Cambridge students for JN from Jenni Frazer February 16 2015
An initiative by Jewish students in Cambridge to hold a Middle East Peace Week has drawn support in advance of the annual Israel Apartheid Week.
But two days into the week of talks, the university’s Arab Society, which had offered “support” rather than direct involvement, pulled out of any association with the event.
A spokesman for the Cambridge Israel Society told the Jewish News: “We hope that the division is clear between those who want to engage, and those who don’t”. He said that the Israel Society was keen that the optimism expressed by the Peace Week “superseded” the negativism expressed during Israel Apartheid Week.
The Middle East Peace Week talks were organised by Cambridge Israel Society, the university’s Kurdish and Persian societies, One Voice and the Cambridge University Calais Refugee Action Group (CUCRAG).
Joel Collick, from the Israel Society, said the aim was “to make students look at the Middle East in a new light, beyond conflict and bloodshed”.
He told The Tab student website: “We want to set a precedent by working together on common issues and challenges. In setting such a precedent for working together, the prospects of peace will itself be more likely.” Such issues included examining the role of religion in the region, women’s rights and the future of the Middle East.
Mr Collick added: “We find that a lot of the discussions around the Middle East involves finger-pointing and juvenile point-scoring. The talks we are hosting are designed to be as inclusive and productive as possible.”
Speakers during the MEPW included the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, who is now Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge, and a number of other academics. The five days of talks spent one session looking at the past, three on the present, and one focusing on the future for the region. One of the best attended sessions was expected to be a talk by Nezahat Cihan. She works for Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Right’s Organisation (IKWRO), whose mission is to protect Middle Eastern and Afghan women and girls who are at risk of “honour”-based violence, forced marriage, child marriage, female genital mutilation and domestic violence and to promote their rights.
But the initiative was not welcomed by everyone in Cambridge. Disgruntled members of the Palestine Society, which had been invited to participate and turned the offer down, complained that the event had been organised “to direct attention away from the growing success of Israeli Apartheid Week”.
A spokesman from PalSoc said: “The only way out of the current stalemate and the first steps towards a viable peace is through demanding that Israel be held accountable for its crimes and that it abides to its obligations under international law.
“We feel that there is no coincidence in the Israeli society’s timing of the Middle East Peace Week.It ignores the asymmetry of the current situation in the region and Israel’s repeated refusal to recognise the rights of Palestinians and end its unlawful occupation.”