UK Jewish students get some out-of-class lessons

We showed that long-term relationship building works.

leeds uni 248.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
leeds uni 248.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
As the tensions around the Gaza conflict begin to subside and another round of the intellectually bankrupt "Israeli Apartheid Weeks" passes by, Jewish students have a chance to step back and take stock. These last few months have certainly been a challenge for the entire community and, as is so often the case, Jewish students were on the front line. In difficult times you learn more about people and this academic term has been the proof of that. No one can deny that the challenges facing Jewish students are great but once again the Union of Jewish Students' (UJS) long-term strategy to tackle them has proved successful. The steadfast support of the National Union of Students (NUS) and political groups like Labor Students has shown that long-term relationship building, built on a foundation of shared progressive values, works. During the height of the conflict the national chairperson of Labor Students wrote to UJS and stated that "Labor Students has never flinched from speaking out and standing with Jewish students to denounce anti-Semitism and racism of any kind, and I want you to know that that has not and will not change." At a time when condemning Israel and ignoring anti-Semitism seemed to be the easy way out, our real friends didn't let us down. THE RESPONSE from universities was not always so positive and those institutions who failed to stand up against hatred and support their students against some of the intimidation and harassment we witnessed will be held to account. The new government-led group to tackle campus anti-Semitism, launched by Minister for Higher Education David Lammy, will give UJS the opportunity to challenge the authorities head on and work with them to find solutions and models of best practice. Home Secretary Jacqui Smith also received a letter from Jewish students urging her to ensure that Hizbullah's communications head Ibrahim Moussawi was not given a visa to add to the already rising levels of hate speech we witness on UK campuses, and he was in fact barred from entering. We also learned about the expediency of anti-Semitism to so many on the supposedly anti-racist far left. Minorities engaged in the usual vitriolic demonization of Israel showed disregard for anti-Semitism and the usual lack of rational thinking around the Middle East. Token gestures toward racism are not good enough when dealing with any other form of discrimination and we won't accept them for anti-Semitism either. More than anything though, UJS learned about our members; they stood up and stood proud. As full-time students with degrees, extracurricular commitments and a social life, many of them put it all to one side and dedicated everything to the fight for Jewish students' rights. They continued their deep involvement in student political life, and in this past month students at Leeds University elected three Jewish sabbatical officers to lead their student union. Throughout the recent conflict UJS expressed a clear commitment to continuing our action plan and delivering on the activities we promised our membership. Despite great challenges, Jewish student life on campus has never been more thriving and enriched. UJS has ensured that positive Jewish experiences have continued with Israel Awareness Weeks, Tu Bishvat seders, Purim parties, Shabbat UK and the inaugural Jewish student lobby of Parliament. Those who want to see us silenced and intimidated learned about UJS and about Jewish students - we will never let our adversaries define our Jewish identity and nothing will stop us proudly expressing that identity on every campus in the UK and Ireland. The writer is chair of the Union of Jewish Students in the United Kingdom.