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May 27, 2016 1:36 pm

Cambridge Referendum Calling to Break Ties With National Student Union Over ‘Antisemitic’ President Narrowly Defeated

avatar by Lea Speyer

Cambridge University students narrowly voted in favor of staying with the National Student Union. Photo: Facebook.

Cambridge University students narrowly voted in favor of staying with the National Student Union. Photo: Facebook.

Britain’s Cambridge University narrowly voted to remain a member of the National Student Union (NUS) this week after calls were made to disaffiliate over the organization’s incoming controversial president who has been accused of antisemitism.

The results of the vote – which took place between May 24-27 — were announced Friday by the Cambridge University Students’ Union (CUSU). 46.62 percent of students voted in favor of disaffiliation, with 51.52 against. Voter turnout was high, with 28.76 percent of eligible voters casting their ballot.

Adam Crafton of the “NUS: Let Cambridge Decide” campaign, which called for disaffiliation from the NUS, said in a statement, “We are of course disappointed not to have seen this through and secured the disaffiliation vote.”

While the vote may not have resulted in their favor, Crafton said, “We believe that we have awoken the Cambridge student community to the challenges facing Jewish students on British campuses in 2016 and that is an immensely satisfying achievement. It has been a draining challenge at times but hugely rewarding.”

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Crafton issued congratulations to the “Remain Campaign,” saying he “truly hopes they honor their campaigning promises to fight for Jewish students within the NUS.”

The results of the closely watched CUSU referendum came on the same day it was revealed that NUS president-elect Malia Bouattia was investigated last year by the student organization for antisemitism. Bouattia has been the center of controversy for antisemitic and anti-Zionist remarks, including a past speech that praised violent “resistance” against Israel and referring to the University of Birmingham as a “Zionist outpost” because of its large Jewish student population. 

According to the student run news website The Tab, a 2015 investigation in response to complaints against Bouattia found that her actions did “amount to misconduct and will be addressed through informal procedures.” In a letter dated March 3, 2015, the NUS wrote, “It is not unreasonable for you to believe that the content of Malia’s speech was antisemitic and therefore in breach of Code of Conduct.” However, NUS said it was “satisfied, based on the evidence and information available…that it was not Malia’s intention to be antisemitic.”

Bouattia was issued an “informal warning” and told to “familiarize” herself with NUS’s Code of Conduct and Equal Opportunities policies and issue a written apology.

In light of the latest revelations on Bouattia, Crafton said the concerns of Jewish students across Britain still remain. “Her punishment of an informal warning and an apology does not suffice. Moreover, it is appalling that the millions of students she will represent nationwide were not informed that this investigation took place. It is to the utmost credit of the student media that they exposed this. It would, once again, appear to demonstrate conclusive evidence that the NUS cannot be trusted to confront antisemitism.”

“It is vital that the NUS do not see this vote as a legitimization of the direction their organization is taking but instead see it as a mandate from a very prestigious university to be allowed one last chance to secure the reforms that Jewish students deserve,” he added.

NUS Vice President Richard Brooks welcomed the results of the Cambridge vote, saying in a statement he was “delighted.”

This vote comes at a crucial time for students across the country as we stand up to the undermining of students and attacks on young people. It means that Cambridge students will continue to be part of our national voice,” he said.

The NUS represents more than 7 million college students in the UK. On Tuesday, Hull University voted to disaffiliate from the NUS, joining the University of Lincoln and Newcastle University. Earlier this month, students at the University of Exeter, the Warwick School and the University of Surrey voted to remain with the NUS.

Some one dozen other universities across the country will be holding disaffiliation referendums,  including Oxford, Durham, Westminster and Edinburgh.

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