At UJS Conference 2016, Jewish students participated in a passionate debate about the relationship between UJS and NUS. Ultimately the motion to suspend the working relationship between the two organisations did not pass.
Max Sherrard, two-time NUS National Conference delegate, successfully argued against the motion. He asserted that it was important to stay involved in NUS in order to portray Jewish identity as something to be proud of: ‘[At NUS Conference], the UJS Fringe is the most well-attended fringe and it gives us the opportunity to bring issues that we care about to non-Jewish students. In recent years UJS has brought Holocaust survivors to speak to address those audiences, as well as LGBT activists in religious communities to speak about their experiences within a Jewish context.
This motion threatens to reduce Jewish students’ role in NUS to victims of antisemitism, whereas the reality is that Jewish life is so much more – it’s vibrant and amazing. Voting against this motion is about giving ourselves the opportunity to show that we have identities to be proud of which we can’t do from outside.’
Likewise, Rebecca Filer, Bristol SU delegate to NUS National Conference and NUS Women’s Conference, added: 'As an NUS delegate to both NUS National Conference and NUS Women's Conference, I know that when we want to make change for ourselves, we are best placed to do that from within; I also know that we have allies in the movement and maintaining our current relationship with NUS allows us to continue working with those who support Jewish students.’
President-elect Josh Holt also participated in the debate, saying that the best way to create change and have Jewish students’ voices heard is by being present and involved: ‘There is so much that can be done from within the room, and we can do far less if we shout from the outside. We have to try and make change for ourselves and we are best placed to do that when we are in the room.’
Binyomin Gilbert, who proposed the motion, said: ‘I am disappointed that this motion didn’t pass. It was a key opportunity to stand up against what many Jewish students do see as a core and fundamental problem in the NUS and I will continue to fight on behalf of Jewish students against antisemitism in the NUS and everywhere else. This outcome was not a solidarity vote for Malia or the current NUS leadership but was made bearing in mind the varied needs of Jewish students beyond issues of antisemitism.’
It is important to note that this motion failing does not affect our current position: we will continue to work with NUS, including supporting Vice President (Society and Citizenship) Rob Young’s research into the experience of Jewish students, but we are not prepared to work with the current National President.
Rob said: ‘Whilst I fully welcome the result that UJS will continue to work with NUS, hearing the impassioned debate on both sides of the argument made it clear to me that it there is still lots of work that needs to be done to heal the relationship between NUS and Jewish Students. It is deeply upsetting that Jewish students felt the need to have this debate at their annual conference. However, I am looking forward to continuing to support UJS and I will always take seriously the concerns that they and Jewish students put forward.’
Malia Bouattia still has the opportunity to respond to this strong statement from Jewish students and we remain hopeful that she will issue a full, direct and unequivocal apology to Jewish students. Malia also needs to explicitly commit to upholding NUS policy on the EUMC working definition of antisemitism. Only then can UJS, Jewish students and the NUS National President look at ways of working directly together to tackle the antisemitism that still rears its ugly head too often on campuses.
In the meantime, if you are a self-defining Jewish student, please take Rob's survey by clicking here.