UK Jewish Groups Celebrate Unexpected Defeat of ‘Antisemitic’ Incumbent NUS President Malia Bouattia
Major UK Jewish groups are celebrating the Wednesday defeat of Malia Bouattia — the National Union of Students (NUS) president who has faced allegations of antisemitism — in her bid for reelection.
The Board of Deputies of British Jews (BoD) and the Union of Jewish Students (UJS) both published statements congratulating Shakira Martin — previously the NUS vice president of further education — on her unexpected landslide victory over Bouattia by a vote of 402 to 272 at the NUS National Conference being held this week (a third candidate gained 35 votes).
Jonathan Arkush and Marie van der Zyl — president and vice president of the BoD — stated, “For the last year, Malia Bouattia has made the NUS a hostile place for Jewish students and it is welcome that students of all faiths across the country have chosen to reject divisive and bigoted attitudes in favor of a welcoming environment for all.”
UJS wrote on Facebook that “Shakira’s election demonstrates a rejection of the divisive rhetoric used by [Bouattia], whose past antisemitic comments have remained problematic for Jewish students for over a year.”
Israel education group StandWithUs (SWU) said on Twitter that they “look forward to working” with Martin, with Michael Dickson — the British-born executive director of SWU Israel — noting that the election means, “Jewish students will be breathing a sigh of relief for an NUS that includes them.”
Martin, a single mother of two, said following her win, “I am honored and humbled to have been elected…I take this as a vote of trust that our members believe I can lead our national movement to be the fighting and campaigning organization we need it to be, representing the breadth of our diverse membership.”
“During my term in office, I want to spend my time listening, learning and leading,” she added.
Martin is perceived as having made an effort to connect with the Jewish community, including attending the UJS annual awards dinner last month and traveling to both Israel and Poland (ahead of Holocaust Remembrance Day) with the Jewish student group.
According to The JC, before her visit to Israel, Martin wrote on Facebook that she “originally made the decision not to attend this trip…to avoid the bullying that I anticipate coming from those within the movement, and those who may have different views,” but changed her mind after deciding it was “essential I listen to the voices of my membership and educate myself on particular issues such as Israel and Palestine to ensure that I make informed decisions as a leader.”
She added that the trip would “provide me with the opportunity to speak to both Israeli and Palestinian people who have lived these experiences. I go in with no preconceptions, I genuinely want to understand views from all sides — Palestinian and Israeli.”
Martin is understood to have far-left politics, telling The Guardian in a 2015 interview, “politics isn’t ready for me. People think Jeremy Corbyn is radical!”
The election at last year’s NUS conference of Bouattia — a woman who previously called the University of Birmingham a “Zionist outpost” because of the size of its Jewish community, and, while serving as NUS president, attended a conference funded in part by a Hamas apologist — left Jewish students reeling, with many considering severing ties with the NUS because of the result.
The NUS has faced numerous antisemitism scandals over the last months, including revelations in the lead up to this week’s conference of at least three student delegates writing “horrific”comments about Jews on social media. In December 2016, the British government officially endorsed a report by the House Affairs Select Committee charging the NUS under Bouattia with “failing to take [the antisemitism phenomenon across university campuses] sufficiently seriously.”
Wednesday — the second day of the NUS conference — also saw the approval of a motion titled “It’s Time to Combat Antisemitism” — which includes the adoption of the international definition of antisemitism that recognizes a Jewish right to self-determination (a clause anti-Zionists had attempted to excise) — and the election of Jewish-rights advocate Izzy Lenga to the position of vice president of welfare.