CAMPUS Leader who thought he was too frum for UJS
THE NEXT leader of the Union of Jewish Students never expected to get involved in campus politics, but was thrown in at the deep end after experiencing at first hand anti-Israel hostility at his London university.
Josh Seitler, who beat three other candidates in last month’s UJS presidential election, said that coming from a frum background in Manchester meant student activism was not a natural choice for him.
“Frum students aren’t necessarily engaged with UJS. They only go to universities in three or four cities so stick together and don’t feel like they need UJS,” he said.
But an episode at the London School of Economics, where he is a final year student in criminology, shocked him into getting involved.
He said: “I was quite sheltered, I wasn’t really involved in politics. Then I experienced my first Israel Apartheid Week in 2014 [an annual campaign held by pro-Palestinian students] and I thought: why do I feel so uncomfortable on campus? It made me aware of how serious the situation can be.”
As a result, Mr Seitler, 21, started attending UJS events and found himself becoming more engaged with student politics, eventually becoming president of the Israel society in his second year.
“The things I felt very personal about I got involved in. I went on Manhigut [a UJS Israel activism trip], and to the World Union of Jewish Students conference. I was only 20 and writing a motion at a world congress.
“I presented the motion, I spoke and it was unanimously passed. I was shocked; I’m just a normal student. I didn’t realise how much of an impact you can make. If you’ve got something to say you can get up and say it and the world is there to listen to you.”
LSE is known for anti-Israel activity — most recently an exhibition in the student union came under fire for commemorating Palestinians involved in terror attacks.
Mr Seitler said combating anti-Israel campaigns will be one of the biggest issues he will have to tackle when he takes up his post i n the
Josh Seitler summer. He believes UJS should tailor its actions to each individual campus.
“What it means is that students have a big involvement in UJS’s response. It’s no good UJS immediately writing a response. What they should be doing is phoning up the students involved and then formulating a response. It has to come from the students.”
One of his priorities is to have UJS representatives meet students in as many universities as possible. Another aim is the creation of a network for JSocs, which would include using social media to share advice. Mr Seitler is a former pupil of the Charedi school Manchester Mesivta and also studied at a yeshiva. He is keen to get more religious speakers from all denominations onto campuses in the hope of better engaging Orthodox and Progressive students. “I’m very excited at the thought of looking back in a year and half’s time and having more Jewish students involved in the union,” he said.