NUS offers hope to Leeds J-Soc
THE NATIONAL Union of Students is to hold a major symposium to confront the “spill-over to antisemitism” of anti-Israel activity on campuses.
After the open-to-all event in early March, the organisation will send a briefing pack to all member unions reinforcing its new policy on antisemitism, adopted at a meeting last month.
According to this policy, the 5.3-million-member union gives its Jewish members the sole right to define what constitutes campus antisemitism, drawing on the principles of the recent AllParty Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism, which the union accepts.
This was a blow to Palestine activists, who have begun to argue that anti-Israel activity can never constitute antisemitism, as Israel has “no place” in Jewish identity. They successfully turned this premise into policy at the University of Leeds union last month.
The “faiths symposium” will consider how the parliamentary inquiry’s findings can be implemented on campus, said Wes Streeting, NUS vicepresident for education. It will also discuss other faith-related issues, such as the concerns of Muslim students about the veil.
Mr Streeting revealed that the emphasis of the antisemitism discussion will be on “how political debates on campus about Israel and the Middle East often spill over to antisemitism”.
In a rare public admission of a rift between NUS and the Palestine lobby, he said: “It is clear that Jewish students are often isolated and subjected to intimidation, especially by political groups who want to stoke up tensions on campus. Antisemitism is, sadly, alive and kicking on campuses.”
He also broke his union’s silence on the Leeds policy, which says that complaints by Jewish students would be ignored “as long as Judaism as a faith is not offended”. Until now, NUS has refused to pass judgement on the policy of an autonomous member union, but Mr Streeting told the JC that Leeds should veto the policy.
Revealing that he has held private discussions with the Leeds union’s officers, he said: “I would call on them to reverse the policy. It is detrimental to the welfare and wellbeing of Jewish students in Leeds.”
He added that while it was “preferable if it is reversed by democracy”, his plea remains, even in the absence of a vote defeating the policy. This is because he believes it clashes with principles of student provision, race relations, “and has worrying implications in the light of the Parliamentary Enquiry”.
Damola Timeyin, communications and democracy officer for the Leeds union, declined to comment, as did the University of Leeds.
Mitch Simmons, UJS campaigns director, welcomed news of the symposium, the briefing packs for unions, and Mr Streeting’s comments on the Leeds policy. He said: “It is good to see NUS being a principled anti-racist and antidiscrimination that does not let politics interfere with this commitment.”