When Britain's National Union of Students Had a Jewish Heart
I have been unable to find a full list of those former UK National Union of Students' presidents who recently signed a letter expressing safety fears for Jewish students now on campus.
But I would be surprised and puzzled if Sue Slipman were not among them.
The ever more noxious row comes against the backdrop of the NUS's forthcoming centenary.
So it is instructive to note that the organisation was not initially politicised but went on to be forever associated with the radical student protests of the late 1960s and helped to launch the careers of figures like former Labour Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.
He and former racial equality chief, Sir Trevor Phillips are among the named signatories to the letter and in a 2014 interview with NUS Connect, Slipman revealed that she served only half of her allotted two year term as president to aid Phillips's own career.
It seems barely credible that she wanted to allow Trevor Phillips a chance to stand for election. But she did so "because of the way the election system worked. I really liked the idea that the first woman president would be followed by the first black president – it’s pretty cool, isn’t it?”, she said.
But what is most relevant now is that Slipman, then a Communist Party member was not just the union's first full-time female officer as national secretary and then president.
Born a working-class Jew, she also became celebrated for opposing the union's 'no platform' policy following the United Nations's October 1976 'Zionism is racism' declaration which caused Jewish societies to be banned at many universities.
" ... so you had this ludicrous situation", she recalled, "in which something that started off being anti-racist, ended up cementing racist acts! Someone had to stand up against that degree of complete and utter nonsense, so we did".
But what she termed her 'finest hour' was all too brief: The 'no platform policy' was reinstated on her departure.
This seems to have set the tone for what is happening again- and it scares me stiff!
© Natalie Wood
21 April 2022