I am your average university student. I go to my classes, attend a barbecue here and there and waste copious amounts of money on coffee to fuel my procrastination.
I haven’t gotten involved in any societies – I never felt the need because I’m comfortable acting for myself rather than for some collective.
As a Jew, I was raised to have a personal connection to Israel, but it was something I struggled with. Only when I visited, met my family who live there, and got to experience the state for myself did I feel a Zionist streak in me. I’m no advocate and no political activist, but I care about the state’s existence and the issues surrounding it. Despite that, I am not one to hold off on criticizing Israel’s actions and I make an effort to approach these issues in an unbiased manner.
On 30 July, my friend and I decided to approach a Socialist Alternative member to discuss the conflict with him. The only answer he had to our questions was “Israel is an apartheid state.” When we asked why Israel, why not condemn actions in Syria or Sudan, we were told he was not going to have a discussion with “supporters of genocide”.
Later, we attempted to attend a pro-Palestinian meeting run by the Socialist Alternative. We were required to sign a petition in order to enter. When we expressed reluctance to do so, we were asked what group we represented (implying that we were from the Australian Union of Jewish Students and here to cause trouble) and we were asked our names (which are clearly Hebrew). The Socialist Alternative members at the door told us we wouldn’t be allowed in because we would intimidate other members and make them feel unsafe, despite the fact that we were all calmly asking to be let in. After trying to explain numerous times that we were there in good faith to gain some insight into one side of the conflict, my friend actually offered to sign their petition. We were still rejected, so we gave up and left.
When AUJS heard what happened, a member gave me a call and asked me to make a statement. He told me I should feel like their attempt to identify me was anti-Semitic. I didn’t personally feel that it was, but he persuaded me to feel discriminated against for a moment. Thinking it over, I realized that the Socialist Alternative’s mistake was in refusing entry to an assumed political enemy. That this assumption was based on my Jewishness is secondary. The real issue was that a group on campus refused to allow dissidents or people who are politically neutral on the issue to even hear what they had to say, let alone try and engage in a conversation.
This problem is not unique to the Socialist Alternative and AUJS, but it was in this context that I encountered it. Our student political class seems to be plagued by the inability to hold a rational discussion with people who disagree with them that doesn’t escalate into attacks on one other, be they verbal or physical or (as in the case of the La Trobe student who had posters put up around her campus purely to defame her) psychological.
As young adults we are in the process of finding, shaping and improving ourselves. Now is the time for us to learn to respect one another’s opinions. Now is the time to accept that not everyone is going to agree with you or care about the same things you do. These groups that exist on campus live in little bubbles where the only people they accept and respect are those who support them. The ability to face your beliefs being challenged and questioned is as essential life skill. It is crucial that we take the time to develop it now. Those who can answer difficult questions with grace will go much further than those who yell, ignore, or exclude others because of their differing opinions.
Now is also the time to consider the way your actions can affect those around you. Before you choose to take action, or even not to take action, think about the way it will be interpreted. You may feel like you are acting on an individual level, but joining a political group means you are now representing this group, and this group is representing you. Even my attempt to attend an event about something I personally care about lumped me into a group I don’t feel I belong to. Everything you do is significant, so think carefully about how you want to get involved on campus, and think about how you may promote positive change in the problems found here.