The NUS is a route to a better future, not the root of all evil – VOTE NO
I need the NUS to support me and all the other minorities this privileged university bubble contains
Voting is now open in the NUS disaffiliation referendum. Vote by following this link. Vote Yes for disaffiliation or No to remain affiliated.
As an English student mid-exam revision, I’m not fond of getting into the nitty gritty of lexis and word definitions in my free time.
It is clear, however, that in the past few weeks the term ‘anti-Zionism’ and all the debates surrounding it have become too weighted to ignore.
Zionism, as defined by the OED, is ‘the movement among modern Jews having for its object the assured settlement of their race upon a national basis in Palestine’. Arguments have been made that many Jewish students find anti-Zionism an anti-Semitic trope. Further, that any attempt to disagree with this shared feeling is, in itself, anti-Semitic in not allowing Jews the right extended to other minorities to define the prejudice they experience.
The key problem with this argument, specifically concerning the controversy over the term ‘Zionism’, is that by allowing Jews to define it as anti-Semitic, the Palestinian voice is silenced. Zionism, is clearly linked to the Palestinian struggle and therefore the term must be defined by Palestinians as much as by Jews. Defining Zionism simply as the right of Jewish peoples to a state, denies the historical events, and the expense it came at for Palestine. Furthermore, conflating anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism is dangerous in two ways. It shuts down political debate over the human rights violations committed by the Israeli state, while also trivialising the actual persistent and increasing anti-Semitism within our universities and wider society.
Regardless of Malia Bouattia’s political intentions, which have often been misrepresented, her rhetoric has nevertheless caused offence in the Jewish student population. This is not something to be debated. This must be addressed, as it is important for all students, and all minorities to feel safe and supported. Already Malia has responded to an open letter from 57 Jewish society presidents, but following CUSU council it was agreed by student representatives including those of the Cambridge Jewish Students Union that this was not enough, and on behalf of the student population the current CUSU president has now written a letter urging the NUS to tackle anti-Semitism and safe-guard the rights of Jewish student activists.
There is a danger, however, in tying all problems of anti-Semitism to an individual, and a single institution, and the suggestion that disaffiliation from the NUS at this current time will somehow resolve and remove anti-Semitism from our campus is naïve at best. The disaffiliation campaign, started within hours of Malia’s Presidency, ties all the problems of anti-Semitism, and anti-Semitism within the NUS, to an individual, even suggesting the option of a referendum to re-affiliate once Malia’s presidency ends.
The problems of anti-Semitism are not solely with Malia. Or the NUS. Or Cambridge. They are with a flawed, patriarchal, heteronormative, white society that rejects anyone ‘Other’. They are perpetuated through actions and rhetoric clearly rising within our institutions, but suggesting that a specific person or body is responsible for a form of racism is poisonous to the fight to recognise and eradicate it, treating as menial the vast expanse of prejudice.
The disaffiliation campaign seems to present a perfect-isolation view of Cambridge without the NUS. This is nonsense. CUSU will not collapse without it, but minority students will have less support and representation without its autonomous campaigns. It would be arrogant to suppose that we would still somehow have a political voice against government reforms affecting students. As a student benefitting from a number of the NUS autonomous campaigns, I need the NUS to support me and all the other minorities this privileged university bubble contains. This is not to pit certain minorities against others, or suggest that Jewish students concerns are any less significant that any other minority, but to recognise the negative effect disaffiliation will have on all Cambridge student minorities, and to understand that problems of anti-Semitism extend to our own campus.
This referendum cannot be trivialised as the mere making of a statement. The rights and support of too many students are at risk. It is about recognising that every organisation is flawed, including the NUS, but that the way to deal with this is to fight for equality from within. To fight the anti-Semitism within it, and then use this to fight the anti-Semitism within our own university with its aid. Likewise to recognise that Cambridge is not a perfect little bubble that will be freed from prejudice by distancing itself from the big bad NUS. Rather, without the union it will inevitably become less representative of all minorities, whether these be Jewish, black, female, LGBT+, or those from an under-privileged background.
And so I am compelled, in my recognition of the importance and power of unions, despite all their flaws, to vote in support of diversifying Cambridge, supporting all its minorities, and fighting racism through activism and involvement, whilst retaining a student political voice.
That is to say, to vote No to Disaffiliation.