Education & Family

NUS president accused of 'anti-Semitic rhetoric'

Malia Bouattia Image copyright NUS
Image caption Malia Bouattia faced questions about anti-Semitism when she was elected in April

Three vice presidents of the National Union of Students have accused their president of "anti-Semitic rhetoric".

Malia Bouattia wrote in 2011 that Birmingham University was "something of a Zionist outpost".

Now a letter signed by 44 student leaders says: "Jewish students have not felt safe participating in our national movement."

Ms Bouattia says she will do everything in her power to ensure Jewish students are safe.

Disaffiliation campaigns

Her election as NUS president in April is one of the reasons referendums were held in a number of universities on whether to disaffiliate from the NUS.

Only Newcastle, Hull, Lincoln and Loughborough voted to leave.

In an open letter, the student leaders warn that disaffiliation campaigns will continue unless the concerns of Jewish students are properly addressed.

Image caption Richard Brooks says Jewish students have felt unsafe and unwelcome

The letter, which does not mention Ms Bouattia by name, says: "NUS' leadership has rightly come under increased scrutiny for its attitude towards Jewish students."

Richard Brooks, a vice-president of the NUS who signed the letter, said they wanted the thousands of Jewish students about to start university to feel the NUS movement was a "place for them".

"It is for Jewish students to define what anti-Semitism is," he told BBC Radio 4's The World At One.

"It is obviously a very challenging and nuanced argument but when a number of Jewish students over a consistent period of time say they do not feel safe participating in student politics and in the student movement, I think we have to take that really seriously and listen."

He said comments on social media or the tone of rhetoric in student politics made Jewish students feel unsafe or at least unwelcome.

'Fighting racism'

Michael Segalov, a journalist who was on the NUS National Executive Committee until three months ago, said it was "simply untrue" to suggest everyone felt unsafe or uncomfortable.

"Malia is the most committed person I have even seen within this movement to fighting racism and fascism in whatever form it takes," he said. "It's been a priority of her work for years."

In a statement issued in response to the open letter, Ms Bouattia said: "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."

'Comments misinterpreted'

Ms Bouattia, the first black Muslim to hold the post of NUS president, has repeatedly denied charges of anti-Semitism, saying Zionism, religion and ethnicity must "not be seen as one and the same".

This week she refused to apologise for her past comments about Birmingham University.

But she told the Today programme: "I would certainly review my language and would definitely want to explain the political context which I was discussing.

"I absolutely was not saying the things that it's been interpreted as."

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