A British Jewish university student is defending her choice to lead a charge to excise anti-Zionism from the National Union of Students’ (NUS) definition of antisemitism, claiming in an interview with The Algemeiner on Monday that calls for the destruction of Israel are “not inherently antisemitic.”
Bath University’s Joanna Phillips — who worked on anti-Zionist Eran Cohen’s failed 2016 campaign for the Union of Jewish Students presidency — said she helped draft a proposed motion for the NUS to withdraw its 2007 vote that recognized the the denial of Jews the right to self-determination as a form of antisemitism. The motion will be voted on at the NUS national conference this week.
“Judaism does not need a political state to survive,” Phillips said, explaining why she believes Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement supporters should not be considered anti-Jewish.
Phillips also insisted that she has “never seen any antisemitic activity” at the numerous anti-Israel events she has attended.
Antisemitism experts told The Algemeiner on Monday they disagreed with Phillips’ perception of Zionism and of what she described as the “non-violent BDS movement.”
“Israel is the place from which Judaism originates and where half of the world’s Jewish population lives,” said a spokesperson for the UK-based Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA). “Since its establishment it has been the one country that offers persecuted Jews from around the world unconditional safe haven. It is the religious and cultural heart of Judaism. To tell Jews that they will be treated as pariahs unless they renounce all religious and cultural connection to Israel and Israelis is antisemitic.”
The CAA spokesperson added that while BDS has had “no appreciable effect on trade between Britain and Israel, which continues to grow, it has an immense effect on the British Jewish community, and particularly Jewish students.”
“[The CAA] is regularly approached by Jewish students whose experience has been ruined by bullying, intimidation and abuse directed at them in the context of BDS activities such as the invitation of extremist speakers to campuses, violent or intimidatory demonstrations and the isolation of ‘Zionist’ students from the rest of the student body,” he explained.
Tammi Rossman-Benjamin — founder of the US campus watchdog AMCHA Initiative — noted, “If Jews believe for various religious and political reasons that they do need a Jewish state, telling them they don’t — especially after they have one — is eliminationist and an expression of genocidal antisemitism.”
Several British Jewish student leaders have told The Algemeiner they oppose the NUS amendment and will vote against it, with Yos Tarshish — chairman of the World Union of Jewish Students — calling the motion a “disgraceful attempt to redefine what antisemitism is” and urging student delegates not to let it pass.
The NUS — embroiled throughout the last year in antisemitism controversies — was hit again earlier this month when a candidate for a top NUS position was found to have made comments online suggesting Jews were stingy and accusing Israel of “ethnic cleansing.”