Esther Offenberg elected next UJS President
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Esther Offenberg elected next UJS President

Israeli-German psychologist sees off challenge from Lauren Keiles and Joanna Phillips

Joe Millis is a journalist

Esther Offenberg has been elected the new President of the Union of Jewish Students.

Israeli-German psychologist Offenberg, who studies at the University of Birmingham, who won 52.9 percent of the third round votes, saw off challenges from Lauren Keiles of Leeds University (47.1 per cent) and Joanna Phillips of the University of Bath, who was eliminated at the second round with 8.8 percent of the 986 votes.

The UJS President-elect said: “Thank you to everyone who voted, everyone who was by my side throughout these elections and also thank you to Lauren and Joanna for being such great candidates and running incredible campaigns.

“This election year already started off great with the first of having all female candidates and in the year to come I am excited to see more regional work with our campuses, having more student led initiatives surrounding mental health, celebrating all of our identities and so much more.

“I am looking forward to implementing my manifesto and working with our student community to shape our Union, so we continue to be the best voice of Jewish students we can be.”

Esther’s manifesto covers a wide range of important topics. One of her focuses will be Social Action, introducing new initiatives and events across campuses.

As an Israeli, engagement with the country is close to her heart, and she is planning on creating a conference to discuss and educate about social, political, cultural and religious issues in Israel and the Middle East.

Esther also wants to ensure that J-Socs within the same region can work together on important and pressing campaigns, further connecting a network of J-Socs. This way, she plans on strengthening connections to be able to stand up and combat antisemitism effectively.

Furthermore, the President-elect plans on creating more Mental Health support with a peer-led support network, as well support for international students.

Joanna Phillips

Current President Hannah Rose said: “Congratulations to Esther on her election! I am proud to have a woman successor, leading, defending and enriching Jewish life on campus in the 100th year of UJS.

“I would also like to congratulate the other two candidates, their teams and all the Jewish students who participated in this election. It is so inspiring to see almost 1,000 Jewish students engaging in our democracy, having their say and shaping their union.

“Every year, UJS conference shows that our student community cares about what we do, and proves this by engaging in the debates at conference. We have passed some incredible motions this year, and I have no doubt the President-elect will do a great job implementing these in her mandate. We will continue to work to be unified and not uniform, using our diversity as our strength and celebrating Jewish life on campus.”

Meanwhile, UJS passed a motion supporting Israel’s democratic civil society organisations, such as Breaking the Silence, Yesh Din and B’Tselem.

Proposed by Noah Libson of Goldsmiths University, London, the motion said: “UJS represents a proud Zionist voice, one which supports Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. As such, we have the responsibility of defending and protecting Israel when it is slandered, but also ensuring that civil society organisations such as Breaking the Silence, Yesh Din and B’Tselem can continue to be part of and uphold Israeli democracy.”

Lauren Keiles

The motion added that these organisations “ensure that the [Israeli] government maintains democratic principles such as equality and freedom of expression – principles laid out in the Declaration of Independence as essential components of the Jewish and democratic state of Israel.”

However, it warned that these organisations were “threatened by anti-democratic policies proposed to the Knesset and an increasingly hostile and shrinking democratic space, where those who are supposed to be safeguarding these principles of democracy – members of the Knesset – often publicly”.

Among other motions adopted at the conference reiterated UJS’ support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and support for tackling male mental health, as well as having a UJS bloc at Pride.

UJS also supported calls for a second referendum on Brexit – also known as the People’s Vote.

Jewish students who are supporters of For our Future’s Sake – a youth and student-led campaign – debated whether to support a People’s Vote, proposed by Gabe Milne, a student from Sheffield, and seconded by Sally Patterson from Bristol University and Nathan Boroda from Warwick University and the motion overwhelmingly passed.

The motion, called “A Brexit Deal that works for Students”, said “if the deal is voted down in Parliament on 11 December, UJS should stand with Jewish students studying across the EU and the UK, join the fight against the far right and support a People’s Vote on the Brexit Deal.”

Boroda said: “I’m proud that once again Jewish students are making their voices heard, on the biggest issue in politics right now. It’s clear that this Brexit Deal will hurt us as students – limiting our opportunities and undermining the economy – and as part of the Jewish community – where Brexit is giving rise to the far right.”

The conference was addressed by Lord Pickles, who lit the Chanukah candles, Home Secretary Sajid Javid, Lord Dubbs and NUS President Shakira Martin, who reiterated her support for Jewish students in their fight against antisemitism.

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