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May 3, 2016 4:19 pm

British Jewish Campus Activist: Cambridge Referendum on Severing Ties With National Union of Students Is a Statement Against Antisemitic Rhetoric

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Cambridge University. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Cambridge University. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Cambridge University is affirming its stance against antisemitism with the passing of a student council referendum Monday evening that will put the cutting of ties with the National Union of Students (NUS) over the election of its controversial new president to a vote, a founder of the referendum told The Algemeiner on Tuesday.

“Cambridge has made a statement by passing this referendum to say that we will not stand back as antisemitic rhetoric flourishes and we will allow people to make a choice,” said Adam Crafton, a Jewish student who was one of the first at Cambridge to join the “NUS: Let Cambridge Decide” campaign.

In a debate that lasted four hours and was attended by some 150 people, Cambridge University’s Student Union (CUSU) Council overwhelmingly passed a resolution — 36 in favor, six against — calling for a campus-wide vote on the future of the school’s NUS affiliation. The vote comes in response to the election as president of Malia Bouattia, who is facing a firestorm of controversy for past antisemitic comments and calls for armed resistance against Israel. Bouattia has vehemently denied the accusations. A second part of the motion includes sending a CUSU-sponsored letter to Bouattia, condemning her comments about Israel and Jews.

This is a great decision from the CUSU Council. The assembled representatives of over 22,000 students at the University of Cambridge have said in the strongest terms that they condemn the language used by the new president of the NUS,” Crafton said.

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According to Crafton, the debate was “highly informed and passionate” with an “overwhelming condemnation of the antisemitic rhetoric that has been used by Malia Bouattia.” Those present at the debate, Crafton said, expressed an overall acceptance that Bouattia “has failed in the NUS’ stated objective to be a ‘leading exemplar of quality and diversity.’” But Crafton also told The Algemeiner that “two women spoke passionately in defense of Bouattia, arguing her views were anti-Zionist rather than antisemitic. One, however, did admit the language used by Bouattia had ‘the undertones’ of antisemitism.”

Adam Crafton. Photo: Courtesy.

Adam Crafton. Photo: Courtesy.

Bouattia’s rhetoric is reflective of an overall problem of rising antisemitism across major cities and university campuses, Crafton said. “It is a problem because antisemitism is not a historical artifact from the 1940s. It is alive and present today in our societies. This is shown by the Labour Party and the major figures suspended in the last week,” he said, referring to the current antisemitism scandal surrounding the party and its supporters. “Look at [former London mayor] Ken Livingstone; look at [Labour MP] Naz Shah; look at the three councilors suspended this week for alleged antisemitic rhetoric.”

“It is a problem, because Malia Bouattia is the elected representative of seven million students,” Crafton said, adding she “should know far better” than to indulge in antisemitic discourse. “I take no issue at all with Bouattia having her own views…However, this becomes an issue when such views are made in her capacity as a representative of millions of students nationwide, as she did on Channel 4 news last week,” he said, referring to Bouattia’s refusal to answer whether Israel has a right to exist during her first official interview as NUS president.

“Malia Bouattia is clearly a highly informed and intelligent woman when it comes to liberation campaigns. She has advanced great causes with her work on Islamophobia and her achievements for LGBT campaigns. It therefore baffles me that somebody so well integrated into such social causes can be so careless when it comes to antisemitic rhetoric,” Crafton said.

As reported by The Algemeiner, Cambridge is one of several universities in Britain threatening to break ties with the NUS. Students at the University of Lincoln began to vote on the issue on Tuesday, with polls closing on May 9. Four of the six NUS delegates at Oxford University are pushing for disaffiliation from the national student organization, the university’s newspaper Cherwell reported.

Crafton said it is “difficult to judge” whether Cambridge students will vote in favor of disaffiliation from the NUS. “I think many people are now aware of the concerns of Jewish students and also the many non-Jewish students at the university who abhor the mistreatment of any minority group,” he said.

Voting will open at Cambridge on May 17 and will close on May 20.

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