There are three candidates vying to be the next President of the Union of Jewish Students. Zionish sent them each ten questions on the key – and not so key – political issues they may face. In the second of this series, here are the responses from History and Yiddish student Annie Cohen:
Zionism: the national liberation movement of the Jewish people or racist settler-colonialism?
Zionism means different things to different people. Historically, Zionism was conceived by some of its founders as a racist settler-colonial project, however there were also left wing Zionists who didn’t seek to build a state in Palestine, but believed Jews would be forced to move there by antisemitism in Europe. Today, a lot of Jews understand Zionism as a belief in a Jewish right to national self-determination, but we have to understand that Zionism has, at least in the eyes of Palestinians now become inseparable from the racist nationalist state of Israel. To me, the fact that all the earlier ideas of diasporism and autonomism have been abandoned in favour of a nationalist oppressive state is a tragedy for Jews as well as Palestinians.
How would your views on the Israel-Palestine conflict translate into policy as UJS President?
UJS policy is created by UJS conference, and I would respect that. However, I would make changes with my remit. I would initiate a review of UJS spending on Israel programmes – which from the current website seem to be a main part of UJS activity, to see if funding could be diverted to student welfare, to support more students in the UK. I would seek to cut ties with birthright, as stated in my manifesto.
I would also take action to reduce the ostracization of non-Zionist Jewish students from JSocs, and make sure their views are represented centrally, on panel discussions and in our partner organisations.
How should Jewish students in the UK react to the rise of the nationalist right
Oppose it by any means necessary. I am an experienced antifascist campaigner, have helped to organise demonstrations with and fundraisers for groups within the antifascist network, and I would make resisting the far right a priority. To me to be Jewish is to be an antifascist.
Which Jewish political figure – dead or alive – best represents your politics?
Should JSocs do Israel events?
I think Israel advocacy should be done by Israel societies, not JSocs. However, Israel, as a land, people and scriptural concept is a core part of Judaism. Many Jewish students have a strong connection, whether it be positive or negative, with the State of Israel, and I think that JSocs should provide a space for students to engage with and discuss that connection when wanted.
I would also encourage Jsocs to run events and programmes that celebrate the diaspora, and increase education about other political ideas that used to dominate Jewish political thought alongside Zionism. As a non-zionist community organiser, I have a lot of experience and ideas for creating these types of events.
How should UJS engage with the BDS movement?
If it were up to me entirely I would want UJS to support BDS, and at the same time consistently advocate for Jewish students for whom BDS is obviously a lot more difficult, and can feel very hostile (and have you ever tried to find non Israeli kosher houmous?!). However, I am not running on a pro-BDS platform, and I can see that a U-turn in policy would be too difficult to bring about. What I would want to do, as a priority, is to end UJS blanket opposition to BDS, which is being used to shut down the work of Palestine societies and to silence Palestinian voices on campus, and at the same time preventing real instances of antisemitism from being address.
Does the Labour left, and its student equivalent, have an antisemitism problem?
Yep it does, and I’m in a good place to fight this and have experience doing so. Part of the problem is that when antisemitism is used as a political tool against the left, it confuses things and actual antisemitic incidents are not addressed. Antisemitism is present across the entire political spectrum, left, right and centre, and we should be ready to fight it wherever we see it.
Who would you have voted for in the 2016 US election? Primary candidates allowed.
Let’s say you become UJS President, and are given £10,000 for a political project or campaign. What would you do?
Invest that money in student welfare and grants, help struggling JSocs, and importantly, ask students to tell me where that money is needed.
Benjamin Netanyahu, Theresa May, Donald Trump. Shag, marry, kill?
I’d kill all of them 🙂