After Malia Bouattia overcame allegations of anti-semitism to become the National President of the NUS, voices within Oxford, including its NUS delegates, have begun calling for disaffiliation from the national union.
Bouattia, who will be the first black women to take up the presidency, won in spite of vocal condemnation coming from leaders of student Jewish societies across the country and student union leaders, including OUSU president Becky Howe.
“The point of a union for students is to deliver real representation for all students, and what has occurred this conference shows that this is no longer a priority for those who hold power in the NUS.”
Oh Well, Alright Then
Barely more than a day after the results were announced, Oxford NUS slate Oh Well, Alright Then released a statement pushing the student body to a referendum on NUS membership after Bouattia’s election.
“Today, we no longer believe that Oxford’s membership of the NUS can be justified”, the delegates said in a group press release. “The point of a union for students is to deliver real representation for all students, and what has occurred this conference shows that this is no longer a priority for those who hold power in the NUS.”
They plan to build grassroots support which can then introduce motions for every JCR and MCR to mandate their OUSU representatives to vote for a referendum to be introduced before the full student body.
The Oxford Jewish Society has thrown their support behind the movement. “We thank OUSU and students across Oxford for their support and firmly support the motion for Oh Well Alright Then to dissafiliate from OUSU. Oxford JSOC has no confidence in NUS to represent us as students”, Oxford Jewish Society President Isaac Virchis told Cherwell.
The strong opposition to Bouattia’s campaign reached a fever pitch late last week when leaders of student Jewish societies at 48 universities around the UK signed an open letter calling for her to answer questions about her past comments calling the University of Birmingham a “Zionist outpost” and referring to its large Jewish society as a problem. It also raised concerns with her claim that the government’s anti-extremism measure, Prevent, was fuelled by “all manner of Zionist and neo-con lobbies”.
While she quickly released a statement clarifying her views, claiming to not “see a large Jewish Society on campus as a problem” and insisting that her anti-Zionist views were not anti-Jewish, separating politics and faith, these responses were deemed insufficient by both Jewish student leaders and the OUSU sabbatical team, which decided to not support Bouattia in the election.
Bouattia referred to the allegations in her speech at the NUS Conference in Brighton, saying the audience will have seen her name “dragged through the mud by the right-wing media” but that such criticism was wrong as her platform was motivated by inclusion and protection of all students.
“Any candidate who in a hustings speech refers to legitimate scrutiny from Jewish students as having her name dragged through the mud by the right wing media is in my view not fit to be President of NUS”, said Isaac Virchis, president of the Oxford Jewish society, echoing his earlier calls for her disqualification.
“NUS has failed its Jewish members and can no longer claim to be representative of each and every student.”
Isaac Virchis, Oxford University JSoc President
While not everyone has called for NUS disaffiliation, her election made Oxford students across the ideological spectrum uncomfortable.
“An anti-semite has won the NUS Presidential election. We are disgusted”, Oh Well, Alright Then tweeted after the announcement.
Mentioning the motion passed earlier that day calling for movement against anti-semitism, Virchis said, “It is hypocritical of NUS to pass a motion making a commitment to anti-Semitism and then twenty minutes later to elect a President who has problematic views towards Jewish students on campus. NUS has failed its Jewish members and can no longer claim to be representative of each and every student.”
The Union of Jewish Students chose to take a conciliatory tone with the news, saying “UJS is proud of its long history and long standing positive relationship with the National Union of Students. Now that Malia Bouattia has been elected president, we hope that that relationship will be able to continue”. It is unclear how the election will affect Jewish students’ relationship to NUS.
For some, however, it is the politicisation of the post, which they claim takes the NUS away from its mission to lobby for student needs, that is problematic. “[The NUS] shouldn’t be an outfit for the promotion of political activities that are irrelevant to most students or for the promotion of extremist ideas, such as anti-Semitism and the refusal to condemn ISIS”, said second-year geographer Alex Curtis, referring to Bouattia’s earlier effort to keep the NUS from condemning the Islamic State. “Unfortunately, that is what the NUS has become”.