This year I had the honour of joining Jewish students and UJS in Liverpool at the annual conference of the Nation student movement.
To begin with let me explain by stating that I had no expectations for this conference as a movement on this scale does not happen anywhere in the world and certainly not in Austria where I studied. The conference brought together an extremely diverse range of groups of people and that’s not to mention the range of interesting accents I heard at conference!
NUS brings together around a thousand students from universities and further education colleges across the UK and debates issues which students and student unions face on the ground. It also elects its new leadership each year, which is obviously one of the most exciting parts of the conference. Much of the discussion is around the cost of education, fair and equal treatment of students on campuses, housing and student loans. Another main focus of conference is fighting Racism, Xenophobia, Islamaphobia, Homophobia, Anti-Semitism and any type of marginalisation from society. NUS also gives opportunities to build stronger relationships between the different unions and interest groups as well as campaign for the causes that are held dearly by the unions.
During the first day of the conference UJS hosted a fringe event ‘NUS Will Never Forget’ inviting Holocaust survivor Hannah Lewis to share her testimony with 150 students – some having never heard first-hand testimony from a Holocaust survivor. The event hoped to encourage students and student unions to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz, which will take place next January. Hannah’s testimony brought many to tears and ended in standing ovation, Hannah shared her advice with the young students listening to her emotional testimony. “You can’t defend what you don’t know. Arm yourself with knowledge and be dignified, because the bullies who seek to harm you are never dignified”. (Source: http://jewishnews.co.uk/nus-will-never-forget/)
I was extremely proud of the work of Jewish students and NUS when a motion seeking to affiliate the movement with a group called UAF (Unite against Fascism) was defeated. This group ostensibly fights racism however, disgracefully does not acknowledge the death or persecution of Jews during the holocaust.
What can we learn from UJS and their work at NUS?
Although the structures and frameworks are different in every country, it’s essential to be represented and engage in dialogue with other student unions and interest groups. We have to build relationships, create alliances and stand in solidarity with our friends and partners. We shouldn’t only do this because this is what’s morally right and that’s what Jewish values dictate us to do, but also because this is the only way that the small group of Jewish students will be able to defend their rights and fight racism and anti-Semitism in our universities and societies. Additionally what I saw at conference was that Jewish students were fighting for many different causes. They are passionate about their education and the standards of housing not only Jewish issues.
I am especially grateful for Maggie Suissa, UJS Campaigns Director for inviting me for NUS and introducing me to this world, to Joe Tarsh, UJS President, David Brown, UJS Executive Director, Georgina, Amanda, Ben, Ella and all the other incredible people with whom I spent two fantastic days with. I hope to see them all soon at WUJS Congress in December!
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