10 things I hate about Cambridge: The NUS — and it’s so much worse than you thought
Hear ye, hear ye! Here’s why we should be first in the queue to disaffiliate.
For anyone unfortunate enough to keep an eye on student politics, be it for personal so-called ‘interest’ or by tragic virtue of being a voting member of CUSU Council, the litany of bigotry is becoming straining.
Referring to Birmingham University as a ‘Zionist Outpost’ because of its large Jewish Society.
Talking about a ‘Zionist-led media’ as if the tropes that caused millions of deaths in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries aren’t at all damaging.
Failing to apologise – by which I mean the simple act of saying “I’m sorry” and being done with it – when 57 JSoc Presidents from across the country send you a letter saying that they’re, um, kinda worried.
I’m referring, of course, to Malia Bouattia, the recently elected President of the National Union of Students.
“I think you’ll find she was actually taking specific issue with the policies of successive Israeli governments with regards to occupied territories in –”. Stop. If it’s not too much of a grievous imposition for me to interrupt you, imagined interlocutor, no.
As my friend, fellow campaigner, and Israeli citizen Oriyan Prizant said in Monday night’s debate; she could have said “anti-Israel”. But she didn’t. She said “anti-Zionist”, and all this got much more complicated than it needed to be.
Her failure to apologise for and disavow her seriously damaging anti-Semitic rhetoric when asked to do so is the reason why 85% of those present at a meeting of Cambridge’s JSoc voted for a referendum on NUS membership, and why over 60% of them voted to disaffiliate in that referendum.
It’s also the reason why I got together with a group of people from across Cambridge to campaign for a referendum on NUS affiliation. Or as it’s become known, hashtag-let-cambridge-decide.
Working through this motion with CUSU Council on Monday, it became clear that the problem isn’t just the new President, and to place the blame entirely on her would be unfair and do the institution as a whole a huge favour that it does not deserve.
Some of these we’ve heard, and some we haven’t. At National Conference in April, delegates applauded and cheered speeches against a motion to support the commemoration of Holocaust Memorial Day.
In February, the National Executive Committee passed a motion stripping Jewish students of their automatic leadership place on the Anti-Racism Anti-Facism (ARAF) campaign.
One of the things I’ve found fascinating and concerning in the midst of all this is the lazy assimilation of what you are to what you therefore think.
To put it in more frank terms, the fact that somebody at the Cambridge J-Soc meeting supposedly said: “Why does Jack May care about anti-Semitism?”
As a gay man, I want everyone to care about homophobia. And I want them to care about it no matter from whom it comes. I want everyone to care about white evangelical Christians passing homophobic laws in South Carolina, and I want them to care about extremist ISIS fighters throwing gay people off buildings.
Sure, only me and my fellow gays can know what homophobia feels like – know what the bullying at school, the tip-toeing in social situations, the huge anxiety of coming out feels like, but everyone can, and should, know that it’s inhumane, abhorrent, and wrong.
So, why does Jack May care about anti-Semitism? Because it’s sick. It’s a stain on our society, and we shouldn’t abide it.
If all that – all of it – were it, it’d be bad enough. You’d pack your metaphorical bags and get on the next metaphorical bus making its way out of the NUS on the metaphorical disaffiliation highway.
But there’s more. A National Conference that rejected a motion to introduce One Member One Vote, stopping the seven million students across the country from having a direct say on their union’s leadership. A LGBT+ Conference that told me and my friends, most of whom have been bullied, hit, shunned by our parents, or a combination of all three, that we “don’t face oppression as gay men”. An organisation still operating by a system of factions like it’s the actual 1980s. A Conference of delegates that really thinks shutting down social media is the smart way to deal with the absolute state of our politics on campus.
As an affiliate of the NUS, your name is thrown in with the rest of them. Those odd enough to think that everything’s fine and dandy for the gays now, strange folk who think they have anything relevant to say about YikYak, and the frankly unsettling individuals who are all too willing to espouse damaging anti-Semitic rhetoric.
But we’re not powerless. The voice of 22,000 students at one of the world’s best-known Universities can speak with enormous power, and the message of Cambridge students choosing to break away from the NUS would be a huge wake-up call.
And it needn’t be forever. The motion that was passed on Monday night means there’ll be another referendum in three years’ time, so if you really want to you can jump straight back into the messy ball-pit of the NUS faster than you can say ‘procedural motion to take the motion in parts’.
For now, the situation is very simple for me. We have to say no to the NUS, sending a clear message that we want no part of a union that fails to root out bigotry and racism effectively; that fails to advocate meaningfully for its members while chasing the red herring of international relevance; and that actively obstructs attempts to make it more accountable, more representative, and more democratic.
We have to vote to disaffiliate from the NUS.