Union of Jewish Students: the voice of Israel?

A man raises his arms while speaking into a microphone

Rapper Lowkey was prevented from speaking at Cambridge University after a campaign by the university’s Jewish Society.

Martyn Wheatley ZUMA

The Union of Jewish Students in Britain claims to represent “all” Jewish students but a close reading of its constitution reveals it is unable to do so.

The UJS has been criticised in recent years for its role – as revealed by the Al Jazeera documentary The Lobby – in attempting to subvert student democracy by campaigning against Malia Bouattia when she was president of Britain’s National Union of Students (NUS).

The documentary also revealed that the Union of Jewish Students gets money directly from the Israeli embassy in London.

In addition, the UJS has come under fire for its role in harassing and bullying academics – including this writer – who have claimed that the UJS is an organization dedicated to Israel’s state ideology Zionism.

Most recently the organization faced controversy for including faked signatures on a petition.

Critics have pointed out that the UJS constitution states that one of its objectives is inspiring Jewish students to make an “enduring commitment” to Israel.

They also point out that the UJS is a constituent member of the World Union of Jewish Students (WUJS), which in turn, operates under the auspices of the World Zionist Organization (WZO).

The constitution of the WZO and its Jerusalem Program are binding on its members.

The Jerusalem Program insists that the “foundations” of Zionism include “the unity of the Jewish people, its bond to its historic homeland Eretz Yisrael.” This is a claim for territory stretching way beyond the state of Israel.

Anti-Zionists need not apply

All of these details about the UJS strongly suggests it is formally a Zionist organization which is not open to Jewish students who are non-Zionist or anti-Zionist.

But now the UJS is fighting back. It claims “UJS and J-Soc [Jewish Society] activities are open to all Jewish students regardless of political or religious affiliation or denomination.”

In a recent controversy at the University of Cambridge, the Palestine Solidarity Society on the campus was intimidated by the Jewish Society into canceling a visit by the anti-racist rapper Lowkey.

The JSoc there also pressured the student union to issue a statement which claimed that describing “the university’s Jewish Society as a ‘pro-Israel lobby group’… is a clear example of anti-Semitism.”

If Jewish societies and the UJS itself are indeed open to “all” Jewish students and did not avowedly sign up to supporting Israel, this might have some plausibility. However, a close examination of the UJS constitution and other policy documents like its “code of conduct” shows this is false.

According to the UJS constitution only Jewish students “whose aims are in accordance with the objects of the union” are eligible to join the UJS.

Jewish societies are only able to affiliate “subject to approval” by the UJS and the UJS will only provide support to JSocs and “in accordance with” the “objects” of the UJS, which include inspiring commitment to Israel.

The constitution was amended at a 2020 conference to add a ‘by-law on “extremist speakers and organizations.” Under this, the UJS is empowered to sanction any Jewish society “that either partners with [any organization which] or hosts a speaker who does not share the values of the union.”

The by-law goes on to specify the creation of a “controversial speakers and organizations panel,” which will decide on breaches to the policy and “if and the extent to which a J-Soc should be sanctioned with a withdrawal of UJS support.”

We can see from this that individual Jewish societies are not independent of the UJS as apologists for Israel’s crimes claim.

Furthermore, the UJS arrogates to itself the power to determine the views of attendees at Jewish society events. Its code of conduct says that “UJS members, event participants and representatives are expected to proudly and passionately embody UJS values” including “Israel engagement.”

The code of conduct also specifies that it trumps any rules or regulations introduced by individual Jewish societies. “Nothing in the constitution or code of conduct of any J-Soc shall conflict with this code of conduct,” the document reads.

The UJS also boasts of its role as an “incubator for future leaders.” The current president Nina Freedman openly admits that “UJS alumni are currently serving in senior positions in the Israeli government, the foreign ministry, the IDF [Israel’s military] and even the [Israeli] president’s office.”


The UJS gives Jewish students annual awards for arranging visits to their universities by Israeli diplomats, establishing “Israel societies” on campus and coordinating with other Israel lobby groups.

The UJS holds events with the Israeli embassy in London and promotes the “Birthright” propaganda program, designed to indoctrinate Jewish students from around the world during all-expenses-paid trips to Israel.

In 2002, the WUJS produced a hasbara (pro-Israel propaganda) handbook, to arm Jewish students supporting Zionism with tools for influencing opinion. Students are encouraged to smear opponents when the evidence of anti-Semitism is unclear.

“It is often worth expressing personal upset, saying that one was ‘hurt, as a Jew’ by the controversial act,” the handbook states.

The UJS promotes to Jewish students the harmful, wrong and potentially racist idea that anti-Zionism is anti-Semitic. It also portrays pro-Palestine students – especially those involved in the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign, many of whom are Arab or Muslim – as seeking to “eliminate Jewish self-determination.”

Given the clear strictures in official documentation and the evidence of its activities, we can state clearly that the Union of Jewish Students is engaged in subversive activities on campuses across Britain. It attacks Palestinian rights, fabricates allegations of anti-Semitism and manufactures claims that Jewish students feel “unsafe.”

The result is that pro-Palestine activism has been cowed on campus throughout the UK

The UJS should confess openly that it is a Zionist organization and should stop claiming to represent all Jewish students on campus. It is constitutionally constrained to represent only those that support Israel.

Until and unless it changes its constitution and explicitly withdraws from the Zionist movement disavowing its “Jerusalem Program,” Jewish societies and the UJS nationally will not be a safe space for all Jews, never mind Muslims, Palestinians and supporters of Palestinian liberation.

When you hear the UJS and its Jewish societies speak on anti-Semitism, Palestine or Israel, remember, you are hearing the voice of the Israeli embassy.

David Miller is a broadcaster, journalist and academic. He produces and regularly appears on the weekly show Palestine Declassified.