Claims of anti-semitism hit NUS Presidential race

Oxford JSoc among the 48 student societies asking questions of Malia Bouattia in open letter

Leaders of student Jewish societies at 48 British universities, including Oxford, have signed an open letter asking NUS presidential candidate Malia Bouattia to answer questions regarding comments she has made which they consider anti-semitic.

The Jewish student leaders specifically raises concern with a 2011 blog post in which she called the University of Birmingham a “Zionist outpost in British Higher Education” and commented that one of the problems she faced as a leader of Friends of Palestine was that the University had the “largest JSoc in the country” with leadership “dominated by Zionist activists”.

“I do not now, nor did I five years ago when I contributed to the article cited in [the] letter, see a large Jewish Society on campus as a problem.”

Malia Bouattia, NUS Black Students’ Officer

In a written response to the letter, Bouattia claims she has no problem with the large JSOC. “I do not now, nor did I five years ago when I contributed to the article cited in [the] letter, see a large Jewish Society on campus as a problem,” she writes.

The letter also references a speech she gave to start Israeli Apartheid Week at SOAS in February, during which she claimed the government’s anti-extremism policy, Prevent, had been fuelled by “all manner of Zionists and neo-con lobbies”.

She has since clarified these comments as referring specifically to lobbying done by the Henry Jackson Society, a non-Jewish organisation, for neo-con and pro-Zionist policies, but denies that they reference the Jewish people as a whole. “In no way did I – or would I – link these positions to Jewish people”, she says in her response to the letter from Jewish student leaders.

Indeed, she writes that Judaism and Zionism are not the same and that connecting religion and politics is “both unfair and unrepresentative”.

The open letter also brings up an endorsement Bouattia received from Raza Nadim, the spokesmen for the Muslim Public Affairs Committee, an organisation that has been no-platformed by the NUS since 2004 for promoting belief in a world-wide Zionist conspiracy and once posted on their Facebook page to “take your holocaust, roll it nice and tight and shove it up your (be creative)!”. Specifically, the student leaders take issue with her reply to the endorsement, which was simply, “Thank you :-))”.

In her response to their letter, Bouattia claims she did not know Nadim, nor was she aware of his anti-semitic views, blaming her acceptance of the endorsement on an influx of support and a standardised response to it.

“I have a public facebook page with nearly 5,000 ‘friends’ on it, many of whom have posted supportive messages to my wall,” she wrote. “In all honesty, I was not aware of who Mr Nadim was or his position when he posted to my wall and responded in the same way I would to any post.”

She goes on to claim that as Black Students’ Officer at NUS, she has “a long track record of opposing racism – in all its forms – and actively campaigning against it. I am also an advocate of inter-faith work both inside of our union and beyond”.

Since the release of the letter, all four of the “Oh Well Alright Then” slate members representing Oxford to the NUS have condemned Bouattia’s comments and have thrown their support behind the Jewish student community in Oxford.

Additionally, the OUSU Sabbatical Team have released a public statement against her comments and urged her to answer the letter’s questions, going so far as to claim that “If these allegations are true, we believe it makes her unfit for the office of National President”.

“In order to help prevent the poison of anti-Semitism and ethno-religious hatred from spreading further, we need to make sure that the next NUS President doesn’t have anti-Semitic views.”

Alex Curtis, second year student at St Catz

The letter has also been signed by many current Oxford students, many of whom cited their concern for growing anti-semitism on  university campuses.

Alex Curtis, a second year student at St Catz told Cherwell, “As someone who is partially of Jewish heritage, I am worried about some of the rising anti-Semitism we have recently been seeing on university campuses across the country.

“In order to help prevent the poison of anti-Semitism and ethno-religious hatred from spreading further, we need to make sure that the next NUS President doesn’t have anti-Semitic views.”

The outpouring of support does not shock Oxford JSOC President Isaac Virchis, who believes “this is wholly indicative of the overwhelmingly positive and welcoming attitudes towards Jewish students and JSOC that are prevalent throughout the university.”

While Bouattia has offered her answers to the questions asked by the letter, many people see this breed of anti-semitism as widespread in universities and left-of-centre circles around the UK, including a vote by OULC to support Israeli Apartheid Week that set off questions of anti-semitism within the club and the party in general. Some see this vote as a sign of the increasing accepting of this form of anti-semitism within leftist group.

The resignation of Alex Chalmers as OULC co-Chair in February brought anti-semitism in the Labour Party to light.
The resignation of Alex Chalmers as OULC co-Chair in February brought anti-semitism in the Labour Party to light.

“If there’s one form of racism one can express freely in far leftist circles, it’s anti-semitism; often cloaked in the obfuscating language of Zionism and Zionists, the far left’s pathological obsession with Israel trumps any concern for Jewish welfare or the growth in anti-semitic attacks.” Labour activist Louis McEvoy said, “Obviously one can criticise Israeli government policy, but for some reason this is regularly conflated with dark murmurings of Zionist lobbyists and banks controlling the West, not to mention a pretty commonplace hatred for the very existence of the Jewish state. The candidacy of the utterly vile Malia Bouattia for NUS President is the peak of this phenomenon thus far.”

Indeed, many within the left have come to see the kinds of comments made by Bouattia as toxic to the role she’s running for and left-of-centre politics in general. “In light of this incident, this brings into question Ms Bouattia’s suitability for the role of NUS President where she will be representing the rights of students across the country from a diverse set of backgrounds, including Jewish students, when she is expressing views which are totally at odds with a role that requires impartiality and willingness to work with all students” said Brahma Mohanty, former OULC BME Officer and Social Secretary.

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