by Russell Langer, UJS Campaigns Director
Over the past year it has been a privilege to work as part of the Union of Jewish Students (UJS) Campaigns Team with our amazing student activists. Across the country these dedicated individuals go above and beyond in their efforts to make campus a better place for their fellow students. This doesn’t only mean making campus a more inclusive space for Jewish students but also being involved in students’ unions and NUS to make changes that will benefit the whole of student society. It was these students who inspired me to continue at UJS in my new capacity as Campaigns Director.
It is no surprise that that the major campaigns topic on campus this year will be Israel and the continued efforts from some in the student community to employ boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) methods. BDS motions have been an increasing phenomenon over the past year since Operation Protective Edge which resulted in the National Union of Students (NUS) National Executive Council (NEC) passing a BDS policy.
Passing BDS policy once has not been enough for some in the student movement. National Conference in April rightly did not see BDS as a priority in their limited time and sent the motion to NEC where the same exact people voted for it again.
In recent weeks the obsession with BDS has not faded away. Students witnessed 4/5 NUS Vice Presidents and 4/5 Liberation Officers boycott their own awards ceremony due to a sponsorship from Coca Cola which they perceived as a breach of BDS policy. This culminated in a motion of censure against the President at a recent NEC meeting.
However, we are starting to see some change. During the recent ‘Coke-gate’ events we have seen growing frustration from students on campus over the movement’s fixation on BDS. In this year’s budget the government announced big changes to the funding provided to students including the scrapping of maintenance grants. It would be reasonable to expect that this announcement would be a priority for NUS but students following their activity on Twitter would have seen tweet after tweet about BDS.
Students can now directly witness the effect that BDS is having on their movement. It is of course right that student’s take an interest in global affairs but the recent events have had nothing to do with Palestinians. Instead we have seen BDS being used by the far-left within the NUS leadership as a stick with which to beat the President with. When we are spending more time importing a foreign conflict onto our campuses than discussing the impact of government policy then we have a problem with our movement.
Thankfully many are now starting to recognise this problem. At the last NEC meeting we saw a public letter from over 150 students’ union officers calling on NEC to reject further BDS policy. One thing is becoming clear, BDS is not just a concern for Jewish students but is also destroying the student movement as a whole. It is for that reason that we will continue to work with our allies to overturn BDS and help our movement to greater success in the future.
This is what makes me excited for the year ahead. Now that students have seen the effects of BDS we can start to turn the page. Instead of pushing for measures that drive people apart we should be endorsing project that bring them together. This is what Jewish students will be campaigning for this year.
My time at university was the best four years of my life and I don’t want BDS to be the defining matter for Jewish students. I’m excited to once again be bringing our Jewish Experience Week (J.E.W) campaign to campus this year. J.E.W is an incredible opportunity for students to be loud about being Jewish on campus and will for many be the first chance to educate others on what modern British Judaism looks like.
As ever, we should continue to be inspired by our strong Jewish student activists and their involvement in the student movement. This year I look forward to empowering them through unique training and development opportunities to strengthen them even further. There will be BDS debates, some we will win and some we will lose, but there will also be Friday night dinners, lunch and learns, Booze 4 Jews and so many other opportunities for Jewish students. It is this vibrant Jewish life on campus which our activists strive for.