Scottish students have defeated attempts to force the cancellation of the biggest event of the Jewish student year, a charity ball in St Andrews. The event was a great success and raised £1,000 – considerably more than expected.
The day before the St Andrews J-Soc “Matzah Ball” was due to take place, the St Andrews Golf Hotel cancelled the booking in the face of demonstrations being called for on the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (SPSC) website. The hotel cited “health and safety reasons”, despite being reassured by the police that the threats were “fairly harmless".
The hotel is believed to have received more than 300 telephone calls and e-mails, some of these sufficiently aggressive and threatening to have been reported to the police. The Jewish Student Society also received e-mail from the SPSC threatening a protest if they did not change the list of charities that would benefit.
Despite this set-back, the student organisers persisted and were able to find a suitable alternative venue. The event, jointly organised with the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity, went ahead without incident and interference, and was a major social and financial success. Ironically, it raised 3 times as much as originally expected, partly because of the cheaper venue, but also because of the unexpected publicity. The local students were strongly supported throughout by Scottish Jewish Student Chaplaincy and the Jewish community, particularly SCoJeC and the Glasgow Jewish Representative Council, who criticised the hotel’s decision to cave in to intimidation and cancel the booking. Paul Morron of the Glasgow Rep Council said, “this sets an unacceptable precedent, and will not enhance their reputation in Scotland, UK, America and elsewhere”.
A senior member of the Jewish society said she felt disgusted that the protesters had turned to threats of violence rather than engage the organisers in an open dialogue. Echoing comments SCoJeC heard from many others during last year's Being Jewish in Scotland project, she said: "I am a firm believer in freedom of expression but the problem came with their extremely offensive comments. They latched onto a party of 35 friends and decided that it was a massive Jewish conspiracy. I've lived in Israel, I've worked in Palestinian communities, and I've never felt more threatened in my life by people who don't even know who I am."
The Jewish student Chaplain, Rabbi Yossi Bodenheim commented, "The aim of Chaplaincy is to make Jewish students feel comfortable socialising and learning together, as well as encouraging them to be proud of their Jewish identity. We are concerned for their welfare, as young adults living away from home. This incident must be taken very seriously, because it does the very opposite, and threatens to discourage prospective students from coming to study in Scotland, and local ones from staying." Nicola Livingston, Chair of Scottish Jewish Student Chaplaincy, added, "I salute the Jewish students for their high level of leadership and success. It is not up to others to tell the Jewish community or students which Jewish charities they may or may not support."
Edward Isaacs, President of the Glasgow Jewish Representative Council said, "The SPSC action in St Andrews amounted to an attack on the autonomy of the Jewish Community. This cannot be tolerated." SCoJeC Director Ephraim Borowski added, "Scottish Jews have seen this before. SPSC anti-Israel stickers
appear in the kosher food section of supermarkets, and on lamp-posts
outside the Jewish school. When one of their members was convicted
of a racially aggravated assault on a Jewish fellow-student last
year, instead of distancing themselves from the perpetrator they
supported him and attacked the judge and the legal system. They
cannot be allowed to dictate what charities we support, what we
discuss at our meetings, how we decorate our rooms, or what food we
eat; will they want to censor our beliefs and prayers next too?”
Most importantly, Joel Salmon, President of St Andrews J-Soc said they had been “overwhelmed by the support received from the Jewish community, the university, and the local authorities, and the protest was organised by people with little or no connection to St Andrews. Former President, Jillian Levick, added that “the most ridiculous aspect of the whole debacle was that what had started out as a party for a group of friends, to raise a little extra money for charity, was turned into a giant fundraiser by the very people who were trying to tear it down. The event was a huge success, and great fun and every bit as good as had been planned.”