While Jewish students feel unwelcome, NUS is failing

This summer, students’ unions ran disaffiliation campaigns against NUS (the National Union of Students), and although we are celebrating that the majority stayed, what we cannot do as a movement is forget why they were triggered and what we have to do to ensure that we are addressing the concerns that students raised. One of the biggest concerns was anti-Semitism.

I recognise that some of these disaffiliation campaigns were led by Jewish students and it is vital that NUS works to listen to, and address those concerns. After NUS national conference, I spent time doing just this. I met Jewish societies across the country, to get their perspective on how we can move forward as a movement and be more welcoming to Jewish students.

What I found was that Jewish students were angry and upset that the movement that was meant to represent them was becoming an unwelcoming space for their voices. They wanted to feel that there are people in the movement who want to fight for our spaces to be welcoming for Jews. They felt that some officers in NUS don’t care as much as they could about Jewish students, and want to ensure that their voices are being heard.

But what I also found is that there have been problems within NUS structures for some time, and that recent elections in NUS have only highlighted these issues. It is important that we listen to Jewish students when they say something is anti-Semitic, not question it. To understand and address Jewish students’ concerns we must work with UJS to educate, inform and take action.

This is why I have commissioned research into experiences of Jewish students, not only within NUS, but inside student unions too. Particularly at a time of growing anti-Semitism, not only on the left but in society as a whole, it’s our duty at NUS to speak to Jewish students and try to find how we eradicate this, not only from our unions but from society.

Within NUS there is a long and proud history of Jewish student and UJS involvement in the student movement, working on combatting the far-right on campaigns, including leading efforts to No-Platform groups such as the National Front, and working with other groups of students to fight all forms of racism and fascism. However, it seems that the National Executive Council of NUS want to ensure that we are not working with UJS as closely as we have in the past — and this is something I stand totally against. I will keep fighting to ensure that UJS are present at the table when we are working on the ARAF (anti-racism/anti-fascism) campaign.

At this year’s National Conference, we passed a motion that committed to combating anti-Semitism and for NUS to officially commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day. Remembering all the people who were murdered and victimised under Nazi rule is incredibly important. As living memory fades, we must ensure that future generations remember these terrible scars on human history. They cannot be forgotten. There is no rationale or excuse for fascism and my journey to Auschwitz with the Holocaust Educational Trust showed me the human tragedy it leads to.

I was elected as NUS Vice President for Society and Citizenship to fight for votes at 16, sex and relationship education, and sustainability, all issues that NUS should be campaigning on. By making our spaces
unwelcoming for Jewish students, we are not only failing to focus on these challenges, we are failing as a movement that represents all students.

I want Jewish students to be able to take a leading part in my campaigns and in the work of NUS, and not have to simply defend their right to be there. We need Jewish students to get involved in student democracy on a local level on their campuses, and at a national level in NUS to change our movement, and once again ensure that Jewish student voices are at the heart of what we do.

About the Author
Rob Young is the Vice President (Society and Citizenship) for the National Union of Students
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