As President of UJS I was saddened and somewhat surprised to read the open letter recently published by nine of the talented and dedicated student leaders that I and my team have the honour to represent and work with, many of whom have submitted motions to UJS Conference, participated in UJS Israel trips, attended UJS Israel events, and are or have been involved in UJS’ representative structures.
I and my team are always open to criticism and indeed we were already concerned that the article Liron wrote, due to the headline and “nothing” sentence would be misinterpreted. Our intention – indeed the focus of the vast majority of the article – was to highlight the great work students and activists have done in shifting the situation in recent years so that most campuses and the clear majority of students are opting for constructive conversations on Israel-Palestine instead of the smears of Apartheid or the destructive division of BDS.
I can appreciate that some of the language in Liron’s article may have been poorly framed. I can also appreciate that when trying to deliver support and Israel work for a cross-communal union with many perspectives on Israel – and many other areas of Jewish life to provide for – UJS will not always do everything the way each student, J-Soc or Israel society would do.
Listing legitimate concerns about UJS work on Israel is fair and hopefully intended to be fruitful; Launching a scathing and unsubstantiated attack on the totality of UJS’ Israel work and our very legitimacy to represent 8,500 Jewish students is simply misinformed.
As the second of the last three successful Presidential candidates to win the honour of leading and representing our diverse and dynamic union, in contests that have averaged over 1000 votes each year, I want to challenge the notion that UJS doesn’t represent all our students. Furthermore, we have repeatedly brought together over 120 J-Soc leaders and Israel activists at our annual flagship UJS Summit, and hundreds more at training events around the country, including training weekends in January in three of the last four years specifically designed to prepare students to win the battle of ideas around IAW.
UJS continually recognises the dedication of our students and volunteers. Indeed, in the last two years, 4,000 student attendees from King’s College London, SOAS, Queen Mary and UCL have engaged in events supported or led by UJS. Many of these students have also received thousands of pounds of investment in their development, including educational trips to Israel, the USA and Europe.
In the last eighteen months alone, UJS has raised and distributed tens of thousands of pounds for student volunteers to deliver many of the activities mentioned in this open letter. Additionally, UJS has supported Jewish Societies and Friends of Israel Societies at LSE, Imperial, Glasgow, Edinburgh, UCL and King’s to either run their own campus trips for students of all backgrounds to Israel, or work with UJS on regional trips for diverse students. By the end of this academic year, 470 students will have been on one of 20 trips provided, funded or supported by UJS. These trips provide the very support, knowledge and skills to continue winning support and sympathy for Israel.
As the signatories themselves have participated in UJS trips and leadership opportunities, it is baffling that it was suggested that UJS provides nothing to support Israel activists.
UJS is the lead partner securing hundreds of thousands of pounds of funding specifically for campus leaders to develop and deliver their own activities suited to advancing Israel’s case on their campus. UJS facilitates this funding and further support in partnership with Israel advocacy organisations and have increased our partnership, cooperation and coordination with them. Whilst UJS campaigns and educates based on majority decided policy, we value the distinct ways particular groups can support specific students with Israel activism.
I know that I and my team don’t always get it right. I have had plenty of conversations with students from a range of backgrounds and who wish to see UJS do certain areas of our work in different ways. I promise that the concerns raised here and any others that are brought forward will be heard, understood and sought to be remedied. `
I will also continue to proudly, loudly and passionately celebrate the fantastic work of the hundreds of Jewish student volunteers that make up the leadership of our unified, not uniform, union, including those such as Liron who have followed that volunteering by dedicating two years of sometimes twenty hour days to lead, defend and enrich Jewish life on campus.