I'll be out there, says new UJS chair

By Marcus Dysch, March 11, 2010
Preparing for top job: Alex Dwek

Preparing for top job: Alex Dwek

Taking on the top job in Jewish student politics is a daunting task. But Alex Dwek, chairman-elect of the Union of Jewish Students, cannot wait to start work.

The 22-year-old Londoner is preparing to start his role in mid-July and has revealed his plans in depth for the first time.

Alex, correctly tipped by JC On Campus to win last December's election, is in the final stages of putting his executive team together. Candidates are being chosen to fill roles ranging from campaigns director to regional development officers.

The Manchester University economics and politics student acknowledges that there will be significant challenges ahead, particularly in smoothing over often fractious relationships with university student unions and their Islamic and Palestine societies.

"We have to react to whatever is thrown at us. The problem with the unions is that things change every year and it also depends on each campus," he said.

"With the Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FoSIS), for example, it is always going to be difficult. I will never abandon conversations and ignoring FoSIS would be a massive mistake, but I feel we should never overlook issues affecting Jewish students. If a group is bringing hate speakers onto campus, we should not just keep quiet to maintain a relationship.

"Our relationship with NUS obviously depends on who is in office, but without doubt I'll be looking to build a strong relationship with whoever takes over from Wes Streeting."

With one eye on the decision last month by an Israel society to withdraw its invitation to Israeli historian Benny Morris under pressure from an Islamic society, he added: "We should never try to compromise on who we want to bring on to campus. It's by no means acceptable to strike a deal to withdraw one of our speakers who is perfectly legitimate."

One aspect Alex is keen to challenge is the wider student community's view of UJS, its membership and its political and religious views.

He said: "One of the problems we have is that people see UJS almost as a political party with one set of views and an ideology. That's 100 per cent not true. You talk to our students and you get completely different opinions on Israel and the UK Jewish community every single time."

He admits that previous administrations have at times made mistakes and been caught out by anti-Israel activity on campuses, notably the lecture theatre occupations following the Gaza conflict last year.

"You cannot predict everything, but we need procedures for responding to problems arising on campus."

Far from shying away from the task facing him, Alex is readying himself for the challenge. "One of the reasons I stood was that I felt, having been involved in campaigns on campus, that the skills I had acquired meant I could give a lot back and take things forward. This is a natural progression.

"There are things I want to get done. I'll measure my success on how many people want to stand for the presidency next year. As much as you can succeed you can also fail, but that doesn't put me off at all.

"It's all very well sitting in an office, but students feel they need the moral support of me being on campus and I want my job to be on the road. I definitely don't want to be sitting in my office in Camden. I want to be with our students on campus."

Last updated: 5:10pm, March 11 2010