Despite enthusiastic involvement as a teenager, I didn’t think I would ever have the chance to be a part of the Jewish community again until Eran Cohen stepped up to run for President of the UJS.
I first heard of Tikun Olam during a peulah when I was ten. It made such a lasting impact – fifteen years later, I still remember the excitement that I could do something; that I could live my life in a way that might bring something positive and restorative to our broken world. We sat around a camp fire and sang “ani v’atah n’shaneh et ha’olam” – “you and I will change the world, you and I”. Next came volunteering, fundraising, campaigning, protesting. Imagine my disappointment, then, to learn how tokenistic and peripheral these philosophies were to my youth movement, and Jewish Society at University, alike; especially when it came to debates around Zionism.
On a year course in Israel, I spoke up about the JNF’s practice of planting trees to hide villages where Palestinians were murdered and expelled in 1948. I was called a terrorist and threatened. One fellow participant took my Palestinian flag and tried to set it on fire. Nothing puts you off the Jewish community like a death threat.
The success of Eran’s campaign demonstrates that I am not the only one who feels pushed out of the Jewish community. There are many, many other disillusioned Jewish students whose ears have pricked up at Eran’s promotional video promising a different Jewish student experience.
Eran’s campaign, bouncing between the facetious and the deadly serious, is exactly what the Jewish student community needs. The joke policies – from building an Eruv around every University, to providing Yiddish translations for all lectures – demonstrate just how seriously Jewish student politics has come to take itself. Eran pokes fun at this self-importance, provoking a much needed re-evaluation of what we stand for. And through that re-evaluation, Eran drives home some uncomfortable but important truths about how mainstream Jewish student politics has dramatically lost its way.
Eran exposes hypocrisies in how the Jewish community speaks about Israel. In 2000, when I first went on Jewish summer camp, a boycott of Nestlé was widely upheld and promoted. This was justified by their inexcusable practice of giving out free powdered milk to new mothers in areas of the world where water was likely to be contaminated, leading to the death of their newly born. And yet, boycotting produce from the West Bank – where a myriad of human rights abuses against Palestinians have been systematically enacted for decades – is met with a toxic anger and hostility.
The campaign goes far beyond the single issue of Zionism; Eran demonstrates how the biggest fight of our generation – the fight against tuition fees – has been wilfully neglected by the UJS. The last time they organised a Jewish bloc on an anti-fees demonstration was in 2010. Over the last six years, the marketization of our education has only intensified with maintenance grants scrapped and fees set to rise exponentially. Numbers of International students have been limited, reflecting the ever worsening racist border controls restricting migration. The UJS were mandated last year to support the NUS #cutthecosts campaign but a Jewish voice in the movement is conspicuous only in its silence. Education is central to Jewish religion, culture and history; this is the fight that will be instrinsic to Eran’s strategy should he win this election.
Despite the hostility with which he has been met, Eran’s policies provide an exciting insight into what the Jewish community have the potential to achieve. It’s time for us all to step up – there is too much at stake not to.
A message from Eran: “I’ve been in the media plenty, my views are abundantly clear. This campaign isn’t about me though, it’s about the people I want to represent, and their voices should be just as loud as mine, which is why the article has been written by a supporter of the campaign.”