The election today of the controversial Malia Bouattia as the new president of the National Union of Students (NUS) effectively means that Jewish student societies (JSocs) up and down the country have only two options moving forward:
- Remain as part of the NUS and try to work from within to reform
- Leave and start afresh either alone or as part of new coalition of more inclusive student groups.
However, one of the NUS debates at their national annual today perhaps best contextualizes the type of organisation the NUS has become when considering the first option.
Widespread outrage was caused after students applauded motions for the NUS not to commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day, because doing so isn’t ‘inclusive’.
Darta Kaleja, from Chester University, shocked many by speaking against the amendment.
She told the conference, “I am against the NUS ignoring and forgetting other mass genocides and prioritising others.
“It suggests some lives are more important than others.
“When during my education was I taught about the genocides in Tibet or Rwanda?
“It is important to commemorate all of them.”
Another student spoke against the motion saying, “Of course there shouldn’t be anti-Semitism but it’s not about one set of people.”
Additionally, in February 2016, the NUS National Executive Council showed its true colours by removing the right for Jewish students to have guaranteed representation in the Anti-Racism, Anti-Fascism (ARAF) campaign. The decision left Jewish students as the only group without representation on any of the NUS liberation campaigns.
This is the same National Union of Students that while refusing in June 2015 to condemn the brutal Islamic State terrorists citing claims of ‘Islamophobia’ and that it would represent a “justification for war”, added its name to the systemically anti-Semitic Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement – demanding sanctions against the State of Israel.
This was despite being warned time and again by Jewish students that the BDS movement can and has provoked anti-Semitism on campuses. The motion to boycott also effectively told Israeli students that they were not welcome on campus, simply because of their nationality, creating a poisonous and divisive atmosphere.
So the only viable option left available to Jewish students is to go it alone. Indeed, there is already established precedence for it with four universities in Scotland opting not affiliate with the NHS, including St Andrews, Dundee and Glasgow.
Interestingly, there are clear signs that others may be willing to follow. A campaign calling for Cambridge University Student Union (CUSU) to disaffiliate from the NUS launched today after Bouattia’s election.
The campaign intends to present a motion to CUSU Council calling for a referendum on whether or not CUSU should remain affiliated to the NUS and says that disaffiliation will be debated at the Cambridge Union tomorrow evening. There is also an indication that Oxford University’s student body is considering a similar move.
In a statement, the leader of the Cambridge campaign, Jack May, said: “The election of Malia as NUS President is a horrifying message to Jewish students in the UK. Attention has been repeatedly drawn to her anti-Semitic comments. Unfortunately, Malia’s election is just the latest event in a tide of anti-Semitism sweeping UK universities.”
“Cambridge students should be given a chance to decide whether or not to remain part of the increasingly toxic culture and management of the NUS. Our students’ union should represent what we want, and not act as a mouthpiece for the extreme views of anti-Semitic individuals.”
Another supporter of the campaign for disaffiliation, Adam Crafton, who is Jewish, said: “This is a deeply disappointing day for Jewish students at Cambridge… The failure of the national body means that the responsibility now falls upon our own Cambridge representatives.
“We call upon CUSU Council to recognise this shift in the political landscape and sense the need to offer students the freedom to choose who should represent their interests. As such, we implore CUSU Council to pass this motion, engage in a democratic process and ensure the freedom and security of Jewish students.”
Further afield, there has also been a petition launched on the Parliament petition website with the motion: “Remove Malia Bouattia as NUS President.” It is currently awaiting moderation, having received initial support.