Oxford deserves a better discourse

We have reached a new low point in discourse in Oxford based on recent events and JCR and MCR motions. Now, as a result of the spillover of the Israel-Hamas war onto Oxford’s streets and into its halls as a result of the encampments, there are new motions proposed almost every day. Fine, make political statements through the JCR or MCR. Fine, use your mouthpiece. We have an obligation as students of this hallowed University to make use of our platform for good both while we are here and when we no longer receive subsidised rent in a 16th-century building. Fine.

But what is not fine is lowering the discourse to a level where double standards are being exercised against one student group in a way which would never be done for other groups. What I am talking about is the now almost ubiquitous retort of “weaponising antisemitism”. I have probably – unbeknownst to me – been labelled a weaponiser. As a result of this article, more people will probably accuse me of weaponisation. But, I ask you, what does it really mean?

I stood up – along with fellow visibly Jewish students at this University – and spoke from the heart about lived experiences of real pain. The pain of antisemitism. Speaking after my friend was literally chanted away from a microphone, I explained that the blanket desire to “defeat Zionism” was antisemitic. As a belief in the right of Jews to self-determination against centuries of diaspora, dispossession, and devastation, Zionism is a core part of my Jewish identity. I am not saying it offers carte blanche for Israel to do whatever it wants, but neither am I saying that Israel is perfect. Nor am I saying I want to shut down free speech on campus. But, what I am saying is that surely someone from the encampment could have simply said “sorry”. Or even, possibly enragingly, could have said “I’m sorry you feel that way.” Let’s call it a half-apology. Even just an apology for the fact I looked so visibly shaken and my friend left in anguish. But no.

But what is not fine is lowering the discourse to a level where double standards are being exercised against one student group in a way which would never be done for other groups. What I am talking about is the now almost ubiquitous retort of “weaponising antisemitism”. I have probably – unbeknownst to me – been labelled a weaponiser. As a result of this article, more people will probably accuse me of weaponisation. But, I ask you, what does it really mean?

with a JCR vice-president resigning because of the tone of a JCR debate, the level of discourse has reached even lower

Instead, the circle regrouped and the debate continued. It was essentially a public debate of an internal issue to the Jewish community about what our pain means. And everyone enjoyed the show. Now, with a JCR vice-president resigning because of the tone of a JCR debate, the level of discourse has reached even lower.

Now, I understand feeling strongly. I understand wanting to tear walls down over the suffering in Gaza. But please just look me in the eye when I say that bringing this seemingly endless conflict to our campus is not the way to bring peace there or here. Rather, banding together around unfounded accusations such as “weaponising antisemitism” only serves to draw a wedge between your friends, your peers, and your tutorial partners. Do you not care? Some may even say, “he would say that, he’s one of them.” Fine, go ahead.

But I am also one of you. I am a student at this University. I am an alumnus of this University. I have danced all night at Bridge. But I am not a weaponiser. I am a human; I speak my truth. If that makes me a weaponiser, then please reflect on all the times you have shared your experiences – what did you weaponise? If I am a weaponiser, then what does that make you?

You cannot turn my pain on itself and blame me for its origin, its perpetuation, or its solution. The answer lies with you. If we cannot talk to each other thousands of miles away from where rockets are being fired at civilians, hostages are being held, and populations are displaced on both sides of the border, then how on earth are we to solve anything in this world?

All eyes on Rafah? Maybe our eyes should also be on Oxford. If you want camera crews filming shouts of Intifada (terrorism and violence against Israeli civilians regardless of ethnicity), then scream ahead. If you want real change, then stop issuing ‘demands’ and expecting to get your way.

Fight for peace. It might be oxymoronic, but I imagine in the encampment it would take great bravery to put down your banners and call for Hamas and Israel to accept Biden’s latest proposed ceasefire. But you should. And so should I.

Right now, you can control the discourse. You can tell your friend not to call my friend a “homophobe” for pointing to news stories. You can tell your friend not to shout at a Jewish student on the way to an exam: “Go back to Israel.” (Which is ironic given your friend probably thinks Jews should be moved someplace else.)

Stop calling me a weaponiser. My Judaism is mine, and so is yours. But please don’t deny my existence.

Image Description: The Radcliffe Camera

Image Credit: Cameron Samuel Keys