I am proud to work for UJS, the national representative body for Jewish students, supporting their social, cultural, educational, religious and political needs on campus. For the campaigns team, this first and foremost means ensuring the safety and welfare of Jewish students.
We are devoted to supporting Jewish students dealing with incidents of antisemitism, lobbying politicians, universities and student leaders on understanding the needs of Jewish students and providing training on the subject.
However, if we only talk about antisemitism then we have failed to do our jobs properly, because Jewish students are not defined exclusively by the discrimination that they face, nor for being Jewish.
They are also students who care about the world around them and want to make it a better place. Even last year, whilst we faced well-documented issues in NUS and local students’ unions, we also held a rally in support of the people of Aleppo, ran a campaign raising awareness about mental health and continued our work with liberation networks; women, LGBT+ and disabled students.
This work must expand as we embrace new opportunities for Jewish students, supporting them to have positive and enriching campus experiences and engaging in social and political activism on a wide range of issues. Much has been made of the changes in the National Union of Students’ leadership; we cannot pretend that there aren’t challenges still to contend with, but this is an opportunity for Jewish students to engage positively with NUS on anything from fee rises to faith and belief issues. A better relationship with NUS doesn’t just stop Jewish students feeling shut out of their own movement; it allows them to be part of a national movement fighting on student issues and amplifying their voices on all the issues that they hold dear. We are looking forward to working with NUS on a national Interfaith Week campaign and a plan to reach as many students and Students’ Unions as possible to teach about the Holocaust and commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day.
Whilst we do not do it alone, Jewish students play an important part in creating cohesive campus communities. However, this can only be done when diverse groups are brought together. We are stronger and better together, from making sure universities consider the needs of students of faith when timetabling lectures and exams to fighting the discrimination that many can face, especially considering the growing threat of the far-right that target many groups on campuses.
Because of this need for a united approach, it is vitally important that the student movement has a strong Anti-Racism, Anti-Fascism campaign. Over the last 40 years, Jewish students have been at their best when engaging with these topics, fighting the far right and other racists and fascists that seek to sow divisions on campus. Likewise, the national Anti-Racism, Anti-Fascism campaign has been most successful as a truly broad coalition, including Jewish students amongst those leading the fight, whether on no-platform or anti-fascist organising.
Further afield, our work must include engaging with Israel. This is one of our core values as an organisation and has been consistently voted on as an issue that Jewish students care about at UJS Conference.
As an organisation that represents a hugely diverse Jewish student population, UJS are called upon to end our relationship with Israel on one hand and to be ‘braver’ in our support for Israel on the other.
We are a proud Zionist organisation, supporting Jewish students to develop their own personal relationship with Israel and embolden them to feel comfortable discussing it on campus. But we also have a responsibility to be critical friends of Israel when necessary.
UJS are longstanding supporters of Two States for Two Peoples in the Jewish community; our support for Israel must stand alongside our support for a Palestinian state and we must be able to air frustrations when political leadership takes us away from Two States. This is why we continue to develop our Bridges not Boycotts campaign; the next step following years of activism from Jewish students showing that the situation in the region only improves when Israelis and Palestinians are brought together.
Practically, this means we will continue to be clear and strong in our campaigning against the BDS movement and the one-sided, divisive debate that often alienates Jewish students and shuts them out of conversations. We will also continue to educate students on the growing problems emanating from the continued occupation of the Palestinian people.
This year is an opportunity. UJS wants to see as many Jewish students as possible being loud, proud and active in their campus communities on any issue they take an interest in. Jewish students should use their passions and experiences to positively influence the world around them by building relationships with allies on campus and winning for themselves and their community in their Student Unions, their universities, their local area and the wider student movement - and we are here to support them in doing so.