The NUS can’t be reformed from within
Do you hate anti-Semitism so much that you want to stay in the NUS and fight against it?
Voting is now open in the NUS disaffiliation referendum. Vote by following this link. Vote Yes for disaffiliation or No to remain affiliated.
That is genuinely really wonderful to hear and means a lot to me. It means a lot to me that you, as a fellow Jew or ally, care about the hatred that I face.
I hope that your enthusiasm will continue long after this rather intense flurry of discussion. I also don’t think you’re going to achieve anything; in fact, you’ll achieve less than you would simply by voting to disaffiliate. Here’s why.
The majority of people in power in the NUS have no interest in dealing with anti-Semitism. If they cared, they wouldn’t have supported Malia Bouattia’s presidential bid, but they did. If the majority of delegates cared, they wouldn’t have voted for her, but they did. If the National Executive Committee cared, they wouldn’t have removed the only guaranteed representation for Jewish students in the organisation, but they did. If the NUS Vice-President Richard Brooks – who has been so vocal about our duty to engage with the NUS to drive out anti-Semitism – cared, he would have called out his new boss for her bigotry. But he didn’t.
Currently, the better half of the NUS’s representatives and supporters are scrambling to look like they care. They’re claiming to have launched a review into anti-Semitism, although that review predates the election of Malia, was set up by her, does not specify anti-Semitism as a particular focus and is running ten months late. Brooks has promised that Jewish representation on ARAF will be restored, by which he means that he will propose to the same committee that just abolished the position that they reverse their decision. Disillusioned Jewish Students are being told that next year’s conference will be completely different, while the same NUS Sabbatical Officers describe the most recent conference as “the most pleasant and pluralist” they’ve attended.
The other – bigger – half of the NUS continues to ignore anti-Semitism entirely. In a statement they published in response to the initial calls for disaffiliation, they didn’t even refer to anti-Semitism. At the OUSU debate in which a referendum was called, defenders of the NUS didn’t mention anti-Semitism until a Jewish observer tweeted to call them out directly. These omissions are worrying in and of themselves, but they also undermine the claim made by the first half that anti-Semitism is being addressed.
The NUS has had a problem with anti-Semitism for decades. In 2005 Luciana Berger, who’s now the Shadow Minister for Mental Health, resigned from her position as co-convener of the Anti-Racism Anti-Fascism committee. She did so because of anti-Semitism, and the NUS’s failure to address or even acknowledge it. She described being spat on at a conference, seeing flyers distributed quoting from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and a Union of Jewish Students stand being attacked, all without a response from the leadership. And the problem is more than 11 years old. My mum went as a delegate to the NUS in the mid 80s to fight against motions attempting to ban Jewish Societies; similar motions had been coming up since the 70s.
Jewish students have been fighting anti-Semitism year in, year out for decades with no results, and now for the first time we are being heard. That’s because the NUS isn’t concerned with our engagement, but it is concerned about our disaffiliation. If you vote to stay, the pressure that we have built up, the admissions of fault that we have extracted and the media scrutiny that we’ve generated will disappear. The new executive and this year’s delegates will be vindicated, and the NUS will continue its descent into bigotry and irrelevance.
If you want to take a stand against anti-Semitism, there’s only one way to do it.
Editor’s note: The reference to Helena Blair’s status of 24th May was written before the author had read her article of the 25th. The reference has now been removed entirely at the request of the author.