Were Israel critic Annie Cohen to win the presidency of the Union of Jewish Students next week, it would trigger a political earthquake akin to that of Jeremy Corbyn’s takeover of the Labour Party.
What chance, you ask. The similarities are several: both Cohen and Corbyn are socialists, both take the side of the Palestinians when it comes to debating the Middle East, and both play to a caucus largely ignored – until now.
Jewish bloggers have written Cohen off as a “time-waster,” but while the chances of her heading UJS when voting closes on Friday are slim to non-existent, so too were Corbyn’s of succeeding Ed Miliband. So watch this space.
Democracy, it seems, has a habit of surprising us.
UJS can take credit for offering a level playing field – this is the second year running that one of the three candidates vying to lead it has been no fan of Israel – and one wonders whether you’d see this in the US.
Indeed, Cohen says she wants to make the Jewish union more representative of and open to Jewish students who, like her, identify as “non-Zionist”.
- OPINION – Lawrence Rosenberg: Jewish students aren’t snowflakes
- OPINION – Annie Cohen: My non Zionism makes me the best candidate to lead this union
- OPINION – Hannah Rose: Empowering Jewish life on campus is at the core of my identity
A progressive Jew brought up in Golders Green by a single dad “who made a mean schnitzel,” Cohen is studying History and Yiddish in London, and wears her Palestinian flag on her sleeve.
She is a former president of the UCL Friends of Palestine Society, and is now a member of Jews for Justice for Palestinians (JFJFP) and Jewdas, a Jewish anti-Zionist collective which last year supported Eran Cohen in the UJS presidential elections, who won more than 80 votes, finishing a distant third.
Cohen is challenging Hannah Rose, vice-president of the Jewish Society (J-Soc) at Bristol whose sister Ella is director of Jewish Labour Movement (JLM), and Lawrence Rosenberg, president of Manchester J-Soc.
Rose, who describes herself as a Zionist and a feminist, set up Bristol’s Israel-Palestine discussion group, and promises to continue reaching out to “all Jews” if she were elected to head the student body (she writes “all” in bold letters), adding that her campaign “isn’t about my politics,” before outlining that she would “deliver thriving, empowering, peer-led networks,” whatever that means.
Meanwhile Rosenberg is a leader of the Pinsker Centre, an organisation that pledges its “unwavering commitment” to defend the State of Israel in campus discussions. He describes BDS supporters as “vicious” and promises “inclusivity,” but his vision of UJS is for an organisation doing more for A-Level students, because “so many Jewish students get lost at university and lose a part of their identity”.
Jewish News took a light-hearted look at each of the three candidates, allocating points accordingly.
Read on to reveal our predicted winner…
Presentation: Both Rose and Rosenberg released campaign videos – a brave move. The former, if watched with the sound on mute, appears to be rapping, while Rosenberg appears to be holding a large imaginary brick throughout, as if channelling former Tory leader Michael Howard. Still, it’s a point for each for trying, while two points go to Cohen for having the wisdom not to physically feature in her own video, which is set to some very catchy music.
- You can watch Hannah Rose’s campaign video by clicking here.
- You can watch Lawrence Rosenberg’s campaign video by clicking here.
- You can watch Annie Cohen’s campaign video by clicking here.
Food: Cohen’s big on beigels and says she’s not sure what offended her family more – the way she pronounces her favourite Jewish foodstuff or her loud and public criticism of the state we hold dear. Hmmm, close call. Rose, meanwhile, is keen on a hummus pitta, and while her mum doesn’t actually make hummus, “she buys it excellently”. Rosenberg is into schnitzel and when we say points will be awarded to those praising mothers he duly praises his mother’s schnitzel. Unfortunately, he then takes it a tad too far, saying: “My mum is my absolute best friend, my dad too.” He continues: “When she treats the family to schnitzel Friday night? Oooooo, the thought gets me hungry right now!” So, a point to Rose for non-sickening mum-praise, while two points are deducted from Rosenberg for going way too far on a food question and for using the non-word ‘ooooo’. Cohen meanwhile neither earns nor gains points because we still don’t know how she pronounces beigel.
Israel: Yes, the big one. Rose says criticism “shouldn’t be hypothetical” but then bemoans only the length of time Israeli politicians serve for and asks that Israelis may be a bit more courteous to Diaspora Jews – hardly hard-hitting. Rosenberg says “being a Zionist doesn’t mean you shouldn’t criticise Israel” before proceeding not to criticise Israel, saying instead that he “doesn’t need to be mouthing off about the only Jewish nation state”. He adds: “If you’re looking for the pro-Israel candidate, that’s me.” It’s certainly not Cohen. Asked what she’d criticise about Israel, she unfurls her dissertation. “Where to start?” she asks. “Racism? House demolitions? The siege of Gaza, condemning its inhabitants to devastating poverty with no freedom of movement or currently even running water? Ruling over millions of West Bank Palestinians without giving them the vote? Assuming they speak for the Jewish diaspora?” OK, point taken, Annie, and talking of points, that’ll be minus 100. Meanwhile there’s two points for Rosenberg for taking Israel advocacy to a whole new level, but three points for Rose for demonstrating that it’s good to criticise, just not too much.
Personality: Always a tough one, given that we’ve never met any of the candidates, but clues can nevertheless be gleaned. Cohen says “UJS doesn’t have to be boring,” thereby implying it is, thereby implying she isn’t. Rosenberg name-drops chums like Sir Eric Pickles and Dame Nancy Rothwell who “even changed the date of a visit to a local high school just so I could attend with her,” so we’re guessing he’s a take-him-anywhere kind of guy. Rose, meanwhile, wears baggy hoodies with long sleeves and liberally sprinkles words like “shlep” and “nachas” into conversation, so we’ve taken a punt at her being the centrist personality of the three. Points for personalities? All three get a point for having one.
Politics: Cohen’s policies include better student parties and playing klezmer music loudly outside Lord Levy’s house until he donates to the UJS hardship fund, so we’re going to call her ‘left-wing.’ Rosenberg swears blind he’s not a student politician (“I’m just a normal third year”) but is an associate director at an organisation whose founder was recently caught on camera screaming that Islam was “a violent religion” so we’re unconvinced. Despite this, Rosenberg is definitely a two-stater, last month writing that “Israelis now have a state – and it’s now time for Palestinians to have theirs too”. This of course echoes the Labour Party policy of recognising the State of Palestine, and Rose is Labour too, but Blair Labour, not Corbyn Labour. Focusing on antisemitism on campus, kosher food, Jewish holiday timetabling clashes and increasing awareness of UJS, she steers clear of national issues, and could thus be considered the Continuity Candidate by those who didn’t know better.
Cohen fails to graduate for not representing most Jewish students on the defining campus issue, but gains kudos for calling her manifesto an ‘anniefesto’ and for coining the word “orthodoxnormativity”. Rosenberg graduates with a 2:2 because he “missed essay deadlines” because he was up all night trying to bring kosher food to the Jewish students of Manchester, so a hero, but a failed hero. All of which leaves Hannah Rose to take the honours with a 2:1, in large part for the following immortal line: “It is a little known fact that the Rose Family seder of 2004 is so holy, we still haven’t finished it today.”
- You can see more information about the candidates and the election on the UJS website: http://www.ujs.org.uk/ujs_candidates_announced