Malia Bouattia, President of the National Union of Students, has been accused of “outright racism” by a group of MPs.
The comments were made in a Home Affairs select committee report into racism and anti-Semitism, which said the NUS have failed to take seriously a growing culture of antisemitism on campuses.
Ms Bouattia – who was elected NUS president in April this year – has been repeatedly accused of anti-Semitism by the Jewish student community for her remarks on “Zionist” politics on campus.
Back in 2011, Ms Bouattia said that the University of Birmingham was “something of a Zionist outpost” and that it has the “largest [Jewish Society] in the country whose leadership is dominated by Zionist activists”.
The report found that her language suggested a worrying disregard for her duty to represent all sections of the student population, and smacked of “outright racism”.
MPs also drew attention to comments made by Ms Bouattia in a speech at a conference on “Gaza and the Palestinian Revolution” in 2014, in which she said: “With mainstream Zionist-led media outlets—because once again we’re dealing with the population of the global south—resistance is presented as an act of terrorism”.
She also criticised peace talks between Israel and Palestine for strengthening “the colonial project”.
Responding to the report, Ms Bouattia said: “I will continue to listen to the concerns of Jewish students and the Jewish Community. As I wrote upon my election as President, and in the submission to this Inquiry, if the language I have used in the past has been interpreted any other way then let me make this clear – it was never my intention and I have revised my language accordingly.
“Our movement has students, both Jewish and otherwise, who hold a variety of deeply held beliefs on Israel-Palestine but it is a political argument, not one of faith. There is no place for anti-Semitism in the student movement, and in society.”
Committee members have called on the NUS and the Union of Jewish Students (UJS) to work to mend their broken relationship to ensure that Jewish students across the UK are “treated appropriately”.
An NUS spokesperson said: “The NUS takes all forms of racism, including anti-Semitism, extremely seriously. As such, we recognise the importance of the report and its deeply troubling findings regarding the sharp rise in anti-Semitism across society.
“It is concerning that the report identifies that 3/4 of politically motivated anti-Semitic incidences come from far-right groups, yet focuses almost exclusively on NUS in relation to anti-Semitism on campus. This fails to address the reality for students.
“The NUS has a long and proud history of fighting all forms of racism and fascism in the UK. NUS has always sought to build strong, positive relationships with the Union of Jewish Students and many other student-led groups to tackle racism and fascism and we will continue to do so.”
Earlier this month, the University of Lincoln Student’s Union voted to re-affiliate with the NUS in a referendum after voting to leave the organisation back in May.
Lincoln SU released a short statement saying: “Following the NUS referendum result in October, the members of the University of Lincoln Students’ Union voted to affiliate to the National Union of Students.
“Our Sabbatical team, supported by a range of students in Lincoln, have joined together to work with NUS to ensure that is an effective body to represent all students who are students at UK Universities.”Tweet