Meet the Candidate: Annie Cohen

There are three candidates vying to be the next President of the Union of Jewish Students. Zionish sent them each ten questions on the key – and not so key – political issues they may face. In the second of this series, here are the responses from History and Yiddish student Annie Cohen:

Zionism: the national liberation movement of the Jewish people or racist settler-colonialism?

 Zionism means different things to different people. Historically, Zionism was conceived by some of its founders as a racist settler-colonial project, however there were also left wing Zionists who didn’t seek to build a state in Palestine, but believed Jews would be forced to move there by antisemitism in Europe. Today, a lot of Jews understand Zionism as a belief in a Jewish right to national self-determination, but we have to understand that Zionism has, at least in the eyes of Palestinians now become inseparable from the racist nationalist state of Israel. To me, the fact that all the earlier ideas of diasporism and autonomism have been abandoned in favour of a nationalist oppressive state is a tragedy for Jews as well as Palestinians.

How would your views on the Israel-Palestine conflict translate into policy as UJS President?

UJS policy is created by UJS conference, and I would respect that. However, I would make changes with my remit. I would initiate a review of UJS spending on Israel programmes – which from the current website seem to be a main part of UJS activity, to see if funding could be diverted to student welfare, to support more students in the UK. I would seek to cut ties with birthright, as stated in my manifesto.

I would also take action to reduce the ostracization of non-Zionist Jewish students from JSocs, and make sure their views are represented centrally, on panel discussions and in our partner organisations.

How should Jewish students in the UK react to the rise of the nationalist right

Oppose it by any means necessary. I am an experienced antifascist campaigner, have helped to organise demonstrations with and fundraisers for groups within the antifascist network, and I would make resisting the far right a priority. To me to be Jewish is to be an antifascist.

Which Jewish political figure – dead or alive – best represents your politics?

Moshiah

Should JSocs do Israel events?

I think Israel advocacy should be done by Israel societies, not JSocs. However, Israel, as a land, people and scriptural concept is a core part of Judaism. Many Jewish students have a strong connection, whether it be positive or negative, with the State of Israel, and I think that JSocs should provide a space for students to engage with and discuss that connection when wanted.

I would also encourage Jsocs to run events and programmes that celebrate the diaspora, and increase education about other political ideas that used to dominate Jewish political thought alongside Zionism. As a non-zionist community organiser, I have a lot of experience and ideas for creating these types of events.

How should UJS engage with the BDS movement?

If it were up to me entirely I would want UJS to support BDS, and at the same time consistently advocate for Jewish students for whom BDS is obviously a lot more difficult, and can feel very hostile (and have you ever tried to find non Israeli kosher houmous?!). However, I am not running on a pro-BDS platform, and I can see that a U-turn in policy would be too difficult to bring about. What I would want to do, as a priority, is to end UJS blanket opposition to BDS, which is being used to shut down the work of Palestine societies and to silence Palestinian voices on campus, and at the same time preventing real instances of antisemitism from being address.

Does the Labour left, and its student equivalent, have an antisemitism problem?

Yep it does, and I’m in a good place to fight this and have experience doing so. Part of the problem is that when antisemitism is used as a political tool against the left, it confuses things and actual antisemitic incidents are not addressed. Antisemitism is present across the entire political spectrum, left, right and centre, and we should be ready to fight it wherever we see it.

Who would you have voted for in the 2016 US election? Primary candidates allowed.

Bernie

Let’s say you become UJS President, and are given £10,000 for a political project or campaign. What would you do?

Invest that money in student welfare and grants, help struggling JSocs, and importantly, ask students to tell me where that money is needed.

Benjamin Netanyahu, Theresa May, Donald Trump. Shag, marry, kill?

I’d kill all of them 🙂

For Umm al-Kheir, Awareness is Resistance- By Ben Reiff

Umm al-Kheir is under attack. You probably haven’t heard that the village has been on the receiving end of rocks thrown by settlers for more than 30 consecutive nights, or that Ta’ayush activist Guy Butavia was attacked during a solidarity visit to Umm al-Kheir last month after confronting the settlers about their harassment, or that the IDF came to erect a razor wire fence to cut off the villagers from even more of their own land. And yet none of this is new; Umm al-Kheir has been under attack for a long time.

The Israeli Civil Administration has been threatening this tiny village, home to 150 Bedouins, with demolition for more than two decades, while settler violence here has also been a commonality. What makes Umm al-Kheir such a target for demolitions and violent attacks? The primary factor is geographical: the village sits adjacent to the settlement of Carmel. Or rather, the settlement of Carmel sits on the land of Umm al-Kheir, purchased by the Hathaleen family – 1948 refugees from the Negev – in the early 1960s.

The Israeli government began the construction of several settlements in the South Hebron Hills (including Carmel, Maon and Susya) in the early 1980s, with no regard for the rights of the Palestinians in the region whose lands it was expropriating. The subsequent division of the West Bank into Areas A, B and C at Oslo saw the villagers of Umm al-Kheir’s misfortune double; due to the cluster of recently constructed settlements, many of the small, rural Bedouin communities in the region found themselves under full Israeli control in Area C.

Hence, by the mid-90s, the villagers of Umm al-Kheir had lost not only a large chunk of their land but also the ability to build on that land, for with Oslo came an almost total prohibition on Palestinian construction in Area C, despite some 50% of that land being privately owned by Palestinians. According to B’Tselem, stated Israeli restrictions automatically block Palestinian construction in 70% of Area C (with 36.5% designated as “state land”, 30% firing zones etc), but this doesn’t mean the remaining 30% is available for unrestricted construction; the Civil Administration has exclusive authority over planning processes, and has refused to approve any master plans for more than 90% of the Palestinian villages in Area C. As such, it is almost impossible for Palestinians there to obtain building permits, making all construction (even on their own land) illegal and thus liable to demolition. Meanwhile, expansion in the settlement of Carmel continues.

What does the international community have to say about all this? The efforts of activists (for example the recent Center for Jewish Nonviolence-led Global Shabbat Against Demolitions to pressure the government into ending the demolitions in Umm al-Kheir and Susya in the West Bank as well as Umm al-Hiran and al-Araqib inside Israel, or the ongoing attempts to restore life to Sarura) have helped to raise the profile of these villages and put them on the international agenda somewhat. The Obama Administration was critical of the demolitions but failed to apply any real pressure on Netanyahu’s government, while the EU has funded structures to replace those that have been demolished. Still lacking the Civil Administration’s approval for building, however, these face the same risks of demolition as Palestinian-built structures, and Israel doesn’t hesitate to destroy these too.

In an attempt to add a carrot to the sticks of demolition threats and settler violence that are pressuring the residents of Umm al-Kheir to leave their lands, the Civil Administration has fully connected another village, a kilometre or so away, to the water supply and provided building permits for construction on site. Presently, Umm al-Kheir’s residents are unable even to dig water wells since this would constitute construction, forcing them to illegally tap into the system at the nearby village in order to fill up their own tanks. The settlers of Carmel have regularly been flying drones over Umm al-Kheir to spy on any secret construction the Palestinians might be attempting, ready to report any developments to the Civil Administration. But even in these conditions, the villagers see acquiescing to Israeli pressure as completely unfathomable, refusing to allow the government free rein to expand Carmel further onto their lands.

Regardless of their desire to remain, the situation for the residents of Umm al-Kheir, much like the situation for the residents of nearby Susya, is very grave. The recently erected fence cutting them off from their lands is another obstacle to grazing sheep, with settler harassment already preventing them from wandering freely with their flock. The reduction in the size and health of their flock that this has provoked has taken its toll on the villagers’ ability to be self-sufficient, forcing them in recent years to adapt to a new way of life.

One manifestation of this change has been a focus on education for the younger generation in the village, which in turn has led to a greater ability among residents to tell their story to a larger, global audience. With the Jewish Agency deciding that it doesn’t want young diaspora Jews collaborating with Palestinians on their programmes anymore, it is even more important to ensure that the story of Umm al-Kheir (and the many others like it) doesn’t fall on deaf ears.