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Written by Student Rights on 28 September 2016 at 11am

NUS leadership accused of ‘antisemitic rhetoric’ by student leaders

The long-running controversy over past comments made by National Union of Students (NUS) President, Malia Bouattia, continued today with the release of an open letter signed by three NUS vice presidents and dozens of other student leaders.

While Bouattia was not named in the letter, the signatories wrote that:

NUS’ Leadership has rightly come under increased scrutiny for its attitude towards Jewish students.

They have been held to account for undermining Jewish students’ ability to elect their own representatives, and challenged on antisemitic rhetoric.

In a damning indictment of the NUS’ leaders, the letter went on to state that:

Jewish students have repeatedly highlighted concerns and yet again their voices have been dismissed.

Time and time again Jewish students have not felt safe participating in our national movement, because of the actions and rhetoric of leadership of NUS.

Richard Brooks, NUS vice president for union development and a leading signatory of the letter, spoke to the BBC earlier today and raised serious concerns about the ability of the student movement to challenge antisemitism:

The progressive part of society I think has a really big problem in terms of antisemitism, and being able to identify it within itself.

Until we get to the point where we all acknowledge there may be a problem here, I don't think we're going to be able to address it.

This latest controversy comes in the wake of a strong statement from the Union of Jewish Students (UJS) following comments made by Malia Bouattia in the Guardian, in which she denied ever saying anything antisemitic.  

Josh Nagli, Campaigns Director of UJS, said Jewish students had the right to define what they believe to be antisemitism, and that Bouattia’s justification of her past rhetoric was “clumsy”.

Bouattia had refused to apologise for comments about the University of Birmingham being a “Zionist Outpost” and for attacking “Zionist-led media outlets”.

In response to the letter, Bouattia has released a statement in which she wrote:

I support my colleagues in the NUS leadership in calling for assurances that Jewish students will be safe on campus and I will do everything in my power to ensure that is the case.

My priorities for the year ahead include a focus on inclusion, tackling hate crime on campuses and ensuring that all marginalised and oppressed groups feel safe in the movement.

I look forward to working with my officers and NEC colleagues to continue to listen to Jewish students and support them in being part of NUS."

Here at Student Rights, we have raised concerns about antisemitic rhetoric on-campus on a number of occasions, and are glad to see some in the student movement beginning to take the concerns of Jewish students seriously.

However, until Bouattia accepts that her past comments have been part of the problem, her assurances on the issue will likely continue to be viewed with scepticism.