UK Student Union Condemns Israel - But Not ISIS

National Union of Students rejects motion supporting Kurds against Islamic State over 'Islamophobia fears', provoking outcry.

Ari Soffer , | updated: 11:30 PM

Kurdish activists are calling for internation
Kurdish activists are calling for internation

The UK's National Union of Students (NUS) has rejected a motion condemning the radical Islamic State terrorist group - also known as ISIS or ISIL - on the grounds that it could be considered "Islamophobic," sparking a row over the dominance of radical-left groups within the student body. 

The decision by NUS's National Executive Committee to shoot down the motion is all the more shocking given that the same body adopted an aggressive bill just over two months ago condemning Israel and calling for a boycott of the Jewish state. The anti-Israel motion was adopted despite objections that it risked alienating Jewish students, who are feeling increasingly insecure on British campuses as a result of militant anti-Israel activity.

It comes as Kurdish fighters continue to battle ISIS in Kobane, stymieing the jihadi group's bloody advance through Syria. Rights groups have said that ISIS's brutal military campaign throughout Iraq and Syria amounts to ethnic-cleansing of "historic proportions", as non-Sunni Muslim groups - including Shias, Christians and Yazidis - have been targeted with rape, mass-killings and forcible conversions.

The proposed motion was penned in support of the Kurds in particular, who have both been at the forefront of resistance to ISIS and on the receiving end of much of the group[s brutality. It called "to condemn the IS and support Kurdish forces fighting against it, while expressing no confidence or trust in the US military intervention." (For full text see below.)

But NUS's black students' officer Malia Bouattia came out strongly against the motion, according to student newspaper The Tab, reportedly claiming that "condemnation of ISIS appears to have become a justification for war and blatant islamophobia. This rhetoric exacerbates the issue at hand and in essence is a further attack on those we aim to defend."

One of the motion's co-sponsors, student Daniel Cooper, issued a strong condemnation of the "stranglehold of identity politics" he said lay behind the controversial rejection.

"The motion then fell as large numbers of NEC members either abstained or voted against (including the bulk of the political left on NEC). I think this says a lot about the current state of the student movement," Cooper wrote on his blog.

"There is a stranglehold of 'identity politics' on the student movement… essentially the idea is widespread that if a liberation officer opposes something, it must be bad."

Opponents of the motion claimed that they opposed it because it encourage military intervention, not for its condemnation of ISIS per-sa.

A spokesperson for the NUS responded to the row with a statement, saying it was formulating an alternative motion.

"At our most recent NEC meeting, a motion on this issue was presented and voted on by all members. Some committee members felt that the wording of the motion being presented would unfairly demonise all Muslims rather than solely the group of people it set out to rightfully condemn.

"Of course NUS does not support Isis and a new motion will be taken to the next NUS National Executive Committee meeting, which will specifically condemn the politics and methods of Isis and offer solidarity for the Kurdish people."

Full text of the failed motion:

Iraqi/Kurdish solidarity 
Proposed: Daniel Cooper 
Seconded: Shreya Paudel, Clifford Fleming

NUS National Executive Committee notes:

1. The ongoing humanitarian crisis and sectarian polarisation in Iraq - which has resulted in thousands of Yazidi Kurds being massacred. 
NUS NEC believes

2. That the people of Iraq have suffered for years under the sectarian and brutally repressive dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, the US/UK invasion and occupation, the current sectarian regime linked to both the US and Iran, and now the barbaric repression of the “Islamic State” organisation.

3. That rape and other forms of sexual violence are being used as weapons against women in IS-occupied areas, while minorities are being ethnically cleansed.

NUS NEC resolves:

1. To work with the International Students’ Campaign to support Iraqi, Syrian and other international students in the UK affected by this situation.

2. To campaign in solidarity with the Iraqi people and in particular support the hard-pressed student, workers’ and women’s organisations against all the competing nationalist and religious-right forces.

3. To support Iraqis trying to bridge the Sunni-Shia divide to fight for equality and democracy, including defence of the rights of the Christian and Yazidi-Kurd minorities.

4. To condemn the IS and support the Kurdish forces fighting against it, while expressing no confidence or trust in the US military intervention.

5. Encourage students to boycott anyone found to be funding the IS or supplying them with goods, training, travel or soldiers.

6. To make contact with Iraqi and Kurdish organisations, in Iraq and in the UK, in order to build solidarity and to support refugees.

7. To issue a statement on the above basis.