VERSA | We must leave the NUS to fight antisemitism

The main argument presented is that staying in the NUS is important for ‘liberation groups’. ‘We should stay in because of the support that the NUS provides’ is the main slogan. Not even 6 months ago an overlapping group of students made another argument. They argued that the statue of Cecil Rhodes was institutionally racist. The statue must go, even if Oriel lost millions of pounds -which would be spent of economic and other types of support for students or low SEC staff. But now we seem to have an issue. The Oxford University Jewish Society has voted a resolution in which they condemned the views of Ms Bouattia as anti-Semitic. I have argued in other places that such an argument can be generalised to the whole of the NUS. This leaves us with a question: why is it that economic and other considerations come second in the case of racism, but not when it comes to anti-Semitism?

Not everyone supports RMF but at least we all take the anti-Semitism issue seriously? This year NUS delegates clapped an anti-holocaust Memorial Day speech and Jews were deprived of their seat on the anti-racism campaign. Every Jewish-NUS delegate I have spoken to and over 85% of Oxford’s Jewish students think that the NUS does have an issue with Jews. But, a recent piece in the OxStu stated that “none of this means that the NUS has not been working for Jews”. An equivalent strategy is to highlight the benefits for other liberation groups while ignoring the anti-Semitism issue. Alone, this could be negligence. However, when put in context we get another double standard. For the last decade and a bit, it has been standard practice to give the victim of racism the benefit of the doubt when calling it out, or even to define it. In Oxford this theme has been seen in RMF, the ‘colonial comeback’ fiasco at the Union, and numerous other liberation based campaigns. In addition, most people who support staying in the NUS are also supporters of intersectionality (the view that all liberation campaigns are related). Why are neither of these extended to the Jews?

Another double standard which I have found too common is the apologism for the NUS. Many of the far right argue that they cannot be racist. They have some non-white friends and supporters or oppose some other type of discrimination. For many who advocate remaining in the NUS, this argument has no bite. There is overlap, for instance, with the group who tried to no platform Le Pen at the Union last year for being a racist. Yet, I keep on reading and hearing the same people say that the fact that the Union of Jewish Students does not advocate leaving the NUS, and the fact that Ms Bouattia is ‘anti-racist’ are reasons why the NUS is not institutionally anti-Semitic, or even try to doge the issue by accusing the other side of racism.  Why do they accept they only accept this argument when it is politically convenient?

Finally, the Yes campaign argue on their blog that the motions at Conference are misrepresented. I want to highlight (a non-Jewish-related) one. Many complain that the NUS does not care about those at the bottom of society because of a motion adopted to lobby against resits of GCSE Maths and English. The word ‘resit’ is missed in many accounts, as the Yes campaign point out.  But surely the effect is the same. By not making the resits compulsory they are advocating a system where significant numbers of students leave schools without basic mathematical or normal literacy. Most of these students come from the most disadvantaged backgrounds. Why do many in the Yes Campaign not join the No to NUS campaign in taking issue with this motion?

To reiterate, this critique does not apply to everyone in the Yes campaign. However, I would like to ask many of those who do support remaining in, especially supports of intersectionality, to think had about the logical consistency of their beliefs – and even get back to me if they think I am wrong.

Benjamin Woolf

Benjamin is a Student Trustee of OUSU and 2nd year PPLer.

Tags: antisemitism — no thanks nus — NUS — Oxford — Referendum