No one should have to compromise religion for politics - but the NUS elections made me doubt myself

May 24, 2016 13:00

Today I voted in a university-wide referendum over whether our student union, CUSU, should remain affiliated to the National Union of Students. I’d been debating for weeks over what the right decision was, agreeing and disagreeing with people left, right and centre, and changing my mind about it every 48 hours. And this morning I held my breath, selected my choice from the drop-down menu and clicked ‘Vote’.

And then I thought to myself, am I going to share my decision online? Am I going to tweet about this, citing the articles which convinced me, and encouraging others to vote the same way as I did? During the London mayoral elections a couple of weeks ago, I shared my support for Sadiq Khan all over my social media accounts and tweeted congratulations to him when his victory was announced. Last year, I resolutely supported Labour through their entire campaign and shared angry anti-Tory articles in the aftermath of the election. I’ve never before been afraid or embarrassed to share my political views; I completely understand why some people don’t and I’d never harass anyone to tell me which way they voted, but I’m just not fussed about what people think of my political choices. I’d rather make my voice heard and try to persuade people to agree with me than keep schtum.

But something held me back from wanting to let everyone know about my choice over NUS affiliation. It’s not to do with whether or not I’ve made the right choice – believe me, I’ve wondered regularly whether or not the Labour Party deserves my membership and my vote. Nor do I think it’s to do with my relationships with people on either side of the campaign, either those whose politics I usually support but cannot condone in the context of the NUS, or those whose ideology is so far from mine and yet seems so right (or, at least, reasonable) at a time like this. As I said before, I’m not fussed about what people think of my politics, and I’m more than happy to disagree with friends and agree with…well, others.
I think what’s holding me back from wanting to share my decision is the fact that it’s a decision linked so fundamentally to my Judaism. When I vote Labour, I’ve always been able to detach my choice from that part of myself; or, even, recognise how my Judaism commands me to support socialist policies. My Judaism has never come between me and my automatic preference, and I’d go so far as to say that it’s informed and strengthened it.

But there’s no way I can decide whether or not CUSU should disaffiliate from the NUS without my Judaism coming into play. I’ve had to ask myself whether the NUS can offer me, as a Jewish student, representation and equality, and I’ve had to ask myself if its support for other minority students is more important than its support for me, as a Jewish student. Essentially, I’ve been forced to choose between two fundamental aspects of my life and values: being Jewish, versus liberation and equal opportunities for all minorities.

I’m ashamed to be part of a community which has asked me to make such a painful and irrational decision. No one should ever have to compromise their religion for their politics, or vice versa. I think that’s why I’m so uncomfortable with the choice I made; not that it was necessarily the wrong choice (although perhaps it was) but because I’ve neglected one of my core beliefs for another. There was no way for me to win on this one. Whichever way this referendum turns out, I’ll have lost – and I think many other Jewish students will feel the same.

Noa Gendler is a final-year student at the University of Cambridge, studying English Literature. Before that she attended North London Collegiate School. She is a seasoned Limmudnik and is involved in Marom, the Masorti young adult community.

May 24, 2016 13:00

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive