Further to my last post - it seems that rambamming is as popular among student politicians as it is among their state and federal counterparts.
So what's going on here? Is this the 'me, myself and I' generation we hear so much about:
Well hi there, Winner. Congratulations on your presidency. I'm from the Man from AIJAC.
- AIJAC? Right... I've been expecting a call.
Mm, word does get around! So, as you already know, already, a win like yours is as good as a week-long, all-expenses paid trip to the land of Hope & Glory.
- Bring it on!
Not so fast, Mr President! First, a question. Why do you want to go to Israel?
- Well, I've heard so much about it - really, really good things, of course - but, as a poor, hungry student, the proof is in the pudding, know what I mean?
Sure I do, Mr President! You'll be wined and dined and schmoozed and boozed so well you'll hardly be able to wait to become an MP or a journalist so's you can do it all over again... and again... and again... And, just to tide you over till then, Mr President, you'll also get a gold pass to the nearest Max Brenner outlet, OK?
- Cool, sign me up NOW!
The following expose, by Rafi Alam and Xiaoran Shi, NUS Israel trips are no spiritual pilgrimage (19/8/13), comes from Sydney University's student newspaper, Honi Soit:
"There are few issues more contentious than Israel and Palestine, and this contention is only exacerbated within student politics. The left-right divide on the issue of Israel has been a persistent element of political discord in the student movement since the formation of the state of Israel. The issue was enlivened once more this year when Socialist Alternative, a vehemently anti-Zionist Trotskyist, passed a non-binding motion at the National Union of Students' (NUS) Education Conference condemning Todd Pinkerton, NUS General Secretary, and Mikaela Wangmann, NUS Women's Officer, for travelling to Israel despite the Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions (BDS) movement promoted against Israel.
"The matter of student office bearers visiting Israel has been a frequent phenomenon in the student movement since the rebirth of the NUS in 1987. [MERC: Misleading: The old Australian Union of Students (AUS) folded in 1984. See my 14/8/10 post The Real Julia Gillard for Gillard's hand in its demise.] Other [recent] visitors have included Jade Tyrell in 2012, who was UTS SRC President at the time, and is the current NUS President, as well as John Barlow in 2012, the NUS General Secretary that year, and Xavier Williams in 2010, the year he was the NUS General Secretary.
"These trips, however, are no spiritual pilgrimages. They began as an attempt to inform student office bearers from mainstream political parties on the situation in Israel and Palestine [MERC: An astonishingly naive statement here!], and are funded by the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) through the Rambam Israel Fellowship program.
"When asked for comment Todd Pinkerton confirmed that his recent trip to Israel was indeed sponsored by AIJAC, although the organisation only funded the trip in part, not in full. This is replicated in similar programs with the Parliamentary Friends of Israel cross-political group. AIJAC provides these scholarships, from their perspective, to reduce anti-Israel bias [MERC: Anti-Israel bias? What anti-Israel bias?] among the major political parties, at a parliamentary and student level. From another perspective, these trips are intended to dampen pro-Palestinian sentiment within student organisations, and to prevent a re-formation of NUS's predecessor, the Australian Union of Students (AUS), which in the 1970s, rejected the existence of the State of Israel and supported the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO). Apart from advancing a series of pro-PLO motions, it was alleged that the AUS sent money to the PLO in solidarity with its cause.
"While the NUS is far less radical than its predecessor, various minor factions in the NUS, primarily Socialist Alternative, are attempting to revive the pro-Palestine movement. The shift in the ALP since the 1980s towards a strong alliance with Israel and the persistent predisposition [MERC: bias?] towards Israel in the Liberal Party - the two parties which hold the majority of delegates at NUS - have effectively reduced the anti-Zionist segment within student politics.
"Student recipients of the Rambam Fellowship come from the Liberal, Labor Right, and Labor Left factions. For members of Labor Left who accept the fellowship, the matter is particularly complicated as their actions contradict the faction's stance against Israel's occupation of Gaza and the West Bank. Former USYD SRC President and recipient of the Rambam Fellowship, Elly Howse, was said to have taken part with strong anti-Zionist views, but returned home more sympathetic to Israel. Honi was unable to reach Howse for comment. [MERC: See my next post.]
"Another student member of Labor Left who received the Fellowship in 2010, Jesse Marshall, was NUS President in 2011 and rejects the idea that AIJAC is trying to silence pro-Palestine activists. 'I still believe the Palestinians need an independent state,' Marshall said. 'It's selling people short to think that just because a trip was funded by the Jewish community [MERC: JC=AIJAC?] that it's blindly pro-Israel.' Marshall says he went on the trip in order to better understand the barriers to peace, something he believes can only be learned through being in the Middle East. When asked about the Socialist Alternative motion, Marshall accuses SA of attempting to coerce the student movement into 'supporting a one-state solution that dismantles Israel. Marshall also argues that BDS is a distraction and will not lead to peace.
"Antony Loewenstein, in an article in New Matilda, argues that these trips are used to create a favourable impression of Israel as a pursuer of a peaceful two-state solution, even though - in his opinion - the two-state solution would not achieve justice for Palestinians or Arab Israelis, not least due to the settlement policy in the West Bank. Lowenstein also states that another reason is to portray the debate as 'complex' and frame hardline pro-Palestinian positions as anti-Semitic. [MERC: See AL's Zionist lobby courts Aussie students, New Matilda, 16/8/12.]
"Cat Rose, an NUS Queer Officer who helped pass a motion at EdCon condemning two NUS office bearers for participating in the AIJAC-funded trips, largely agrees with Loewenstein... When asked for comment on the EdCon motion, she compared the 'Israeli occupation of Palestine' to apartheid in South Africa and stated that the trips were a 'PR exercise for a racist regime' which 'exists on stolen land' and 'disregards basic human rights.' Rose, as a member of Socialist Alternative, strongly supports BDS and is quick to stress that Israel is, in fact, a state under 'international boycott,' which student politicians are contravening by participating in sponsored visits..."