British Watchdog: Moves to Disaffiliate From National Union of Students Show Unwillingness to Tolerate Antisemitism in Representative Body
A prominent staffer of a UK charity and watchdog group said that the increasing move to sever ties with the National Union of Students (NUS) over the election of its controversial new president “shows that many students will not tolerate antisemitism in the body that is meant to represent them.”
Jonathan Sacerdoti, director of communications at the Campaign Against Antisemitism, was referring to a growing movement across British campuses — including at Oxford, Cambridge, York and Manchester — to disaffiliate from the NUS over Malia Bouattia, who has been at the center of controversy over her past antisemitic, anti-Israel and terror-sympathizing comments, such as criticizing the “Zionist-led media” and bemoaning the use of “non-violent protest” in Israel, during a 2014 “pro-resistance” event.
On Thursday, students at Newcastle University voted overwhelmingly to break away from NUS, with 67 percent in favor and 33 percent against. Dom Fearon, president of Newcastle’s Student Union, wrote in a statement following the vote: “It is clear that our students feel that the NUS no longer represents their views, does not prioritize correctly and is not effective at achieving change.”
Newcastle is the second school to disaffiliate with NUS. On Monday, the University of Lincoln Student Union (ULSU) announced that, after a narrow school-wide vote, it would be cutting its membership with NUS. “As a group of elected officers, we no longer felt confident that the NUS represented the views of our students,” said ULSU President Hayley Jayne Wilkinson in a statement.
According to Sacerdoti, students are speaking out now against NUS because “they do not feel properly represented by Ms. Bouattia,” adding, “This is a positive sign that the antisemitism that has festered for so long in some campuses may now be coming to light more widely, and may be dealt with properly.”
In response to the latest moves by British universities to disaffiliate, NUS officers met this week with Jewish campus leaders from Bristol, Birmingham, Nottingham and Leeds, the Jewish Chronicle reported. The talks were held at the request of the Union of Jewish Students (UJS).
Sacerdoti said the NUS — which represents 7 million student voices across the UK — “will need to consider its position seriously if it is to reassure students that it can do a proper job of representing them nationally.”
“NUS needs to prove that it is not a pressure group representing extremist views, but a representative body standing up for the mainstream positions of most students. This needs to be demonstrated through concrete action, not merely in hollow words and platitudes from those at the top of the organization,” he said.
On Friday, students at the University of Exeter voted to remain a part of the NUS. “We firmly believe that the interests of Exeter Students are best served by being part of the NUS and it is great that we have been able to convince a majority of students voting that this is the case,” said the school’s Students Guild president and leader of the Stay Campaign, Laura-Jane Tiley in a statement. “Like the leave campaign we do believe that the NUS needs to change, but that the best way of doing this is to remain a part of the organization.”