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Written by Student Rights on 9 December 2016 at 5am

Student Voice: Malia and the left have betrayed Jewish students

This Sunday, the Union of Jewish Students (UJS) Conference will vote on a motion which calls for the organisation to cut ties with the National Union of Students (NUS) over the behaviour of NUS President, Malia Bouattia.

Here, Goldsmiths student Binyomin Gilbert, one of the main proponents of the motion, highlights his concerns with Bouattia and the NUS. All views are his own, and do not necessarily represent those of Student Rights...

Last year the NUS elected Malia Bouattia. This should have been a day to be celebrated. However, despite the great achievement for minorities she represents, there was an issue.

The issue is one which, regretfully, the left seems to have failed to keep up with, and that issue is antisemitism.

I was one of those Jewish students who wrote to her expressing concern over her past comments and was one of those disappointed by her response which far from recognising the legitimacy of our concerns, dismissed us.

Malia conflated us with those opposing her for other reasons, essentially dismissing the concerns of a minority group as irrelevant, and went on to condescendingly explain to us why we were wrong for feeling concerned over her previous comments.

She had been expected and had requested to meet with us, the Jewish students so concerned with her past, however as of yet she has not, and I see little chance of that happening.

In the recent Home Affairs Select Committee report on antisemitism the EUMC’s (European Parliament Working Group on Antisemitism) definition of antisemitism, one long used by representatives of the Jewish community of this country, was endorsed.

This definition specifically allows for criticism of Israel but recognises the close affiliation that the vast majority of Jews in this country feel to Israel, and that for many it plays a role in their Jewish identity (93% according to the committee’s sources).

The report additionally criticised Malia, echoing Jewish student concerns that Malia does not take concerns of antisemitism seriously, and does not show regard for language and its impact:

Referring to Birmingham University as a “Zionist outpost” (and similar comments) smacks of outright racism, which is unacceptable, and even more so from a public figure such as the President of the NUS.

However if this was not worrying enough for Jewish students, the student response to the cross party committee statements reminded us that as Jewish students our student representatives do not have our backs and do not take our concerns seriously, no matter how many voices are raised.

The letter of response, signed by every one of my own (Goldsmith SU) sabbatical officers, once again ignored Jewish concerns, rushing to the defence of Malia, rushing to shout conspiracy against the NUS.

This claim once again marginalises and ignores Jewish concerns and once again tells me as a Jewish student that my voice doesn’t matter and my experience doesn’t count.

Jewish students are diverse: we come from all walks of life and all political stances, and as such we are not a monolithic or united group. And yet, for the first time since the battle against fascism in the 1970’s, Jewish students are united in their worries and their concerns. 

Over 50 Jewish students raised concerns over Malia’s antisemitic language six months ago and the Union of Jewish Students later did the same, as have Jewish allies who have come out in support of this position.

And yet those who purport to be freedom fighters and those who are supposed to represent us denigrate and belittle our concerns.

My student union did not consult the Jewish students before responding and not once have they asked us about our feelings on this matter. Several times I have raised my concerns since Malia’s election but they have been largely ignored.

This is not unique to my student union; this is a pervasive issue.

The letter signed by my student representatives employs the same dismissal that has become familiar to Jewish students experiencing antisemitism: that we are confusing antisemitism and antizionism, and that their position is only the latter.

Whilst it is true that it is legitimate to criticise both Israel and Zionism, expressions of antizionism in recent years, predominantly faced by Jewish students, have not shown a desire for open discourse but rather for open hatred and discrimination.

Jewish students have enough problems without the loss of our allies, who are failing to recognise antisemitism when it is occurring, in incidents such as at UCL.

Rather than allow Jewish students the right to self-identify what constitutes antisemitic hate, as granted to all other minority groups, astoundingly our concerns are dismissed. They cry freedom of speech and dismiss us as “Zionists.

The issue is not one of politics: it is considerably more fundamental and basic. Malia and others must listen to the victims and accept the Jewish right to identify what is antisemitism, instead of explaining to us why we are wrong.

I should be outraged, but honestly I am no longer surprised: I remain from the left but the left has not remained with me in my struggle.

This article was first published by the London Student in November 2016, and can be read here.