Friday, October 19, 2007

Extremism in the LSE Students' Union

The Jewish Chronicle report an absolute scandal that I've been following at the London School of Economics Students' Union. The following letter from the Students' Union General Secretary, Fadhil Bakeer Markar, and Mature & Part Time Students Officer, Ziyaad Lunat, was sent to every fresher:

The rhetoric is deeply inflammatory and partisan. From the statement that "800 Palestinian children have been killed by the Israeli Occupation Force" to "our fellow Palestinians", to the idea that Israel denies the right to education and "Israeli policies of segregation, isolation and persecution of the Palestinian population" the letter would be more at home in some Islamist newsletter than being sent to every LSE fresher.

This is particularly shocking as the letterhead suggests it has been paid for with students' union resources which means that it has been funded largely through the university's block grant and, therefore, partly by the taxpayer.

Also, the LSE is a very international university and, although I can't find statistics, I know that Israeli students do attend. This kind of massively biased language coming from Students' Union officers who are supposed to be looking after students' interests could contribute to creating a real climate of fear. We've all grown accustomed to students saying crazy things but the manner in which this extremism was expressed makes it worrying in the way a lone crank sounding off is not.

I hope and believe that the extremists in charge of the Students' Union are not representative of the broad community of students. Unfortunately all of us with a connection to the school are demeaned by the hatred of a few.


Martin Garthwaite said...

LSE is a unique place, the student union meets once a week and all students are free to come and debate. As a graduate of LSE I never took up this opportunity.

Perhaps you should apply to LSE?

Clearly a student union has to take a stance on a position just because you don't agree with it does not make that stance wrong, it's called living in a society in which we are all free to say what we want within the boundary of the law.

The unions opinion is no less valid than yours.

Matthew Sinclair said...

I studied at the LSE both for my bachelor and master's degrees. When I was there I was involved in the UGM as much as anyone.

While students absolutely should be free to take any position they like I think the Students' Union should be cautious about taking divisive stands when it is supposed to take care of all students many of whom will find this language offensive. Also, while the Students' Union can take political positions it is neither fair nor, possibly, legal for it to use its resources to support a particular partisan position that does not relate to students as students.

Anonymous said...

according to his webpage the new GenSec aims to "make the Union more inclusive" and "improve every student’s experience of LSE". I hardly think his letter is helping these goals, it rather suggests his goal is to push a political agenda, regardless of its impact on Isreali students.

I (former LSESU C+S chair) for one would have advised against it.

James Higham said...

Matt, it has always been the way at universities, particularly if the opinion is leftist.

Impartial is not a word which comes into student politics very much.

Ruthie said...

Truly. MASSIVELY biased. That's really appalling.

It's not about opinions being "equally valid," Commenter Number One. It's not the place of a taxpayer-funded program that purports to represent all students to take a public, one-sided approach to a political issue.

This sort of attitude isn't uncommon at universities. It's a pretty common viewpoint even at my university, but I think I can safely say that our student union would be crucified for disseminating this sort of thing. And rightly so.

Anonymous said...

There was a fair deal of discussion of this on Facebook if it's of any interest.

Needless to say there's been a huge amount of opposition to the letter.

Martin Garthwaite said...

I note, with, interest that no one here has disputed the content of letter to students. I don't know if it is factually correct or not. BUT if it is then shame on you Israel!

Matthew Sinclair said...

Well, there is very little substantive content in the letter.

Some of it is wrong (there is no Israeli Occupation Force - Israel does not "deny" people an education).

Others are unsourced so hard to challenge (the 800 children number) but should be treated with caution as we have even seen children's deaths faked for the cameras before. I wouldn't trust those numbers till I see a credible source.

Most of it, though, is just meaningless assertion: "Israeli policies of segregation, isolation and persecution of the Palestinian population". That doesn't mean anything. It is just angry emotion. It labels every Israeli attempt to defend itself a crime.

Anonymous said...

I am currently a student at the LSE, and can therefore give more insight into this. A motion was passed in 2006-07 session (which lasts for 3 years), mandating the student union to raise awareness of Israel's occupation of Palestine. Therefore the use of Union funds to publish this letter was not wrong.

The presence of Israeli forces on Occupied Palestinian Territory is illegal under international law. You can only be defending your land from your own soil, thus any presence of forces on foreign territory constitutes Occupational forces as opposed to Defence forces.

Martin, when the letter was discussed among students, those opposing did not contest the contents of the letter, just whether it should have been sent out or not. Therefore, the contents of the letter do stand. Matthew, IOF do prevent Palestinian students the right to study - maybe not explicitly, but certainly as a result of the Apartheid wall, the constant harassment at checkpoints, and the imposition of curfews whenever the IOF wish. These on their own are a nuisance to the daily life of Palestinian students, but the culmination deny students their right to access education freely.

And no Matthew, it is not meaningless assertion to label Israel - it is the truth to expose Apartheid Israels nature. There is no need to have checkpoints between Palestinian villages. Israel does not have the right to create Jewish only roads as this is racist, or even move some of its civilians to Occupied Palestinian Territories, as this is illegal under international law. And there is no need to create the Apartheid wall on Palestinian territory. If Israel wishes to create a wall, then it should be along the Green Line. Matthew, if these checkpoints, illegal settlements and ethnocratic roads, and seperation wall do not segregate and isolate Palestinians into Bantustans, then I worry about humanity and advise you pick up a book and read about the conflict. Something like Finkelstein.

Matthew Sinclair said...


No motion can give student union officials license to send a letter like that. They were misusing the resources of the SU as a charity and no UGM imprimatur makes that okay.

Given that the Palestinians can't control terrorism emanating form their territory there is every justification for Israel to take control and defend its borders. If it can't do that from within Israel proper it may need to go elsewhere.

The Palestinians had a great chance for peace at Camp David. They spurned it. That left the Israelis with no option but to unilaterally develop long-term defences. The wall is part of that - why shouldn't it defend Israeli settlers as well if there is no peace deal in sight which might see them leave?

Your attempt to create a false analogy between Apartheid South Africa's minority domination and Israel's attempts to defend itself is disgusting.

Gracchi said...

Matt its worth remembering that it wasn't the palestinians but the Israelis that left at Taba. Have a look at this bloggingheads discussion from one of the participants in those talks who clearly demonstrates that the talks in 2001 were broken up by the Israelis not the Palestinians.

Gracchi said...

I agree though its nothing to do with a Student Union- perhaps they ought to have a Chechen or a Zimbabwean policy!

Matthew Sinclair said...


The process was neutered in Camp David by Arafat. That the Israelis were willing to drag it out in Taba - trying to fudge the issue of the right of return - till elections, of their own and in America, applied the coup de grace is neither here nor there.

It is always possible to wonder what would have happened if they had hung in there a little bit longer. That kind of speculation is easy in London, rather harder in Israel with mounting violence.

None of the stuff about Taba in any way affects my point - that the wall and other measures are defences set up to protect Israel as a final peace proved elusive (in my opinion largely thanks to a Palestinian refusal to compromise). They're not an attempt to create "apartheid". Look at the letter at the top of this post and be careful about letting your love of subtlety lead you down the sad road to useful idiocy.

Gracchi said...

Matt useful idiocy is a strong phrase- especially when I support you on the main case- and yes its not apartheid at all- any argument which states that the Israeli state is an apartheid one is just stupid. But equally arguing back you need to be right- the problem with this is a casual attitude to facts actually pushes you closer to getting things wrong in a much more important way. The fact of the matter is that the Palestinians didn't withdraw the Israelis did.

Furthermore don't distort other people's positions- all I did was make a technical correction- you've been living too long with student debating tricks. Constructive argument has little in common wtih them.

Matthew Sinclair said...

But the fact of who walked away isn't the important one. As I said:

"The process was neutered in Camp David by Arafat. That the Israelis were willing to drag it out in Taba - trying to fudge the issue of the right of return - till elections, of their own and in America, applied the coup de grace is neither here nor there.

It is always possible to wonder what would have happened if they had hung in there a little bit longer. That kind of speculation is easy in London, rather harder in Israel with mounting violence."

Sorry if my language on the rest was a bit strong. But I'm not sure if this thread - with someone actively defending the kind of ugly rhetoric in the letter at the top of this page - is the place for a discussion of the detailed process surrounding Camp David.

Trekker said...
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Anonymous said...

There is nothing illegal about the presence of the Israeli army in the "Palestinian Territories". Both war and belligerent occupation are completely legal under international law, even though they may be politicaly unpopular under certain circumstances. International law only addresses the methods of war and occupation.

As such, the phrase: "the Israeli occupation of Palestine is illegal" is incorrect. It is a statement of a political position rather than a reflection of legal norms.

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