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The Centre-Left Candidate: A Response

Adam Schapira

In their analysis of this UJS election, Bz Gilinsky and Ella Taylor argue that there is no centre-left candidate. I am on the right, they argue, and progressive students must choose between centrist Joshua Holt and radical left-winger Eran Cohen. I have been attacked by all circles: the orthodox have accused me of coshing to the progressives; the progressives have accused me of being a ‘right winger’.

The truth is, as my policies should demonstrate, I am the centre-left candidate with the vision needed to take UJS in the right direction.

I am running to be UJS president to deliver real change for our student movement. I want to energise our student movement. I want to talk about and engage with the crucial issues of our time.

This UJS election is the most critical election in UJS history. It comes at a time of great concern for Jewish students around the country. Your vote is crucial.

We need a strong leader to counter the whirlwind of hate faced on so many university campuses. As UJS president, I will take a hard line against the voices of hate, but never waver in my commitment to two states for two peoples. Whilst I will resolutely oppose the BDS movement, I will be equally vocal in all efforts to ensure that Palestinians and Israelis can one day live side-by-side in peace, equality, and dignity.

But anti-Semitism and anti-Israel rhetoric should not define our university experience. UJS exists to enrich our Jewish experiences: from Friday night dinners, to drunken nights at booze for Jews, to lighting Chanukah candles in your university halls, it is the memories we share together that last a lifetime. UJS’ core mission should never change.

My campaign is about talking about issues previously unrepresented in our student movement.

It’s about building a dynamic, engaged, and ambitious UJS.

In short, it’s about Transforming the UJS that we love.

We will do this in four ways.

First, we need strong leadership to present our voice in the national media. As president, you can expect a much more vocal and proactive leader, defending our vital interests on campus.

Second, I want to think globally and act locally. The Syrian refugee crisis is the most pressing humanitarian crisis since the Second World War. Millions have been displaced from their homes. Thousands have been tragically killed. As Jewish students, we have a unique responsibility to help those most vulnerable. Last Monday, working with World Jewish relief, I launched a campaign to raise £100,000 to support the humanitarian relief efforts surrounding the refugee crisis. I hope you will all join me in our fundraising efforts.

Third, I will mandate UJS to create a bespoke women in Jewish leadership programme. It’s time we end the systematic gender inequality that exists within our community. That starts with Jewish female students, who represent the future talent of our community.

Fourth, I will empower Jewish societies by giving them more responsibility and autonomy over their JSocs. A significant upfront annual grant will free UJS’ sabbatical officers and JSoc committee members from endless bureaucracy, and lead to better events at your JSoc.

This election is about ideas that will deliver real change.

So I urge you: go beyond the rhetoric and think about the candidate offering something genuinely different. Share my ideas, get involved and let’s begin a conversation that will transform the UJS that we love!

Read more about Adam’s campaign here.

Jewish students can vote in Presidential elections here. If you are not currently a member of UJS, register to vote here

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UJS Elections: Who should get the progressive vote?

Ella Taylor and Bz Gilinsky

2016 is the year of election drama, and if you are a Jewish student in the UK we are by no means done yet. The election for President of the Union of Jewish Students is underway and Adam Schapira, Josh Holt, and Eran Cohen are all vying for the top job. Schapira sits on the right, whilst Holt is best characterised as a centrist, with Cohen attracting the headlines as a candidate from the radical left. This has created an interesting but largely unnoticed dynamic: unlike in previous years, there is no clear centre-left candidate.

A large and growing constituency of Jewish students, progressively minded, liberation-focused and with anti-occupation politics, have no obvious choice. These Jewish students will break either for Cohen or Holt, and with last year’s centre-left candidate losing by just six votes, they could easily decide the election. There is an initial appeal to Cohen’s campaign too. His emphasis on fighting tuition fee rises and rising xenophobia has added substance to an otherwise largely vacuous affair. The abuse he has received is revolting, and his anti-establishment campaign resonates with many on the centre-left, as we, too, are swimming against the tide in many Jewish communal debates.

A vote for Cohen, however, would be a serious mistake. Disingenuous on Israel and dishonest about his own principles, a BDS-supporting president would not serve the campus politics left-wing Jewish students want to see. On anti-semitism his track record disproves his rhetoric, and on liberation and anti-racism too, Cohen’s pitch relies on a misrepresentation of the union he wants to lead. A false prophet of progressivism, Cohen is not the UJS President we are looking for.

It is Cohen’s stance on Israel that has drawn the attention of most. Realising the centre-left vote is up for grabs, Cohen has seemingly moderated his position. But Cohen is not of the politics that inspires us to campaign with Zionish, Yachad, and the New Israel Fund. His claim that he is “just anti-occupation” is disingenuous in the extreme given his support for Israel Apartheid Week and full BDS as campaigns officer at York’s Palestine society. He does not want a moderate, liberal, Zionism, but no Zionism at all. More often than not, pro-Palestine students in Cohen’s tradition want one-state of Palestine and no Israel at all.

Electing Cohen would be wrong not just on principle but tactically too. Progressive Jews who want to shift our community into a tougher stance in support of a two-state solution and Palestinian human rights are consistently undermined by the accusation our politics empowers BDS and those who want to see Israel removed from the map. Cohen will turn this previously baseless accusation into truth, undoing years of hard work the left has done to give anti-occupation politics credibility in the Jewish community.

But let’s put Israel aside. Cohen’s touts his credentials in the fight against anti-semitism, arguing that the most significant threat to British Jews is from the far-right. Regarding wider society he is correct; but this avoids the fact that on campus anti-semitism is almost solely a far-left issue. And on this issue, his is betrayed by his track record. In response to far-left anti-semitism on campus and elsewhere, York PalSoc, of which he is an exec member, advertised a lecture by Jonathan Rosenhead, who believes far-left anti-semitism is a series of fabricated smears, a “monstrous soufflé of moral panic”.

Other instances of Cohen’s hypocrisy on this issue are not hard to find. In a recent video, Cohen argues that blaming Jews for the crimes of the Israeli occupation is clear anti-semitism. And yet, Cohen acted in a production of Seven Jewish Children, a startlingly inflammatory play written in response to the 2009 Gaza War that makes no mention of Israel or Zionism, speaking only in reference to Jews. The jury is still out on whether the play should be categorised as openly anti-semitic. Needless to say, when Cohen starred in the play in March this year, he would have been well aware of its worrying reputation.

Where will Cohen stand when faced with these issues in office? Will he stand up to Oxford’s Israel Apartheid Week advocates who say Jewish experience of anti-semitism is the same as straight men feeling uncomfortable in LGBT clubs? What will he say to Malia Bouattia when she talks about the ‘Zionist-led media?’ Or when BDS campaigners claim that Hamas’ desire to kill Jews for being Jews is legitimate anti-colonialism? Going on precedent, we have no confidence he will be on our side.

There is also much that is disconcerting about Cohen’s approach to liberation in UJS. There is no doubting his commitment to the cause. But his approach to the issue has been to talk down UJS to enhance his own credentials. In a +972 magazine interview, Cohen says with thinly-veiled disdain that UJS has “slowly been changing recently with the attempts at inclusion of LGBT Jewish students and women”. It is a similar story regarding religious pluralism, where in Oxford’s egalitarian facebook group Cohen claimed that liberal and reform Jews are excluded from UJS by those who view them as not ‘properly’ religious.

This is an insult to an organisation that has been at the forefront of these struggles within the Jewish and student community. UJS liberation networks were established years ago, inclusivity training is run with Jewish LGBTQ group Keshet, UJS regularly hosts the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, a recent UJS Liberation Conference was a huge success, and UJS is the most enthusiastic proponent of cross-communalism in the whole of British Jewry. There is, of course, much more work to be done. But champions of liberation should not base their case on a wilful misrepresentation of those who preceded them. Dismissing hours of dedicated work on inclusivity undermines UJS’ liberation efforts, rather than strengthening them.

Cohen has run as a crusader for inclusion and reform, but left-wing Jewish students should see through his shtick. Not a progressive but a radical, his newfound moderation on Israel is a weak charade. On anti-semitism his judgement is poor and he is divorced from the reality of most students’ experience. His commitment to liberation is clear but his dismissal of the fantastic work UJS does is a cheap and cynical campaign trick, designed to push our student union down in order to portray himself as its moral saviour. And whilst there has been a lack of enthusiasm over Holt, left-wing Jewish students need not be downbeat: balanced on Israel, he wants to put inclusion officers on JSoc committees and use the nationwide UJS network to empower progressive campaigning.

The centre-left vote is up for grabs in this election, and many Jewish students will remain undecided. For us, however, the choice is clear.

Ella and Bz are history students at Oxford, madrichim of RSY and Noam respectively, Yachad campaigners, Labour students, and Zionish’s coordinators for 2016-17.

Jewish students can vote in Presidential elections here. If you are not currently a member of UJS, register to vote here