Was WUJS right to invite Saeb Erekat to speak?
The World Union of Jewish Students’ decision to invite chief PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat to our annual congress, and the decision of the British Union of Jewish Students to visit him with a delegation of 20 Jewish student leaders in Ramallah drew a mixed response. I was myself questioned extensively on the decision during an interview last week with Arutz Sheva radio.Just by scanning a few of the comments under the original Jerusalem Post article covering the decision, it is clear how strongly members of the Jewish community felt about it with comments ranging from those celebrating the decision, to some who reacted with considerable disapproval. Though there may have been some valid arguments as to why Dr. Erekat should not have been invited (though I believe far less than reasons he should have), many arguments were wide of the mark, such as the “would Arab students invite an Israeli negotiator to speak in Mecca” line of thought.Though the answer is quite clearly ‘no’, this is, if anything, a reason as to why we should be inviting the likes of Dr. Erekat to speak to informed Jewish students. We are proud of our affinity to a state that values freedom of speech and expression and I reject the assertion we should follow the example of societies that place a considerably lower value on such liberties. These students, who represent the future of Jewish leadership, are more than capable of formulating their own opinions and should not be shielded from opinions they may not agree with. WUJS is proudly and staunchly Zionist, our member unions are proudly Zionist and their members are proudly Zionist; no speaker could threaten this reality. Ultimately, the irony is that these kinds of experiences only hold to strengthen Jewish students’ pro-Israel efforts on university campuses. The most cliched line thrown in the faces of pro-Israel activists on university campuses is the condescending like of: “Have you ever been to Ramallah?, Have you ever listened to the Palestinian negotiators?” I for one am proud that activists from the Union of Jewish Students of the United Kingdom, and attendees at the World Union of Jewish Students annual congress will be able to answer in the affirmative whilst continuing to stand up for the ideals of Zionist and the rights of the State of Israel.