UK student leaders slammed for Israel trip

Many pro-Israel propaganda trips for students are indirectly funded by Israel. (StandWithUS)

Student union leaders in the UK and Ireland have been slammed for accepting expenses-paid propaganda trips to Israel.

Palestinian students on Tuesday condemned the trip as a “whitewash” of “Israeli crimes and decades-long oppression of our people.”

A statement signed by Palestinian student groups said that “far from being ‘educational,’ these trips focus on giving a one-sided, pro-apartheid vision of our reality here in Palestine.”

The call came after Shakira Martin, a vice president of Britain’s National Union of Students, last week annouced her intention to accept the trip on Facebook, a day before her departure.

She wrote that it was “essential I listen to the voices of my membership and educate myself on particular issues such as Israel and Palestine to ensure that I make informed decisions as a leader.”

But the Palestinian students’ statement said that “participants on such trips have met with Israeli officials, military officers and even visited illegal settlements – actively normalizing their existence despite the breach of Palestinian land rights and international law, which they represent.”

A group of college students has launched a petition calling on the NUS’ executive committee to hold these officers to account.

U-turn?

The NUS has repeatedly voted in favor of the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel.

Martin herself voted in favor of BDS in 2015. “I’m proud to support peace and justice for Palestine,” she said in her 2015 election speech, “because everyone has the right to free education and not military occupation.”

Malaka Mohammed, a Palestinian activist and PhD student in the UK, commented on Martin’s Facebook page that she wondered “how someone would get educated when they’re going on a sponsored-trip representing one side of the conflict.”

“Would they get you to see Palestinian families who lost their loved ones in occupied territories?” Mohammed asked. “Or those detained for no charge or trial? Or maybe families of over 400 children in Israeli jails? Or those whose lands are confiscated? Or maybe my family in Gaza who lost many of their neighbors and friends? The answer is unfortunately no … You will get educated for sure but on what they want you to see and learn.”

Martin’s trip was organized by the Union of Jewish Students, a staunchly pro-Israel organization which receives funding from the Israeli embassy in London, as revealed by a recent undercover documentary.

Al Jazeera’s film The Lobby also showed that Richard Brooks, another NUS vice president, had been plotting with pro-Israel activists to overthrow elected NUS president Malia Bouattia, a supporter of Palestinian rights.

Normalizing apartheid

The film led to the resignations of Shai Masot, a senior political officer at the Israeli embassy, and Maria Strizzolo, a civil servant who plotted the downfall of a senior UK government minister along with Masot.

Investigations have been launched into Strizzolo and Brooks.

Palestine societies in the UK last week wrote a letter to Martin urging her to uphold her previously stated position on BDS. “You risk being part of Israel’s attempt to ‘rebrand’ and whitewash its apartheid system,” they wrote.

The letter says that “standing with Palestine means more than holding flags and verbal solidarity  – not only did you fail to live up to your words, but you are using your power and agency to normalize apartheid.”

The trip Martin accepted appears to be part of a wider wave of such pro-Israel propaganda visits of student leaders this month.

Angela Alexander, women’s officer in NUS Scotland, also disclosed in a Facebook post that she joined the same UJS trip.

And Fergal McFerran, president of the NUS Union of Students in Ireland, unintentionally revealed his presence in an illegal settlement in Israeli-occupied Syria last week.

A posting to his Facebook page on an unrelated subject revealed a location of Kidmat Tzvi, an Israeli colony in the occupied Golan Heights.

McFerran later deleted the post and reposted it without a location specified.

So far, McFerran has failed to publicly disclose his trip, and it hasn’t been made clear whether he was on the same UJS delegation.

A third NUS vice president, Shelly Asquith, last week disclosed that she declined an “all-expenses-paid trip to Israel on account of my role” in NUS. The offer was made by StandWithUS, a strongly pro-Israel group which has received Israeli government funding.

“I would not take up such a trip because NUS’s policy is to support the BDS movement,” Asquith posted on Facebook. “These trips are part of a public relations exercise to encourage people to view Israel in a favorable way in the context of the ‘conflict.’ They are open about that purpose.”

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Comments

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If I was a student in the U.K. And someone offered me a free trip to Israel, I would take it cause it's awesome. That's the point you're missing. Anyone who thinks student leaders have an impact or possess some kind of unique and/or enlightened voice is either a) a student leader, or b) a moron. Take your pick.

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If someone offered you ride in stolen Ferrari cause you know it's "free" and "awesome" would you also accepted it ?

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there is no congruence between a free ride in a ferrari and a trip to israel - your analogy is flawed. are you a student leader?

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If you were a student in the UK, I have a strong suspicion you'd no longer be Anonymous. Your face, your name and your activities would have featured in Al Jazeera's recent documentary "The Lobby".

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Good thing i'm not a student in the uk.

also, that documentary was the biggest fake-news/non-story item of the year.

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"that documentary was the biggest fake-news/non-story item of the year"

Hey, Anon, please provide your alt facts on this. We could use a laugh.

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Perhaps you would have taken a free trip to Germany in 1933 and to Apartheid South Africa in the 1970's? No it's not awesom, it's a bribe and if u take it you're corrupt because it's being offered as a way of bribing you to see things from the colonial point of view rather than that of the indigenous population.

Israel doesn't offer these free trips to NUS officials and others because of their generosity but as a means of whitewashing the most racist state in the world. Anyone who takes such a visit is no different from those who went to Nazi Germany in the 30s and came back speaking the praises of the Nazi regime.

I doubt if you'll be visiting the site of the bull dozed Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran in the Negev or visiting those who suffer from water shortages in the West Bank.

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It is really "awesome" that anyone could be so naive to realize that there is a reason for this is "free", i.e. paid for by the extremist government in Israel.
In other poilitical circles such perks are known as "corruption" and its sole purpose is propaganda for a brutal regime.

As with apartheid South Africa the question is "which side are you on"? For a racist, violent government or on the side of those oppressed? Not really so complicated, even if you are "not a student in the UK"...

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i went on birthright numerous times - once as a participant, and then again several times as a leader. each time it was awesome. on my own i went to west bank and gaza, egypt, jordan - couldn't go to syria because i had israeli stamp in passport, same as for saudi and lebanon. oh well; it goes without saying though that israel was the coolest place i visited - as a whole - petra was way better than the pyramids and the jordanian and palestinian people (who are the same really) were by far the most hospitable.

i live in israel now.

Shahd Abusalama's picture

Lucky you! Have you ever thought of how privileged you are in comparison with a Palestinian? If not, here is part of my story, hoping to help you related. I am a Palestinian third-generation refugee, born and raised in Jabalia Refugee Camp because my original village Beit-Jerja, like more than 530 villages, was flattened and emptied of its indigenous people in 1948 so a Jewish-only state can exist. I have a right to return to Beit-Jerja but I cannot go there because, unlike the Jewry of the world, I don’t have an exclusive “right” to our Palestinian land. Nearly 7 millions Palestinian refugees, scattered in Gaza, West Bank and around the world, are denied of this right to this day because of Israeli aparthied that descriminates against Palestinians.

I grew up in Gaza’s open air prison. Beit-Jerja is less that an hour ago. Jerusalem is equally close. However, Israeli checkpoints and restrictions on our freedom of movement made them become so far, like an impossible dream. I hope this puts things in perspective for you, and maybe read this for your knowledge: https://electronicintifada.net/content/jews-we-say-birthright-trips-must…

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Here you go, a small video about your "coolest" place, and why honest people do not take freebies from such a regimes:
https://youtu.be/wQF_lYviK-4

BTW, your repeated (over)use of "studenty" slang, i.e. "cool", "awesome" makes you sound more suspiciously like a trained/paid propagandist than who you claim to be. Just a little hint to improve your style supercool Mr. Anonymous.

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Nice propaganda video - doesn't make israel any less awesome though. It's got great food, hilarious and sexy people, cutting edge technology (included in whatever devices you're using right now, aka bdsfail) and all that jazz.

the paid-trolls thing is another fake-news/non-story. if you can provide any evidence of this in existence, please let me know - i would love a little extra cash. and no one's asking you to like israel, frankly no one cares; but you should be honest with your hatred.

Shahd Abusalama

Shahd Abusalama's picture

Shahd Abusalama is a Palestinian artist from Gaza and the author of Palestine from My Eyes: Una blogger a Gaza, an Italian translation of her blog which reflects on different day-to-day political issues and injustices endured by Palestinians under the grip of the Israeli colonial occupation. She recently completed her MA studies in Media and the Middle East at Univerisity of London, SOAS. She can always be followed at @shahdabusalama.