Eran Cohen, the supporter of boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel who wanted to lead Britain’s Union of Jewish Students, was routed in his bid for the presidency of the body, coming in a distant third to two other candidates, according to results announced on Sunday that showed him garnering under 12% of votes. The University of Nottingham’s Josh Holt prevailed in the race and will soon take his new position.
“I support it because I believe it will bring about a secular state for all its citizens from the river to the sea. Some people equate that with the destruction of Israel. I don’t,” the 27-year-old biology student at York University said about the BDS movement, in a Facebook post reported on before the election by the Jewish Chronicle. “I am a diasporist — I believe the focus of Jewish life is wherever Jews live, and excessive focus on Israel damages the UK Jewish community.”
There was worry among Israel advocates that his victory would have precipitated significant change in the UJS’ tack on the Middle East. It currently advocates a two-state solution, maintaining a commitment to Zionism and a big tent for different opinions on the Israel question.
Born in Israel, Cohen has a record of left-wing activism in the United Kingdom, participating in his university’s chapter of the Palestinian international solidarity movement, protesting against Israel’s military in West Bank demonstration and developing close ties to the Labour Party and its radical leader Jeremy Corbyn, whom Cohen bragged he knows on a first-name basis.
Cohen’s campaign video promoted his agenda as “Balfive,” a riff on the U.K.’s Balfour Declaration, which a century ago recognized Jewish aspirations for a homeland in what was then the mandate of Palestine. Included in that platform — aside from BDS — were proposals to establish eruvs around British campuses, fund scholarships for Jews from the global South and have the UJS focus more on Jews’ lives and history in the diaspora.
Cohen was the target of intense backlash on social media due to his BDS advocacy, with some referring to him with terms like “disgusting kapo” and “self-hating Jew,” according to the Jewish Chronicle. David Brown, executive director of the UJS, hit back at that behavior in a Facebook post before the election. “Some of the ‘grown-ups’ in our community need to follow the lead of our students and engage with ideas they oppose with far more respect and civility,” he said.
Daniel J. Solomon is the Assistant to the Editor/News Writer at the Forward. Originally from Queens, he attended Harvard as an undergraduate, where he wrote his senior thesis on French-Jewish intellectual history. He is excited to have returned to New York after his time in Massachusetts. Daniel’s passions include folk music, cycling, and pointed argument.