The latest bump in the road for Jewish students and NUS shows the relationship is more about trust than anti-Semitism.
This week we saw the National Union of Students send a form out to its members – asking students their religion.
And for the second time in the past 12 months, Judaism was not included.
Jewish students of course complained, but unlike the previous time when a bog-standard apology was issued, Shakira Martin, the new president, was up-front about the glaring error.
Posting a five minute video online (which you can watch here), she apologised. She said “actions speak louder than words”, which is true, and promised to “fix it”. She importantly also said she was “so angry”.
This was a personal message, and a paradigm shift from her predecessor.
A message from me to all Jewish Students https://t.co/oDob2AQ7Y5
— Shakira Martin (@ShakiraSweet1) January 5, 2018
When the same thing happened in July 2017, NUS, then under Malia Bouattia, issued a standard press release apology, adding that “we believe that this was a genuine mistake from NUS Services and we are glad that the NUS leadership dealt with issue swiftly and NUS staff corrected the form quickly.”
In other words, we’re sorry, but it’s not really our fault.
That was the impersonal and insincere attitude of the previous administration.
The second time, under Martin’s leadership, she is clear in saying: “it’s unacceptable, and I just want to reassure the whole Jewish community that I will be dealing with this.”
In taking personal responsibility, instead of brushing it off as an administrational error, she has an opportunity to show where she stands on the relations with Jewish students.
It’s a glaring error. But previously, this mistake was seen as part of Bouattia’s wider approach.
She had earmarked herself, not just as problematic for Jewish students with her anti-Israel views, but her rhetoric bled into anti-Semitic language. With talk of the ‘Zionist controlled media’, calling Birmingham University a ‘Zionist outpost’, among other things, she was actively hostile, and a roadblock to good relations.
Martin, when elected, vowed to rebuild relations. She acknowledged Bouattia’s legacy, saying relations had “a challenging past on these issues, with years of toxic debate and a lack of consistency and commitment,” on tackling anti-Semitism.
These problems will hopefully go away if she takes personal responsibility, but more than anything, it will go a long way to rebuilding trust.
This is a student leader who Jewish students can work with, and if she continues to show she cares, and is genuinely angry by such instances, problems will no longer be seen as being institutionalised from the top.