UK student pres. urged to address anti-Semitism

Jewish student leaders call on new NUS president Malia Bouattia to go further to address their concerns over her alleged anti-Semitism.

Ben Ariel, Canada ,

Anti-Israel protester in London (archive)
Anti-Israel protester in London (archive)

Jewish student leaders in Britain on Friday called on the National Union of Students’ (NUS) newly elected president to go further to address their concerns over her alleged anti-Semitism, The Guardian reported.

The NUS, an umbrella organization for British student unions, this week elected Malia Bouattia as its president.

In the past, Bouattia has voiced support for violent attacks on Israelis and blocked passage of a motion condemning the Islamic State (ISIS) terrorist organization.

Russell Langer, the campaigns director of the Union of Jewish Students (UJS), on Friday called on Bouattia to distance herself from her previous comments, including one where she described her former university as “something of a Zionist outpost.”

“Malia needs to go further to redress the concerns that were put to her,” Langer said, according to The Guardian. “She needs to properly distance herself from her past rhetoric, issue sincere apologies and also commit to avoiding any flirtation with anti-Semitic stereotypes in the future. Without these steps, many Jewish students will feel that they are unable to engage with an NUS under her leadership.”

A group of students at the University of Cambridge have already submitted a motion to hold a referendum to disaffiliate their student union with the NUS on the back of her election. More than 50 heads of Jewish societies at universities across the country subsequently wrote an open letter to Bouattia asking her to clarify her position, according to The Guardian.

In her reply to the letter from the Jewish society presidents, Bouattia denied she had ever had issues with Jewish societies on campus, saying she celebrated “the ability of people and students of all backgrounds to get together and express their backgrounds and faith openly and positively”.

“For me to take issue with Zionist politics is not me taking issue with being Jewish … it is a political argument, not one of faith,” she added.

But Daniel Clemens, the president of Birmingham J-Soc, replied and said her response was “completely unsatisfactory”.

“There is quite a bit of uproar among the wider campus and student community,” Clemens told The Guardian. “I think that anti-Zionism and antisemitism are two and the same thing. Zionism is the belief that Jewish people should have a homeland to live in without threat of annihilation or war. This stems from a Jewish belief. So when someone attacks Zionism they’re indirectly attacking Judaism as a religion, because the two go hand in hand.”

Jack May, leader of the Cambridge campaign to disaffiliate from the NUS, said the most important thing for students was to have a say in whether they should be part of an organization which under Bouattia’s presidency would be “heading in a different direction”.

“A lot of Malia’s comments have been what are traditional antisemitic conspiracy theory material, such as the ‘Zionist media’, which is a serious cause for concern,” he said. “It’s dangerous and flippant rhetoric. So a lot of Jewish students in the UK will be thinking very carefully about whether the NUS is an organization which can continue to represent their interests.”

NUS last year voted to boycott all Israeli companies and officially affiliate with the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, a move which was criticized by Israeli officials such as MK Yair Lapid, head of the Yesh Atid party.

(Arutz Sheva’s North American desk is keeping you updated until the start of Shabbat and the Passover holiday in New York. The time posted automatically on all Arutz Sheva articles, however, is Israeli time.)