New­stu­dent leader to fight Is­rael boy­cotts

The Jewish Chronicle - - NEWS - BY RACHEL FLETCHER

CAM­PUS MOVES to boy­cott Is­rael are “coun­ter­pro­duc­tive” and “drive a wedge” be­tween com­mu­ni­ties, the newly elected Na­tional Union of Stu­dents pres­i­dent said this week.

Tower Ham­lets-born Wes Street­ing, a Cam­bridge his­tory grad­u­ate and for two years vice-pres­i­dent of ed­u­ca­tion at the NUS, was elected to the po­si­tion ear­lier this month.

He told the JC he had “al­ways been strongly op­posed to boy­cotts of Is­raeli in­sti­tu­tions and univer­si­ties. This is some­thing I led on when I was vi­cepres­i­dent for ed­u­ca­tion and some­thing I will take a hard line on.

“Aca­demic boy­cotts are deeply coun­ter­pro­duc­tive. Ed­u­ca­tion is and should be one of the main rea­sons for peace and co­ex­is­tence, and there are many ex­am­ples of Is­raelis and Pales­tini­ans work­ing to­gether. Rather than driv­ing a wedge be­tween them, ed­u­ca­tion is one way of do­ing that.”

While ac­knowl­edg­ing and re­spect­ing the rights of unions to set their own poli­cies, Mr Street­ing, 25, called for “grass­roots and na­tional-level dis­cus­sion as to why stu­dents think they [boy­cotts] are dam­ag­ing”.

He also ex­pressed op­po­si­tion to “one-sided” cam­pus mo­tions to twin with Pales­tinian univer­si­ties, adding: “Peo­ple are of­ten with­out a great deal of knowl­edge about it. I would strongly en­cour­age stu­dent unions to twin with in­sti­tu­tions from both sides. I cer­tainly don’t be­lieve in [the sort of] onesided twin­ning that’s taken place. The heated de­bate that comes with it can make stu­dents very un­com­fort­able.”

Mr Street­ing, a for­mer pres­i­dent of Cam­bridge Stu­dent Union and a part-time mem­ber of the NUS ex­ec­u­tive, also spoke of his plans to work with the All-Party Par­lia­men­tary Com­mit­tee against An­tisemitism.

“I want t o s ee more mon­i­tor­ing of in­ci­dents so we can track where and when it’s tak­ing place and how to put a stop to it,” he said.

“What we can’t have is a sit­u­a­tion where Jewish stu­dents feel un­safe on cam­pus, or no-go ar­eas for Jewish stu­dents.”

He is not Jewish, and did not en­counter any an­tisemitism when grow­ing up, but last year, while read­ing Alan Der­showitz’s The Case for Is­rael on the Lon­don Un­der­ground, he was sub­jected to an­tisemitic abuse. “Some­one made the in­stinc­tive as­sump­tion that I was Jewish and that it was there­fore ap­pro­pri­ate to give abuse. I think peo­ple look at an­tisemitism as some­thing which only tends to be dis­cussed in the con­text of Nazism, as some­thing that came to a cli­max in the Holo­caust and is not a prob­lem any more. I will make peo­ple aware that sadly an­tisemitism is still there, it’s on the in­crease. It’s the re­spon­si­bil­ity of all com­mu­ni­ties to work to­gether to stop it.

“One of the main prob­lems with an­tisemitism is that it’s so in­sid­i­ous and per­ni­cious, it can be dif­fi­cult to spot. De­bates, and cer­tain po­lit­i­cal de­bates can slip over into an­tisemitic im­agery and lan­guage. That can make it dif­fi­cult to en­gage with.

“I have clearly got a strong track record of tak­ing a zero-tol­er­ance atti- tude to an­tisemitism wher­ever and when­ever it oc­curs, and of work­ing closely with Jewish stu­dents, na­tion­ally with the UJS and lo­cally with Jewish So­ci­eties across the coun­try. I was very proud to have the sup­port of Jewish del­e­gates in my elec­tion cam­paign.”

Re­spond­ing to UJS con­cerns about univer­sity life clashing with fes­ti­vals, Mr Street­ing said: “I’ve en­coun­tered re­sis­tance among lead­ers and aca­demics, giv­ing the sec­u­lar na­ture of in­sti­tu­tions as a rea­son not to [com­ply with the Jewish cal­en­dar].”

While ac­knowl­edg­ing the sec­u­lar na­ture of univer­si­ties, he added: “That doesn’t mean we should not be sen­si­tive to peo­ple of dif­fer­ent faiths and cul­tures, es­pe­cially as univer­si­ties are more di­verse than ever.”

New NUS pres­i­dent Wes Street­ing, “proud” to work with Jewish stu­dents

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