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April 20, 2016 9:27 pm

Britain’s National Student Union Elects ‘Open Racist’ as President; Jewish Groups in Uproar Over Antisemitic Past (VIDEO)

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Malia Bouattia at the 2016 NUS conference. Photo: NUS UK.

Malia Bouattia at the 2016 NUS conference. Photo: NUS UK.

British Jewish student organizations are in an uproar following a decision on Wednesday by the UK’s National Union of Students (NUS) to elect a controversial president with a history of anti-Israel and antisemitic remarks, The Jewish Chronicle reported.

Malia Bouattia, originally from Algeria, has come under fire for her previous comments supporting terrorism against Israel and denouncing “mainstream Zionist led media outlets.” In 2014, while speaking at a “pro-resistance” event celebrating “Gaza and the Palestinian revolution,” Bouattia asserted that it is “problematic” to consider that “Palestine will be free” only by means of “non-violent protest” and bemoaned the fact that “resistance” is presented as terrorism.

She also expressed disappointment that some in the Palestinian camp reject the path of “armed struggle” for various reasons.

In a 2011 article co-written by Bouattia, the incoming NUS president referred to the University of Birmingham as a “Zionist outpost” with the “largest [Jewish Society] in the country” after taking part in Israeli Apartheid Week there. 

During the NUS presidential campaign, the presidents of major UK Jewish student groups penned a letter, titled “Questions that need to be answered,” asking Bouattia to explain her comments. “Our question for you is clear: why do you see a large Jewish Society [JSoc] as a problem?” they wrote. In response, Bouattia denied having any problems with Jews, claiming in a letter, The answer is that I do not now, nor did I five years ago when I contributed to the article…see a large Jewish Society on campus as a problem…I want to be clear that for me to take issue with zionist politics, is not me taking issue with being Jewish.”

Following Bouattia’s election, the Union of Jewish Students issued a statement presenting a pessimistic prognosis. “Antisemitism has been something of a buzzword at NUS Conference 2016 and in the student movement this year,” the group said. “This looks set to continue…Jewish students have not yet received adequate answers from Malia on these concerns…There is now a choice to be made. Jewish students need to decide whether NUS has gone too far for them to want to be involved, or whether now is the time to step up the fight from within.”

University College London JSoc president Adam Schapira called for Bouattia’s resignation in a statement published by the Jewish Chronicle. “Jewish students are deeply shocked and saddened by Malia’s recent election victory. Anybody who refers to the University of Birmingham as a ‘Zionist Outpost’ should not be given a platform, let alone lead our national student union,” he wrote. “There should be zero tolerance for antisemitism, implicitly or otherwise…As NUS president, Malia will leave an indelible mark on an organization that claims to fight against all forms of hate and intolerance. It frankly discredits NUS as an organization, and Jewish students are rightly outraged by this. In light of this, I am calling for her immediate withdrawal from NUS.”

Paul Charney, chairman of the Zionist Federation, described Bouattia’s election as “a deeply challenging day for Jewish students.” While the NUS repeats “mantra-like phrases…of liberation, inclusivity and diversity…we saw today that these are hollow words when it comes to one specific minority,” he said.

Another Jewish group, North West Friends of Israel said the NUS election results presented “a dark, dark day for UK Jewish students.” The group criticized Bouattia for using “age old antisemitic tropes such as ‘the Zionist led media’” and asked, “How can this make Jewish students feel safe on campus?”

Media and government officials took to Twitter in denouncing the NUS elections. International Business Times columnist James Bloodworth wrote: “The NUS has elected an open racist. With the votes of supposed socialists. Shocking.” Jewish Labour chair Jeremy Newmark tweeted: “As an NUS honorary life member I’m appalled. A once great organization has abandoned Jewish students & elected a President unfit for office.” Conservative Barrister Jeremy Brier posted, “Every significant donor to a UK University should now make it conditional upon disaffiliation from antisemitic, terror-backing NUS.”

NUS represents 600 student organizations, comprising 7 million student voices. The election took place at the NUS national conference in Brighton. Bouattia garnered 372 votes, beating incumbent president Megan Dunn, who received 328 votes.

Watch a video of Bouattia’s 2014 remarks below:

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