The Students’ Union of a higher education college in Israel has sparked outrage after adopting a policy which states that candidates wishing to run in elections for Union President must have completed national service in the Israeli military.
This rule excludes most Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel from applying for the position.
Zefat Academic College has an intake of both Arab and Jewish students, and the introduction of this policy has led to accusations of discrimination.
The decision has prompted more than 120 Students’ Union officers and officer-elects from universities across the UK to sign a letter condemning the policy and calling for it to be revoked, and “for Palestinian students to be granted the same opportunities to represent, and be represented, as their fellow students.”
It then goes on to explain that “whilst there may be some students studying at Zefat College who have not completed service in the Israeli military for various reasons, the policy clearly targets Palestinian citizens of Israel as the largest demographic within the student body who are unlikely to have served.”
It goes on to state that “The implicit racism of this policy is deeply concerning as it raises the wider question of the attitude towards Palestinian students who study alongside Israeli students at institutions such as Zefat College.”
The list of signatories includes Liam Burns, president of the National Union of Students (NUS) and Students’ Union officers from the University of Sheffield.
In an interview with Forge Press, President-elect Abdi Suleiman described the measures as “outrageous”. Suleiman added that: “it is inconceivable that anyone would be disallowed from running in our own Students’ Union elections on the basis of race or nationality and we should find this equally unacceptable elsewhere.”
The recent move by Zefat Students’ Union comes at a time when the Arab population of the city faces increasing marginalisation.
In 2010, the chief rabbi of Zefat signed a letter urging Jewish property owners to refrain from renting or selling apartments to non-Jews in the city.
In response to criticism over its decision, Zefat College Students’ Union released a statement saying that the policy was “approved by the majority of the Union’s members which include both Arabs and Jews” and that “the clause is not directed against any particular sector.”