Don’t slate the NUS, it’s the perfect platform to fight anti-Semitism
As a Jewish NUS member, I’ve seen their work tackling hate crime first hand
Anti-Semitic hate crime rose by 36 per cent in 2016. In this context, as a Jewish student, I’ve closely watched the debate surrounding the NUS’s record with racism – and anti-Semitism in particular – as it has evolved over the past couple years.
As Frankie Simons, author of a recent Tab article writes, it is absolutely true that Jewish students need allies in an NUS that fiercely stands up against racism. And Simons is absolutely right to say that saying you’re not racist and proving you’re not racist are two very different things.
Apologising is a necessary part of becoming a better ally, but it is not enough. Apologies must be coupled with a determination to take action.
The last year, under Malia Bouattia’s presidency, the NUS has seen a real uptake of just that. This is not just talk. From organising events to tackle hate crime, to supporting students’ unions to become third-party reporting centres which actively monitor crime and support victims, the NUS has acted to tackle racism on campus and in wider society.
Furthermore, Bouattia has resuscitated the NUS’s work on faith and belief after it was scrapped by previous Presidents. She has ensured the inclusion of anti-Semitism in work against online bullying and harassment, promoted and commemorated Holocaust Memorial Day with the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and hosted a series of roundtables on Hate Crime, including one on anti-Semitic hate crime.
Having gone to the NUS’ “Trump, Brexit, and Beyond” national summit organised earlier this year, I witnessed the breadth of the panels and workshops dedicated to tackling racism in all its forms. This included a brilliant workshop on tackling anti-Semitism, led by UJS and a member of the Pears Institute for the Study of Anti-Semitism.
Similarly, as part of its interfaith and cohesion work, the NUS is organising a leadership conference for women of faith, with Jewish and Muslim students, to enable those of us who face the complexity of our intersecting oppressions, to lead the fight back.
The work on tackling hate crime that the NUS is leading on is particularly important in the current climate. The anti-migrant rhetoric stoked by political parties during the referendum and its aftermath has thrown up a worrying amount of hate crime across British society.
Physical assaults in the street, racist abuse, and outright discriminatory laws are increasingly becoming our new normal. The current general election, effectively fought over Brexit’s terms, is likely to stoke up similar feelings. This process is affecting the Jewish community also.
Indeed, this year’s Community Security Trust report on anti-Semitism, by far the most reliable source on the question, recorded a sharp rise in attacks in the last 12 months. The report indicates that a number of factors, including the rise of a climate of racism and hate in the aftermath of Brexit, have driven up the number of anti-Semitic incidents. The immediate aftermath of the referendum saw the sharpest rise of anti-Semitic incidents across the year.
The NUS is fighting a racism that pervades society, a structural, embedded racism that has no easy answers. Learning and evolving is one step to becoming a principled anti-racist. Our next step must be to be willing and prepared to take action.
To say that the NUS is full of empty promises when it comes to tackling anti-Semitism flies in the face of the evidence. Over this past year, the NUS has acted by fighting inequalities, tackling systemic failures in education, and addressing hate on our campuses. Simons says that Jewish students need allies — and we absolutely do.
With attacks against Jews, People of Colour, Migrants and Muslims on the rise in the UK, we must stand together collectively to fight racism and xenophobia across society. The NUS is currently offering us the best platform it ever has, to do just that.