OPINION – #UJSElects: I’m the scary anti-Zionist running for UJS President

OPINION – #UJSElects: I’m the scary anti-Zionist running for UJS President

Joanna Phillips, who is running to be the next president of the Union of Jewish Students, tells us her vision if she were to win

Joanna Phillips
Joanna Phillips

The world is frightening. For any student the world is pretty frightening, with deadlines, the threat of permanent unemployment, Brexit uncertainty and impending climate disaster. For Jewish students, the threat of antisemitism adds yet another terror to the list. We wear hats, as Tevye tells us, because we never know when things might go sour. I understand why for so many Jews, a nation-state has seemed liked the only solution to antisemitism.

I am not a Zionist. My Judaism is not one that requires passports, citizenships, armies or borders. As a diasporist, I believe my safety as a Jew comes not from states but from solidarity. For some people, that is enough to exclude me from the Jewish community. I’ve been told to resign from my J-Soc committee for supporting Palestinians. Like many others, I’ve been called a kapo more times than I can count. I’m sure the fact I have stood for UJS president will enrage many in the community beyond belief. I worry deeply about the toxicity surrounding this political debate. I want to lead a UJS that not only understands, not only tolerates, but celebrates political difference.

For my placement year, I worked for a group called Jews for Racial and Economic Justice. There, I witnessed Jews being led by communities most impacted by inequality both inside and outside the Jewish community. We showed up against deportations, to press for urgent policing reform, to fight for elder and disabled care and for workers’ rights. And in return, our non-Jewish neighbours showed up for us with love and commitment. If we ever felt let down by someone, we picked up the phone and met with them, building with love and understanding.

I want to lead a UJS which looks like this. I want us to take our solidarity with refugees past simple humanitarian aid to pushing for real political intervention, campaigning for complete freedom of movement. I want us to consider community safety from the point of view of those most marginalised: Jews of colour and trans Jews who do not feel safe in police presence, and who are targeted by community security for not ‘looking Jewish’. I want us to engage with other communities from a base point of mutual respect and willingness to cooperate, not political point scoring. Finally, I want UJS to create a serious strategy of engaging Jews like myself who so often have been met with nothing but hatred from our own community.

The world is frightening. States don’t keep us safe. We must defend each other, and under my UJS, we will.


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