UK Jewish Student Leaders Demand ‘Immediate Answers’ From Anti-Israel Candidate for Student Union President
The leaders of 57 Jewish student organizations in the United Kingdom, along with several hundred others “in solidarity,” have written an open letter demanding “immediate answers” from a leading candidate for the presidency of the National Union of Students (NUS) concerning her past comments about Zionism and Jewish students, The Algemeiner has learned.
Malia Bouattia, currently the Black Students Officer in the NUS, is one of three candidates for the office, with elections scheduled for next week.
According to the letter, posted Wednesday, the students were “extremely concerned” about some of Bouattia’s past and recent remarks. They pointed to a 2011 article Bouattia co-authored, for example, in which she referred to the University of Birmingham as a “Zionist outpost,” noting that it had the “largest JSoc (Jewish Society) in the country.”
The students wrote:
There are roughly 8,500 Jewish students in the UK which is 0.12% of the seven million students that are represented by NUS. We are shocked that someone who is seeking to represent this organization could possibly see a large Jewish student population as a challenge and not something to be welcomed.
Our question for you is clear: why do you see a large Jewish Society as a problem?
Wes Streeting, a former NUS president and the Labour Party’s MP for Ilford North wrote in the Jewish Chronicle:
Why does this NUS officer seem to have a problem with Birmingham University having a large Jewish Society? If the word “Jewish” was replaced with “Black” or “LGBT” or “disabled” there would be an outcry. Such sentiments have no place in the leadership of NUS…
Bouattia’s article also referred to the European Union Military Committee’s Working Definition of Antisemitism, according to which certain forms of criticisms of Israel are deemed antisemitic, as “ominous.” She further called the Birmingham Jewish students’ hosting of 25 Israeli students, setting up a “Peace Tent” on campus, and arguing that Israel seeks coexistence with the Palestinians, as “two-faced Orwellian propagandizing.”
The students’ letter went on to claim that Bouattia’s 2011 comments “are not isolated.” It referred to an article two weeks ago in which Bouattia was quoted as saying that the British government’s anti-extremism policy, “Prevent,” was fueled by “all manner of Zionist and neo-con lobbies.”
In response, the student leaders protested that by peddling such “conspiracy theories” to student audiences, Bouattia was “creating an element of suspicion towards Jewish students on campus.”
Finally, the students expressed concern about Bouattia’s relationship with the Muslim Public Affairs Committee (MPACUK). MPACUK has been excluded from the NUS since 2004, after it published material promoting the idea of a worldwide Zionist conspiracy and republishing material from neo-Nazi and Holocaust-denial websites. MPACUK’s spokesperson explicitly endorsed Bouattia’s candidacy for NUS president, but, the students wrote, “We were hoping that this was something that you would distance yourself from but the opposite happened when you replied ‘Thank you :-)).'”
The students asked, “If you are elected as NUS President, will you continue to interact with an organization NUS has “no-platformed” due to antisemitism?
In response to the open letter, according to the Jewish Chronicle, Bouattia said, “It seems I have been misrepresented. I am extremely uncomfortable with insinuations of antisemitism. To take issue with Zionist politics is not taking issue with being Jewish.”
She added that she would “continue to oppose the Israeli state’s treatment of Palestinians and its violations of human rights,” while, if elected as President of NUS, she would “continue to fight against racism in all its forms — including antisemitism.”
Bouattia also wrote a longer response on Facebook, in which she reiterated her distinction between anti-Zionism and antisemitism, and acknowledged that she will abide by the NUS “No Platform” with respect to MPACUK. She did not address the students’ concern about her “peddling conspiracy theories.”
A request for clarification was not immediately answered.