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June 27, 2016 2:20 pm

One Month Later, UK’s National Union of Students Still Mum in Response to Open Call to Combat Antisemitism

avatar by Lea Speyer

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NUS president Malia Bouattia has been at the center of controversy for past antisemitic remarks. Photo: Twitter.

NUS president Malia Bouattia has been at the center of controversy for past antisemitic remarks. Photo: Twitter.

The United Kingdom’s largest and most influential student organization has yet to respond to an open call issued over a month ago by the Cambridge University Students’ Union (CUSU) demanding answers on how it will tackle antisemitism, Varsity reported.

The National Union of Students (NUS) — which boasts of representing 600 student organizations and more than 7 million student voices — has been at the center of controversy in recent months following the election of its newest president, Malia Bouattia, who has been accused of antisemitism and support of violence against Israel. In past remarks, Bouattia praised violent “resistance” against Israel and referred to the University of Birmingham as a “Zionist outpost” because of its large Jewish population.  

Last month, a CUSU referendum calling to break ties with the NUS over Bouattia’s antisemitic past was narrowly defeated. Leading up to the referendum, a motion mandated CUSU send a letter to the NUS, calling on the organization to address accusations of antisemitism and its response to combating Jew hatred.

The letter — which is dated May 17 — states in part:

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To be absolutely clear, CUSU condemns antisemitism and racism in all its forms and expressly asks NUS to do more to protect the rightful place of Jewish students within the student movement. CUSU demands NUS set out clear actions and next steps to fully ensure reports of antisemitism within the organization are dealt with.

Our concerns about antisemitism within NUS are intensified by the fact that in a recent interview with student media, Richard Brooks, NUS Vice-President (Union Development), confirmed that NUS subscribes to the European Forum of Antisemitism’s definition of the term…On the basis of NUS subscribing to such a definition, it is regrettable that CUSU must express clear concern that President-elect Malia Bouattia has received widespread coverage for several statements considered unacceptable to Jewish students.

Jewish students here at Cambridge have vigorously argued that, for the NUS President-elect to speak, for example, of a Zionist global media conspiracy, she has endorsed a long-standing antisemitic trope that has been used to undermine and discredit the oppression of Jewish people…

As of Thursday, according to Varsity, the NUS has not responded directly to the letter, but a spokesman for the student organization told the paper, “Although NUS has not yet sent a formal written response to CUSU, over the last month NUS officers and staff have spent time in Cambridge discussing with the union and directly with students the concerns raised in the open letter.”

Adam Crafton — a student leader of Cambridge’s disaffiliation campaign — told Varsity, “It is shameful that the NUS are still to provide any indication of an institutional response to the concerns of students at Cambridge.”

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.

Cambridge was one of a dozen universities in the UK who contemplated cutting ties with NUS. In May, Hull University, the University of Lincoln and Newcastle University voted to disaffiliate from the NUS.

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