Josh Seitler: Students Taking The Lead On The Students’ Issues

The first term of the 2016/17 academic year saw an unprecedented amount of initiatives run by Jewish students.

In just 10 weeks, an impressive 17 J-Socs hosted or co-hosted interfaith events, during Interfaith Week and throughout the term. Across London, the Midlands and the North, highlights included Shabbat or Shabbat-style meals organised by J-Socs with other faith societies, a panel on ‘Faith in the 21st Century’, and a discussion about the story of Cain and Abel arranged by one J-Soc together with the Council of Christians and Jews. There was also a huge increase in Jewish students engaging with Israel from cultural, social and political angles and facilitating engagement for their non-Jewish peers too. Most recently, Jewish students added their voices to calls for the urgent action that is so desperately needed to stop the suffering of innocent victims in Aleppo, hosting an emergency rally in Parliament Square that was attended by well over 100 people. Attendees included Jews and non-Jews, students and non-students, which particularly demonstrates that Jewish students can and do take the lead on issues that matter both to them and in wider society.

Jewish students stand up in the wider world of student politics, too. They run in elections, support their friends’ campaigns and work to make sure that they are able to access platforms to represent themselves nationally: so far, Jewish students have been elected as delegates to both NUS Women’s Conference and NUS National Conference from over 10 campuses and I am sure that this number will rise as more elections take place in the coming months.

In fact, the matter of UJS’ working relationship with NUS was heavily discussed at UJS Conference earlier this month, and I am proud that the debate went through four rounds of speeches as this enabled a huge range of opinions to be voiced. Some students felt that they were best placed to campaign for change when they were at the table, whilst others saw a suspension of working relations as a way to make their frustrations with some aspects of the NUS visible; still others argued that suspending relations would reduce the role of Jewish students in the NUS to mere victims of antisemitism, instead of allowing them to promote the beauty of their multifaceted identities. The fact that such varied opinions were presented at UJS Conference showed that our diversity is our strength.

This is true both externally, as student-created policy shapes my work as their President and the work of UJS as a whole, and internally too. In the discussions that took place around the recent Presidential election, Jewish students consistently showed themselves to be role models for the wider community. They participated in constructive debate and discussion rather than slanging matches; they were respectful in face-to-face and online conversations; they paid attention to policies, not personalities. The diversity of opinions represented by the three Presidential candidates was undoubtedly seen by some as a threat, but I believe it allowed Jewish students to prove themselves to be role models for the wider Jewish community, as they conducted themselves with thought, intelligence and respect throughout the entire election process. Ultimately, when they voted, they did so decisively; my successor, Josh Holt, became the President-elect by securing 682 first preference votes of the 1049 cast, thus winning the election in the first round of counting.

Everything I’ve described shows that Jewish students are not afraid to make their voices heard. They speak up on issues that matter to them. They get stuck in, whether it’s choosing who represents them nationally as UJS President and at NUS, or building bridges between faiths and minority groups on campus. Jewish students are keen to take the lead; with six months left before I hand over to my successor, I only ask that the community gives them space to allow this to endure, and I look forward to continuing to support them in doing so.