Jack Mendel
The Online Editor at the Jewish News

Students may get a Brexit and Trump moment on Sunday

Sunday could be the Jewish student armageddon or a near-fatal miss, but one way or another it will be a wake-up call.

Jewish students will elect their next leader and decide upon their relations with NUS on the weekend; which could potentially isolate the union and its members in the near future.

The next UJS president will be one of three candidates. Josh Holt and Adam Schapira are the mainstream options, with left-wing pro-BDS student Eran Cohen in the outside lane.

Not many are giving Cohen a chance, but given the fact that 2016 has already seen Britain vote to leave the EU and Donald Trump elected president, not to mention Leicester City winning the league; you wouldn’t write him off. It’s certainly making people nervous.

The other decision on Sunday is UJS voting on its working relationship with the National Union of Students.

There has been a lot of friction between UJS and NUS because of the controversial president Malia Bouattia’s anti-Israel and allegedly anti-Semitic positions.

The unions have met before, but to no avail; and this week, the UJS president wrote an op-ed, in which he gave an ultimatum to Bouattia.

He said: “until she apologises for her anti-Semitic comments – directly to Jewish students… it won’t surprise me if Jewish students vote to suspend UJS’ working relationship with NUS.”

So, what is going to happen? In the long and short term, these decisions will have a big impact.

The likelihood is Cohen won’t get in, but regardless, it’s not going to be the end.

Eran’s candidacy will likely have a hangover, as he has galvanised marginalised Jewish students, who feel pushed out by the conventional Jewish student world.

This could be a slow-burner.

We could see outsider-candidates challenging more in the future, which is not something UJS is accustomed to.

But the NUS split is a realistic and imminent possibility, and could be a catalyst to further changes.

Now, Malia won’t be president forever.

If they split with NUS, they will re-evaluate at some point in the near-future, when someone new is elected.

Jewish students have been thrust into making two calls which put them in a doubly vulnerable position. The outcome has to be to prevent Jewish students being put in this position again.

So, the union needs to mend relations with NUS, and reconsider how it engages with marginalised students.

It could look isolationist and as if UJS doesn’t want to engage with either the wider student body or the less ‘mainstream’ Jewish student.

By opening up new channels on certain issues, namely the murky territory of anti-Semitic anti-Zionism, and fighting intimidation on campus; perhaps this communication breakdown won’t happen again, and perhaps it won’t give rise to an outsider candidate.

In reality, being cut off from NUS could be the student version of Brexit, and having the UJS establishment fundamentally challenged, could be their student version of Trump winning.

These two votes might make bold statements, but they could also plunge Jewish students into the student spotlight in a way which won’t be pleasant.

About the Author
Jack Mendel is the Online Editor at the Jewish News.
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