By Maggie Suissa, Union of Jewish Students (UJS) campaigns Director
One word here: context
This week, the National Union of Students (NUS) leadership let Jewish students down. However, before we rush ahead and sign our disaffiliation papers, let’s add some context.
This motion was originally posed to the NUS national conference where 1000 delegates meet and discuss policies and elect leadership on behalf of their constituent students.
Anyone can run to be a delegate, and the entire conference is live streamed. Delegates were offered the chance to discuss this policy but they voted to defer the debate to the National Executive Council (NEC) for a later date.
So who sits on this NEC? NUS NEC comprises of elected full time student officers who decide the direction of the union.
During this debate, like any other debate, two sides spoke with one speaker for and one against.
The outcome was a simple win with 19 in favour, 14 against and one abstention. Instead of focusing on the methods of BDS (Boycotts Divestments and Sanctions) and fighting for Palestine, as always, this debate manifested itself into ‘what side of history will you stand on?’
This was not the first time that this NEC from a central position had taken this stance on the Israeli Palestinian conflict.
Actually, almost obsessively, this NEC began their year with BDS, and this is how they have ended it.
We need to clarify something here because at this rate we’re at risk of Netanyahu calling all Jewish students to come study in Israel for their own safety.
This policy is practically meaningless in that no students union is mandated to follow suit. However, what we must not ignore is the symbolic weight.
When NUS National Executive Council declare in the name of UK students that they will boycott Israel, they are refusing to listen to the Jewish students, UJS, allies and so many more who all campaigned throughout the year and over the past decade against BDS.
One of the main reasons why Jewish students have historically lobbied so hard against BDS is because we know that it can provoke anti-Semitism on campuses, as there have been extreme cases in the past where we know this has happened.
The inconvenient truth is that for this NEC, it’s easier to confuse a Jewish students experience of anti-Semitism when it involves Israel.
When this NUS NEC voted down a motion condemning ISIS, they did so on the fear that it could bring about Islamophobia.
However, when Jewish students and UJS warned that BDS could lead to anti-Semitism on campuses, our concerns were not deemed valid.
Why do the Jewish members of NUS deserve less protection than their counterparts?
Will there be further BDS debates on campus when students return in September?
Will this be as a result of the NEC motion?
One thing for certain though; Jewish students, UJS, allies and friends of Israel will not be deterred from being heard at these debates when they rightfully raise the concerns caused by the BDS movement on campus.
The only remaining question is, will they be listened to?