When a quarter of Jewish students receive abuse, we are sick of empty apologies

Another day, another NUS antisemitism scandal

Over the past few years, Jewish students have felt increasingly alienated from the NUS. In a recent survey commissioned by Robbie Young in his capacity as NUS VP Society and Citizenship it was found that 49 per cent of Jewish students would not feel comfortable attending NUS events, 42 per cent would not feel comfortable engaging in NUS policymaking processes and an enormous 65 per cent either disagreed or strongly disagreed that NUS would respond appropriately to allegations of antisemitism if they arose. Incidents of antisemitism seem to emerge more and more and evidently, it’s pushing Jewish students away and we are sick of it.

We are sick of our National Union not taking our concerns seriously. We are sick of antisemitism being used as a political football with apologies only being published when someone’s offensive comments are bad for their public profile. We are sick of antisemitism in the movement and the subsequent apologies being used as a way to showcase a manifesto in a national election.

For those who have apologised for their comments, and Ali Milani in particular, thank you. Apologies are the first step to rectifying the damage that has been caused by your actions, but an apology is just the beginning and is definitely not the end. Jewish students and the Union of Jewish Students have repeatedly seen apologies being posted across social media with no follow up to even see what Jewish students think of these said apologies. Jewish students have every right to demand apologies and we also have every right not to forgive the offender until we feel that they are truly sorry.

Milani has apologised – and rightly so – but what he does next is more important

If an apology is just the start, engagement with Jewish students is the mandatory next step. This can and will take many forms but it often starts with reaching out to the Union of Jewish Students. Their role is to represent Jewish students across the UK and they hold annual elections to elect their representative. UJS has many national events including an Annual Conference where policy is debated, and many NUS FTOs have attended this event in the past to show an interest in the concerns of Jewish students specifically.

At our last Conference, we even debated ending our relationship with the NUS because of the numerous recent occurrences of antisemitism from within the organisation. Alternatively, there are many Jewish Societies up and down the country within universities who would be happy to host events to create opportunities to speak to Jewish students and actually get to know us. Jewish students want the NUS to believe that when the movement fights for liberation, that fight includes the battle against antisemitism.

With the NUS National Conference coming up soon, many Jewish delegates are going to have to think twice about who they vote for. This is so disappointing as incidents of antisemitism should never be a factor when considering who to vote for to represent students nationally. This is not an opinion that I hold alone, with another Jewish student saying “It’s extremely hurtful to see people spout Jew hatred, especially when they are standing for a position in which they are meant to represent all students. Whilst it is good to see some apologies, how can I, as a proud and practising Jew then go and vote for them?”

Rob Angel, a Jewish student in Bristol succinctly summarised the problem that the NUS currently has. “Saying you are not antisemitic and showing you are not antisemitic are two very different things.” Rob was unsatisfied with Milani’s apology: “You don’t need a so called ‘political education’ to know that racism is unacceptable.” I’m very sure that the concerns that these students raise are shared amongst the wider Jewish student community across the UK who rely on the NUS and its officers to represent them, especially in a time of increased antisemitism on campus.

My point is that until an apology is carried through with actions, it appears to be empty words on a page. Even the most offensive antisemite can hide behind a computer screen and type out a few words that make them appear to be sorry, but someone who is truly sorry and wants to show that they no longer think that way will make every effort possible to speak with Jewish students face-to-face to show to those offended that they have changed. Jewish students need more allies than ever and perhaps next time there is a NUS antisemitism scandal, those who have made offensive comments in the past will stand side by side with Jewish students to take action on and condemn antisemitism and any other form of racism that is unfortunately still prevalent in our educational institutions and in our society.