering Hamas’s use of civilian infrastructure for military purposes. Subsequently they accuse her of justifying the 7th October incident by appealing to “deep-seated grievances and frustrations” behind it. “No grievance or frustration can ever justify the atrocities of that day, and any suggestion otherwise carries the implication that violence against Jews or Israelis is somehow acceptable”, they proclaim, before citing the irrelevant detail of a supposed tenfold increase in antisemitic incidents in the UK since. By the same token, no prior atrocity could justify the massacre of nearly 15,000 Palestinians (source: Israeli Channel 14, a pro-Netanyahu outlet which refers to the Palestinian dead as “terrorists we eliminated”) either, and this massacre had been ongoing for weeks before the Israeli forces made any attempt to actually engage Hamas.

The letter continues: “your letter does not show any appreciation for how your inflammatory and unfounded accusations of ‘genocide,’ ‘apartheid,’ and ‘occupation’ concerning the Jewish State will further embolden attacks and hatred against the Jewish students whom you were elected to care for”. The West Bank is occupied; this is a fact. The status of Gaza is more complicated, but while it did have some degree of self-government before last month, ultimately its residents do not have a vote in the government which dominates their lives and controls their airspace, their ability to travel and trade, as was the case with the Palestinian Authority territories on the West Bank. This meets some of the definitions of both occupation and apartheid, which refers to a state which is democratic for some of its residents, by race or ancestry, and not others, and while Israel may have justified this on grounds of necessity in 1973, what was important then does not matter when, fifty years later, they have demonstrated the intent to make the occupation permanent. Finally, both the actions and rhetoric of the Israeli forces and government (references to Palestinians as animals, the comparison with the Amalek tribe in the Bible) lead scholars of genocide to conclude that genocide is what this is. Stella Maris did not make that rule up. As for the safety of Jewish students, why should stating facts about a massacre by the state of Israel endanger Jewish students in the UK? Maybe if major Jewish community organisations, including the Union of Jewish Students, did not engage in advocacy for Israel but concentrated on serving their members’ needs, nobody would think that a random Jew was a supporter of Israel’s oppression of Palestinians over several decades, or the ongoing genocide.

This is not the first time a student leader has taken a stance on a major international issue; during the 1980s, it was common for student union buildings to be named after Nelson Mandela or sometimes Stephen Biko. It is more or less expected of them; students are well-known for tendencies towards left-wing causes and for willingness to demonstrate and raise money, if not for the cause itself then for charities that help the victims of the conflict. This is the only time I can think of that such an obvious humanitarian emergency has unfolded in clear view, a massacre over weeks on end that qualified opinion calls a genocide, yet people are punished for taking a stance against it and warned that they are offending supporters of the perpetrator state or making them feel unsafe. Indeed, over the past twenty years or so, as Israeli abuses against Palestinians on the West Bank have ramped up, it has become increasingly dangerous for anyone’s career, especially that of anyone prominent, to take a stance against it; you run the risk of being called pro-terrorist or antisemitic and those who try to actually help are faced with obstruction from the banking system and have had accounts closed (this was going on years before the Farage/Coutts affair).

Is antisemitism really on the rise? Given the rash of articles in the mainstream media suggesting it, you might think so. In the current New Statesman, for example, there is a lengthy article about the subject, accompanied by a picture of a burning Israeli flag, cropped so that the flames resemble a towering inferno; its opening paragraphs describe the 7th October attack as if that was motivated purely by hatred of Israelis just because they were Jewish, as if these were 1,400 Stephen Lawrences. This is a regular theme in Zionist anti-Palestinian literature; Palestinian resistance to Israeli dominance and oppression is framed as mindless thuggery motivated by nothing more than straightforward racism, while settler violence and army harassment of innocent Palestinians going about their business is swept under the carpet. While obviously the link between the current ‘conflict’ is made, the reason given for Jews feeling unsafe is the voices being raised against the genocide rather than the genocide itself. Their solution is to silence us.

Let’s not forget that Jews are a privileged minority in the UK even if prejudice exists. When there was the suspicion of antisemitism in the Labour party under the previous leadership, every little thing that could be used to support that claim was exposed at high level, week after week. The media was full of it, all the time. When people tried to defend themselves, they were told they were committing a further offensive act by doing that; when Jewish dissenters objected, they were called self-hating Jews and the rest of us were told their views were not valid as they were the wrong kind of Jews. Quite a lot of the so-called antisemitism consisted of remarks aimed at Israel, not at Jews in general, least of all any suggestion that British Jews should be the target of any discrimination of any kind; one Labour politician, pressed by TV reporters as to whether referring to “Israeli atrocities” was antisemitic, responded that of course it was. The party that had rounded up and deported British citizens born in the Caribbean who were here perfectly legally was in power, and the people running that witch hunt were seeking to keep them in power.

Anyone involved in Palestinian solidarity campaigning knows we have Jewish supporters and you will not hear slogans or see posters targeting Jews in general at mainstream pro-Palestinian rallies. Generally when we talk of Zionists, we mean people actively involved in pro-Israel campaigns, people who spread propaganda, blame victims and sow false doubts about very real abuses rather than people who believe in principle that the state of Israel should exist (which would not seem extreme to anyone born after it was established). Yet, however measured our statements about Israel’s abuses, Zionist apologists demand we condemn this or that at their demand, or consider how it might affect them when we are simply stating facts. If Stella Maris had made mistakes in her letter to the students, objectors could have pointed them out on their website or in a letter to any local newspaper, but emboldened by their successful attack on the former NUS president, Shaima Dallali, they demand not only an apology but her resignation.

I do not believe, contrary to the BBC’s report, that ‘hundreds’ of students would have signed this letter. Could you really find hundreds of students in a fairly small university willing to sign a letter demanding a retraction or someone’s resignation for calling genocide what it is and calling for it to cease? The university leadership’s statement states that they are in fact “students, alumni and others”, without elaborating on who those ‘others’ are. The open letter does not reveal who has signed it so far or even how many; it just gives the reader an opportunity to co-sign it. Even when petitions are conducted through an established, open petition site, there are often signatories who clearly come from outside the university in question. It is depressing that the university’s leadership has thrown Stella Maris under the bus, claiming in their statement that she “put her right to freedom of expression ahead of her duty to represent all students, and to be concerned for their welfare” and that “her message, the language it used, and some of the sources it cited have caused alarm, division, and harm in our community, and more widely”. The University should not cave into this campaign; it is an orchestrated complaint campaign from a pro-Israel pressure group, which has used this tactic many times before. Maybe a private letter to Stella Maris advising her on her duties to all students might be appropriate but a public criticism is not.

It is not about personal freedom of expression; it is about speaking the truth. Nobody should ever lose their job for speaking out on a matter of human rights or genocide. Nobody would over any other issue than this.

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