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New NUS Palestine Policy a Step Forward

30th May 2011

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I have often heard it said that people are at their most progressive when they are students. But for years the NUS, as the representative union of the student body has seemed reluctant to be seen as fitting that stereotype.

However, a couple of weeks ago the NUS National Executive Council (NEC) finally adopted a policy which supports the human rights of Palestinians, especially recognising the rights of students in the region to uninterrupted education. This was unexpected to many and quite bold when the dominant agenda is wary of speaking about issues around Palestine and Israel, especially anything that could be taken as supporting Palestinians too strongly.

Although the NUS Black Students' Campaign has been working alongside the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign for a while, but the NUS as a whole has largely ignored the issue so as to seem neutral. But the NUS has a history of speaking out in support of oppressed groups, especially the students that were part of them. They are proud to say they were active in the Anti Apartheid Movement and currently campaigns to support students in Burma and Zimbabwe.

Students all over Britain have been campaigning for the rights of Palestine and can receive little help from their union officers, instead they often get accusations of discrimination. Using these accusations attempts to de-legitimise those students. If someone is a bigot then you can legitimise yourself in not engaging with them, or the issue at hand...and have a quieter life.

The NUS should not only be speaking out against the oppression of Palestinian people but also making attempts to make sure the issue can be discussed freely without people of any cultural or religious background being afraid of hostility, or having their opinions misrepresented.

President of the NUS, Aaron Porter, has decided to speak out against the policy saying to the Guardian that he thinks it will ruin the union's previously 'balanced' stance on issues in the Middle East, he goes on to say “Jewish students must feel able to participate freely in our movement”, which of course they should. But to silence any opinion that supports human rights of Palestinians and speaks out against the occupation of Palestine, and accuse it of being anti Jewish is not a neutral, or accurate, response.

To be against Israeli government policy is not to be anti Jewish, or racist against Israelis. Just as to be in support of Palestinian human rights is not advocating terrorism. To think that people should have their human rights upheld does not mean that you automatically see others as not deserving any rights either. There is nothing anti-Semitic about being against oppression. In fact, thousands of Jews around the world have been speaking out in support of Palestinian freedom, often through groups such as the International Jewish Anti Zionist Network and Jews for Justice for Palestinians.

I hope that this policy shows progression in the NUS's treatment on the issue, especially their long traditional of solidarity with student struggles across the world. But two weeks on I can find nothing about the new policy on their website. The NUS should be applauded for continuing this instead of living under accusations of misrepresented discrimination.

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