Izzy Lenga

Battling the NUS has damaged my health

December 16, 2016 15:44

I did not choose to enter student politics to solely represent Jews. I became involved because I saw changes I wanted to make, both in Birmingham and nationally that I believed would make the experiences of students across the UK much better.

I was genuinely excited to shake up our movement and play my part in ensuring the NUS was a national union that was truly reflective of the seven million students from 600 student unions we claim to represent.

Almost 18 months later, I couldn’t bring myself to attend our national executive council (NEC) meeting.

Last Monday, two hours before an exam, I realised the NEC was later that week and it sent me into a complete breakdown. I’m not quite sure what sparked it or what the final straw was.

I’m unsure whether it was the thought of having my voice, and the voices of thousands of Jewish students, ignored again by our president, or the torrent of tweets blindly in support of her and her previous rhetoric, which even she has acknowledged as deeply offensive, directed my way.

Potentially it was having to sit in a room being snarled at, talked about and looked at in disgust by people who do not know me, and have barely uttered a handful of words to me.

However, it was probably the thought of having to be in a room with people whose history of antisemitism, acceptance of it, or failure to challenge it makes me feel unsafe and unwelcome. People who, for too long, I have kept my feelings about bottled up.

It is impossible to be able to sit in a room with a person who used triggering language of the Holocaust — “Final Solution” — while talking about Jewish representation, and then refused to apologise for it because the Jew who asked for the apology was not someone she directly represents.

It is impossible to be able to sit in a room with people who deem the murderers of innocent Israeli Jews as martyrs, and click attending on social media to vigils mourning their deaths.

It is impossible to be able to sit in a room with people who claim that a context, whatever the context, justifies an antisemitic statement or an attack on a Jewish person.

It is impossible to sit in a room with someone who wrote in an article that “antisemitism is a tired old accusation from Zionists, retreating behind mendacious slurs”. And, of course, it is impossible to sit in a room with someone whose past comments even the Home Affairs Select Committee believe “smack of outright racism”.

Yet it’s even more impossible to have to speak meeting after meeting, time and time again defending the rights for Jewish students, to even be in the room with these people, and not let it get to you.

But it does get to me. And this time, it has got to me a little too much.

Some people in the movement have applauded the deterioration of my mental health as a victory; the “Zio” won’t be in the room or there will be no more time for me to conjure up another “smear” campaign.

Until now, these experiences have led me to stand up stronger and fight back harder. But in all honesty, I have been too scared to talk about the effect it has all had on my mental health, let alone let myself acknowledge it even exists in the first place.

Because every day, friends, family, and colleagues praise my strength and courage to stand up for Jewish students and for what I believe in. I am extremely grateful for that.

But only rarely do people ask if I am OK, if my mental and physical health is where it should be and if the constant threat and fear of fascist attacks I face daily has gone. Because the answer to all those questions is no.

The past year-and-a-half has been really tough. And I’ve just mustered up the courage to speak about it.

Regrettably, the future of Jewish students’ involvement in NUS looks bleak. I really do not want to put any Jewish students off getting involved in NUS and fighting for our rights as students, and also as Jews.

But it’s time to stop staying silent about the effects it is having on us, mainly because we have done so for too long. Perhaps it’s just time to be a little bit selfish.


Izzy Lenga is a member of the NUS NEC

December 16, 2016 15:44

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