The UJS Conference gave Jewish students in the UK the opportunity to debate and decide policy for the coming year and saw motions raised over a wide range of issues. Here the Union of Jewish Students (UJS) give us their official analysis on the motions raised at last Sunday’s Conference, their outcomes and what they mean for the future – over to UJS! [divider]
By the Union of Jewish Students.
Sunday 15th December saw Jewish students from across the UK gather together to vote for how they want their union to take shape for the coming year. UJS Conference is a long-established opportunity for students to put forward motions, debate them with their peers and then vote on them. Delegates from over 30 universities represented the voice of Jewish students at this years’ UJS Conference.
One of the first motions up for debate was a motion proposing that the popular “Booze 4 Jews” event should be funded by UJS. The proposer suggested that, ‘as some of the largest gatherings of Jewish students, run by students, it is in UJS’s interest to have a part in these events.’
Delegates stood up and spoke against the motion, arguing that UJS money could be better spent on other programmes. A number of delegates pointed out that UJS has a policy of not funding alcohol-based events. The motion failed almost unanimously, demonstrating the majority of Jewish students’ desire for programming and events of cultural substance over just ‘a good time’.
Delegates speaking against the motion also reminded Conference that “Booze 4 Jews” is a good way for individual J-Socs to fundraise.
They suggested that it is important for such events to remain wholly peer-led so that J-Socs can maintain autonomy and retain a sense of achievement when money is successfully raised independent of UJS head-office.
Alongside the passionate discussions on UJS policy and priorities, students had further opportunities to represent the causes and concerns of themselves and their peers. These include standing for election to UJS National Council – a committee of Jewish students who meet monthly to hold the UJS President to account and ensure that all motions passed at Conference are being adhered to – or as one of UJS’s twelve delegates to the Board of Deputies of British Jews.
The only female student to be elected onto the National Council for the coming year was Hannah Brady, a 3rd year student from Kings. Hannah is the founder and chair of the UJS Disabled Students Network and also the proposer of an incredibly well-supported and successful motion at Conference this year.
Hannah proposed that ‘UJS commits to providing compulsory accessibilities training for all J-Soc committee members and UJS Team members and that all UJS national events comply with accessibility training advice.’ The final part of the motion proposed that ‘J-Socs should be rewarded for their commitment to making their events as accessible and inclusive as possible’.
The motion passed with unanimous support.
Despite only one female student being elected onto the incoming National Council, there was great success for female students in other areas. Chair of NUS Toni Pearce came and spoke to delegates and highlighted the importance of supporting young women to pursue their career ambitions, especially in politics.
Toni spoke of discussions she had been having with fellow NUS sabbaticals to try and initiate a special conference specifically female Jewish students. This was met with very positive reception, especially from Melissa Leigh the founder and chair of the UJS Women’s Network.
Another great achievement for female members of UJS was the election of Ella Rose as next year’s President. Ella will be the first female UJS President in seven years and only the third woman to hold the position in 40 years of UJS.
Amongst the improvements to representation, excitement of having a newly elected Board Of Deputies, National Council and President, a positive stride forward for accessibility and inclusion, there were also three passionately debated motions regarding Israel.
You can find the full text of all the motions here. Some excerpts from those related to Israel are to follow.
Something we hope everyone within our Union can celebrate is the varied range of views on Israel expressed by members with passion and conviction. Jewish students should feel proud that UJS is seeking to be unified without being uniform.
A recurring theme at Conference was the balance being sought between setting policy for the union, whilst allowing for J-Soc autonomy and respect for varying individual students’ perspectives. Whether it be suggesting more be done by UJS and J-Socs to combat BDS or the proposal that Israel advocacy be separated form J-Soc activity, people with divergent perspectives all wanted to respect the multitude of views and ensure J-Socs remain a community where all Jewish students feel welcome and heard.
There was an important clarification made during one debate by students who supported combatting BDS but also wanted to separate Israel advocacy from J-Soc activity.
It was suggested that advocacy may be understood as supporting particular government actions or policies; whereas combatting BDS could be understood in terms of supporting a nuanced approach to seeking a two state solution that respects the national self-determination of both Israelis and Palestinians.
During the debate on J-Socs’ having a relationship with Israel, some dismay was shared at the notion that all J-Socs should support Israel. This was then clarified, to explain that the motion was not calling for blind ‘support’, but rather for a baseline of support for Israel’s ‘right to exist’. Most importantly, this motion was seeking to ensure that our engagement with Israel goes beyond the current political situation. In doing so this ‘will enable a space to be created for dialogue including critiques of policy and difference in political opinion, anyone can participate!…It is for each J-soc to decide how to bring this conversation to their campus, but this motion expresses the will of UJS conference that J-Socs make that happen.’
Conference this year once again demonstrated the diversity of UJS membership. At the heart of all topics debated was a respect for our core value of cross-communalism.
Different students with different belief systems and different views represented their positions. They were listened to and given space to share their ideas. In some cases minds were drastically changed because of how well a speaker addressed the floor and explained their perspective.
Conference helps to enable UJS to remain entirely peer-led. When a unions’ membership contains so many contrasting and conflicting ideas and opinions, it is essential that spaces for debates on topics like this are given so that the union is truly representative as well.
The UJS Conference 2013 was most certainly peer-led, representative, cross communal and provided plenty of Israel engagement. We look forward to seeing the UJS team, J-Soc leadership and Jewish students throughout the UK and Ireland turning the many passionate and inspiring words aired at conference into powerful action.
Let the sensitive and sophisticated conversations continue, and if there is a particular policy or programme you want to shape, get involved!
Conference is the pinnacle of demonstrating that UJS is YOUR union, supporting President Joe Tarsh’s manifesto pledge to keep you in the picture.
Now it is time to get creative and continue painting that picture together!