Friends of al-Aqsa and campus activism

Since the start of the 2016-17 academic year, Student Rights has seen a concerted attempt by Friends of al-Aqsa to target students across the UK.

In November, the group used Twitter to target student societies at 39 universities, promoting its ‘Hands off al-Aqsa’ campaign, and has since been advertising volunteer days to student activists.

These volunteer events have gone ahead in Leeds, Liverpool, and Manchester so far, while on 19 January the group’s Director of Public Affairs, Shamiul Joarder, also appeared at an event hosted by the Queen Mary University Friends of Palestine Society.Joarder spoke alongside the activist Ben White, Palestinian student Malaka Mohammed, and University of London lecturer, Professor Moshe Machover.

A former officer of the Stop the War Coalition now listed as sitting on the group’s Steering Committee, Joarder has worked for the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB), described as the “main declared British affiliate” of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Joarder also appears to have worked with the British Muslim Initiative (BMI), a “successor” to the MAB set up by the “fugitive Hamas commander”, Mohammed Sawalha, as part of the ‘Kafa’ [Enough] campaign, which was driven by the Stop the War Coalition.

The founder of Friends of al-Aqsa, Ismail Patel, was a spokesperson for the BMI at around the same time.

Friends of al-Aqsa itself has a record of publishing writers a history of antisemitic views, such as Israel Shamir and Paul Eisen, as well as this deeply antisemitic article by Khalid Amayreh.

Patel has also stated that: “Hamas is no terrorist organisation. The reason they hate Hamas is because they refuse to be subjugated, occupied by the Israeli state, and we salute Hamas for standing up to Israel.”

That an organisation with this history is working so hard to target students should be of concern, and universities should consider the impact this may have on campus cohesion.

Meanwhile, the event also appears to have seen Jewish students challenging the panel attacked by Professor Machover, who responded to a question about the BDS movement by saying:“These are the kind of questions that the Israeli propaganda machine actually breeds its representatives to ask…I know what briefings you get. I have been in this game before you were born and I know what briefing you get.”

This saw loud applause and cheers from attendees – yet another example of the activism which is making it increasingly hard for Jewish students to feel comfortable on campus.

If groups such as Friends of al-Aqsa are to face challenge, universities must ensure that events are open forums for debate – and the atmosphere seen at last week’s event suggests there is still work to be done before this happens…

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