Racists fighting racism?

March 28, 2009

A new student group, backed by the National Union of Students (NUS), that promises to eradicate racism and hatred has been hailed by those that promote ideas based on both racism and hatred.

Students Against Racism and Hatred (SARAH), although still only existing as a group on the social networking site Facebook, was given a ringing endorsement by the Australian Jewish News on March 18. SARAH is planning major events on university campuses across the country over the coming months to promote its "pluralist" anti-racist group.

However, while claiming to be pluralist, the group states one of its key goals is eliminating anti-Zionism.

Zionism is a political ideology that justifies the creation of Israel as an exclusively Jewish state and the 61-year occupation and genocide on Palestinian land. It is separate from the faith of Judaism; its roots were born out of secular, not religious, practice. In 1975, the United Nations declared Zionism a form of racism and racial discrimination.

Central to SARAH is the Australian Union of Jewish Students, which initiated the group's creation jointly with NUS. AUJS, as its website explains, is not simply a religious or social organisation. It is political: it supports the racist ideology of Zionism. Its program commits AUJS "to promoting a positive image of Israel on campus".

After the war on Gaza, many Israel apologists around the world have moved to shore up Israel's image. They have used various front groups to promote their cause, using progressive and anti-racist language.

NUS's support for the group has already caused controversy. In a posting to the NUS education e-list on March 15, NUS national queer officer Liam Byrne withdrew his support for SARAH, claiming he was tricked into endorsing it.

"I do not endorse the SARAH campaign. This is a campaign built upon lies and slander. It is not anti-Semitic to criticise the actions of the state of Israel. The recent rallies and demonstrations against the genocide that the Israeli state has recently carried out on the people of Gaza were not anti-Semitic!", Byrne said in a statement.

"I proudly marched in these demonstrations, and took part in the activity to build them, and I proudly support the struggle of the Palestinian people, and express my full solidarity with them.

"I was misled about the SARAH campaign and its aims. I was told that it was a NUS initiative to oppose all discrimination. It is now clear that the SARAH campaign is itself a racist campaign, seeking to silence those whose families have been killed, their homes and neighbourhoods bombed in Palestine, and who suffer anti-Arab and anti-Muslim racism in Australia."

AUJS's website includes the group's key campaigns, such as supporting Israel's right to "defend itself from terrorist attacks", as well as another campaign that could only be interpreted as a military threat against Iran.

The Iran campaign section explains that "with extensive nuclear infrastructure already in place, it could be a matter of months before Iran is in a position to threaten the West with weapons of mass destruction". Of course, no evidence is supplied. Only this call to action: "The intention is there … If ever there was a time to act, that time is now."

While anti-racist organisations are an important factor in overcoming divisive politics on campus and in the wider community, to believe that Zionists, like any other racists, are able to organise balanced, anti-racist campaigns is fanciful.

The belief that Israel should continue to exist as a "Jewish" state, at the expense of all other religions and cultures, is leading many Jews and others around the world to renounce the practices of the Israeli state. A true anti-racist campaign needs people committed to overthrowing racism wherever it is, including in the apartheid state of Israel.

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