Twice in the last year, democracy has shown its unpredictability. Whatever your politics are, I think it’s safe to say that millions of people across the world were on the edge of their seats watching the recent American election, and the same can be said for the Brexit referendum.
Whether you were rooting for Trump or Clinton, Leave or Remain, it’s undeniable that democracy is exciting. The Electoral College system may have its detractors and there are those that question the binding nature of the referendum in favour of Brexit, yet democracy remains the best way to see what a large amount of people think. It is certainly a nail-biting, exciting experience to be involved with, hoping for a particular outcome – perhaps even one that you have campaigned for – and holding your breath as the result is announced.
I speak from first-hand experience, as I remember the moment that the outcome of the UJS Presidential Election in December 2015 was announced. I can hardly believe that a year has passed and we are already gearing up to elect my successor!
I am so proud that 1,104 votes were cast in the election that I won. This was a record-breaking amount for a UJS Presidential Election, which means that I have a large mandate from the UJS membership; this gives me the confidence to lead our union with the knowledge that my leadership reflects the passions, values and identities of the overwhelming majority of Jewish students. When I recently spoke at the European Parliament (watch it here), I did so with the knowledge that hundreds of Jewish students had entrusted me to stand there and represent them.
It is vitally important that the next President has a similarly large mandate in order that they too can represent Jewish students. I therefore ask all UJS’ members to engage in the upcoming election. Get to know the candidates, grill them at hustings and look out for their visits to your campus. Make sure that you elect a UJS President to represent you and your passions, values and identities.
Our democracy doesn’t stop at the election of the UJS President. The winner of that election will be announced at the annual UJS Conference on 11th December, and I am so excited for our members – you, the students – to decide the direction that UJS will take over the next year.
Policy passed at UJS Conference has a real impact on the union and our work. In previous years, we have resolved to challenge institutionalised antisemitism within NUS, to support the NUS #cutthecosts campaign, and to continue campaigning to increase awareness of mental health. We have followed through on all of these.
It’s no secret that Israel forms a huge part of many Jewish students’ identities. Accordingly, at UJS Conference, Jewish students have passed policy that commits UJS to combatting BDS and the attempts to demonise and delegitimise Israel, whilst also pledging our commitment to compassionate campaigns that seek to build bridges and establish mutual recognition of the need for Two States for Two Peoples. These policies reassure me that UJS will work to make sure that in future, Jewish students will not be subjected to the hostilities and harassment that I faced as the LSESU Israel Society President when I was a student. It may be a long road but the policy passed at UJS Conference, which remains policy for 3 years, reassures me that we are staying on the road and continuing the fight.
A key part of my work so far has been making sure that these policies are implemented. I ensure that UJS does not only make these commitments but works hard to follow through on them. I do not take the votes I received for granted, but I know that people have placed their trust in me to represent and reflect the interests and beliefs of our diverse and passionate members, and I am committed to doing so throughout my time as UJS President.
In doing so, I follow in the footsteps of my predecessors. Hannah Brady, who led UJS immediately before me, launched our mental health work and established the first UJS Liberation Conference; her predecessor Ella Rose initiated the first piece of significant research into the identities of Jewish students since 2011, whilst her predecessor, Joe Tarsh, fostered greater ties with the World Union of Jewish Students (WUJS), which he has since gone on to lead. Looking back to 2001-2003, I also reflect on the life and legacy of Alan Senitt z’l. In his time at UJS Chairperson (as my role was then known), he shaped UJS as we know and love it today. His untimely passing was undoubtedly one of the greatest losses to the Jewish community.
UJS Conference and the UJS Presidential election go hand-in-hand to shape the work of the Union and the direction that UJS takes in the year to come. In a time when democracy has left so many people feeling downhearted, I hope that all of you, UJS’s members, will vote in the UJS Presidential election and on the motions brought to Conference, in order to make sure that this is one democratic process that does not fail its membership.
I hope my message has come across clearly, but in case it hasn’t, let me say it explicitly: our doors are always open, but no time is better than the UJS Presidential election and UJS Conference for you to shape your union. Tell us how to represent you. Tell us what you want us to do, say, campaign for and achieve with you and for you. Get out, debate and vote for your union to represent who you are; see you at Conference!
UJS President 2016-17