The National Union of Students (NUS) has received protracted criticism for its approach towards antisemitism. This issue reared its head once again last month, when tweets from Ali Milani, the NUS’s newly elected vice president, surfaced. From 2012 and 2013, these tweets are overtly antisemitic in nature.
In one post, he criticises a person for being stingy, writing: “Nah u won’t mate. It’ll cost you a pound”, ending with the hashtag “#jew”.
In a tweet to Piers Morgan, he wrote, “U are a zionist and a corperate [sic] jackass.” In an additional string of tweets about Israeli-US relations and the Israel-Palestine conflict, Mr Milani commented: “Israel has no right to exist”.
Mr Milani, the president of the Brunel University student union, is a big supporter of former NUS president Malia Bouattia, who has similarly been accused of making antisemitic statements, suggesting that the University of Birmingham was “something of a Zionist outpost” and negatively commenting about “Zionist-led media outlets”.
This story directly follows a troubling internal report commissioned by the NUS, released in February of this year, which found that Ms Bouattia should face no disciplinary action, although her statements “could be reasonably capable of being interpreted as antisemitic”.
In an environment where statistics have shown a doubling of campus antisemitic incidents, one would expect the body tasked with representing students to take the issue of antisemitic statements made by candidates for its leadership positions a little bit more seriously.
The fact that they were even allowed to vie for these prestigious positions is beyond comprehension. When, according to recent statistics gathered in an NUS survey, 65 per cent of Jewish students do not believe that the NUS would “respond appropriately” to allegations of antisemitism, one would think that the NUS would be interested in both finding out why this is the case as well as how this can be remedied.
This is especially concerning when the NUS’ own report indicates that fewer than half (49 per cent) of Jewish students said they would feel comfortable attending union events.
These statistics should not surprise anyone when an organisation purporting to represent all students allows individuals such as Ms Bouattia and Mr Milani to hold or even run for leadership positions.
The defeat of Ms Bouattia in the recent NUS election is a welcome development, signalling what many Jewish students hope is a change in the institutional approach to antisemitism.
Her defeat should be seen as an important unequivocal message by NUS student delegates to the union leadership that antisemitism in indeed an unacceptable phenomenon which they refuse to stand for.
The NUS report on the experience of Jewish students on campus refused to draw a direct line between the anti-Zionist bigotry of the far left and antisemitic incidents such as the riot at Kings College London in January 2016.
The terminology of the report was also draped in the language of the Left, which, given recent Labour Party involvement in scandals revolving around antisemitism, is no surprise. This includes issues such as whether students feel “uncomfortable” or intellectually “unsafe”, exhibiting how the authors simply don’t understand what it is like to face real intimidation, bullying and genuine offence.
When elected representatives of the Labour Party express themselves the way they do, it is no surprise that student government representatives feel comfortable expressing themselves in a similar fashion.
It is my belief that by not electing individuals such as Ms Bouattia, a positive step has been taken, which will help assure Jewish students that individuals who help perpetuate the problem of antisemitism plaguing UK politics today, will not be allowed to hold office.
If we are dedicated to eradicating this phenomenon, that effort must begin on our campuses. It is high time that this report be retracted and revaluated by the new NUS leadership. Similarly, it is unacceptable to see the Union of Jewish Students (UJS) putting its stamp on this report, in the process giving its blessing to the NUS for its issuing, at the same time as NUS did nothing to concretely address its leadership’s virulently antisemitic bias.
One student, who preferred to remain anonymous, said: “There is a tendency for NUS representatives to make blanket statements about Jews, including presumptions about their motives. This is very belittling and indicates that issues of Jewish students are not seriously considered.”
As the election results have exhibited, the time has come for the National Union of Students to stop belittling its Jewish constituency and begin treating it as it would any other targeted community. It is difficult to believe that their reaction would be similar had these issues been affecting any other minority group. The time has also come for the Union of Jewish Students to stop apologising and work together with the new leadership of the NUS to take a firm stand against the antisemitism infesting UK campuses, consigning such hatred and those who encourage it to the footnotes of history, where they belong.
Originally published in the Jewish Chronicle.