Pro-BDS candidate fails as Josh Holt elected UJS president

Nottingham University student wins by over 400 votes


The Union of Jewish Students has elected Josh Holt to be its next president, with the University of Nottingham student winning on the first ballot. 

Mr Holt gained over 50 per cent of first preference votes, receiving 682 out of a total of 1049 cast. Adam Schapira, studying at UCL, came next, with 258, while Eran Cohen, from the University of York and perhaps known best for his support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, third, with 89.

Another 20 votes were cast to re-open nominations. 

Mr Holt said he was “happy and honoured” to be elected.

He also paid tribute to his opponents, saying: “The amicable way that we ran this campaign and the respect for all other candidates shows the vibrancy of Jewish Democracy, and that is something we should be proud of.”

He thanked the UK’s Jewish students, whom he will represent on assuming the one-year post in June, “for believing in me to deliver my vision for the organisation.

“I hope to engage with as many of you as possible going forwards.”

Josh Seitler, the current UJS president, said: “‘We should not mistake majority mandated campaign positions for parameters that limit thoughtful exchanges of ideas and education within JSocs and UJS. 

“Consistently and overwhelmingly, Jewish students have voted to combat BDS and attempts to demonise and delegitimise the state of Israel. Repeatedly they have also endorsed two states for twopeoples. Our campaigns represent those positions, yet our campus communities can contain conversations that stretch well beyond them.”

The UJS also voted against a motion to suspend its working relationship with the National Union of Students. There had been calls for disaffiliation following the election as NUS president of Malia Bouattia, who has been criticised over antisemitic statements.

Rebecca Filer, from Bristol University, said: “As an NUS delegate to both NUS National Conference and NUS Women's Conference, I know that when we want to make change for ourselves, we are best placed to do that from within; I also know that we have allies in the movement and maintaining our current relationship with NUS allows us to continue working with those who support Jewish students.”

Binyomin Gilbert, who proposed the motion, expressed disappointment that it did not pass.

He said: "It was a key opportunity to stand up against what many Jewish students do see as a core and fundamental problem in the NUS and I will continue to fight on behalf of Jewish students against antisemitism in the NUS and everywhere else. 

“This outcome was not a solidarity vote for Malia or the current NUS leadership but was made bearing in mind the varied needs of Jewish students beyond issues of antisemitism.” 

Other motions passed by UJS delegates included resolutions to work against BDS “in all its forms”, to work with the Jewish Labour Movement to offer training on antisemitism to Labour Student clubs, and to help Jewish students access more affordable kosher food.

Conference also heard from Clive Lewis, the Labour MP for Norwich South and Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

He described the history of antisemitism on the left, quoting August Bebel - “Antisemitism is the socialism of fools” - and saying that this form of hatred had reared its head again after 9/11 and the financial crisis, in traditional tropes of Jews controlling the media and the banks. 

In the past, he said: “There’s been an almost an implicit understanding that because by default of being left and anti-racist, one cannot be antisemitic, or it’s very difficult to be.

“I think it’s something on the left that many of us have now begun to think about.”

He said: “My automatic default position when I heard about the accusations of antisemitism on the left under Jeremy Corbyn was one of quite open denial, initially; this was about an attack on Jeremy Corbyn.

“But what opened my eyes to it was the fact that when I went back and spoke to the Jewish community in Norwich, I began to discover that lifelong Socialists and members of the Labour Party, some of whom were my personal friends, were telling me that they were considering leaving the Labour party.

“It took my relationship with them to open my eyes to the fact that this antisemitism might be happening, and in fact I think was happening.” 

However, he also said: “it’s not that parts of the Labour movement have not blundered into antisemitism, and not to deny that it has been complacent about others on the left doing so. These things have happened.

“But I want to remind everyone that while the leadership of the Parliamentary Labour Party has been trying to sort out this issue, it has been doing so while under intense attack from those who despise us because of our political beliefs.

“Such hostility means some of that outrage around antisemitism in the Labour Party has been artificial. And that’s a dangerous thing, because many politically unengaged people can smell out pretence and the political motives behind it pretty easily. That then draws out some of them deeper into the conspiracy narrative about the Jews and how they play down debate by controlling the media.”

When subsequently asked whether he thought that Ken Livingstone has a place in the Labour party, Mr Lewis responded by saying that Mr Livingstone “has said things that are outrageous and wrong.”

However, he then spoke of “Ken Livingstone’s political career in its entirety, at the forefront of liberation politics, in terms of antisemitism, anti-racism and homophobia.

“But I think after what he said”, Mr Lewis continued, “I think he really does need to make a full and frank apology. Otherwise I think there are so many people who will question why Ken Livingstone is allowed to stay in the Labour party.”

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