As the academic calendar comes to a close in the UK, the new challenges begin to open on campus.
On Wednesday the 20th of April, delegates of the UK National Union of Students gathered together in Brighton to vote for their new NUS president. This elected role of president is to be the one dominant voice for our 7 million university students across the UK, to represent the interests of over 600 students’ unions, to support more than 95 percent of all higher and further education students, to make a real difference. The electoral result however, did not only disappoint expectations of achieving such a success of a candidate, but has shocked and angered Jewish students across the UK.
Malia Bouattia, the newly elected president was confronted weeks before by a united letter of 57 Presidents of Jewish societies across the UK, highlighting her anti-Semitic affiliations and denouncing her credibility. Her relationship and endorsement from Raza Nadim, an infamous Holocaust denier who labels “Israel 100% worse than Isis”, as well as previously calling her alma mater the University of Birmingham a “Zionist outpost”. Bouattia simply brushed over these claims, without giving a straight reply to these rightfully concerned representatives of Jewish students in the UK.
These claims are not only why there was such an uproar amongst the presidents. Bouattia is a great supporter of the BDS movement, which she views as a movement of freedom and liberation, whereas she refuses to condemn the Islamic State, in fear of the motion turning into Islamophobia. The controversies do not stop here. In a speech about the “Zionist led media outlets” in the west, she criticizes the labelling of Palestinian violence in Israel as terrorism, but rather believes that it should be referred to as a legitimate action of resistance.
The irony that this election result came to pass at the same conference that passed the motion to crack down on anti-Semitism also came with the many arguments against commemorating holocaust memorial day on campus throughout the UK. Many said that this commemoration alone is ‘ignoring and forgetting other mass genocides’ and hence should not be promoted at university as it suggests that ‘some lives are more important than others’.
Jewish students are outraged by the events that took place and feel that they are not only underrepresented by the NUS, but now are feeling attacked on all sides.
Last month, the Student union of University College London passed the motion for Boycotts Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel. Although the BDS movement is illegitimate in itself, this vote in particular was undoubtedly unjust, undemocratic, and simply improper. The vote lacked representation of the 30,000 plus students studying at the university, lacking any advertisement or consultation before the vote took place, leading to a backhand vote of 18 people, with no debate or discussion. The UCLU democracy campaign is now trying to boycott the motion to boycott by publicizing this illegitimate enforcement of the policy.
Although there is a lot of work to be done next year, students wanted to celebrate the positive aspects of the 2015- 2016 with one final hoorah. CAMERA on CAMPUS teamed up with UCL Friends of Israel to have a pre-Yom Haatzmaut party celebrating Israeli culture, with a “Mike’s Place” themed night, filled with Israeli food, beverages and of course, music!
Despite attacks on all sides, students now more than ever see the imperativeness of supporting Israel on campus and with a strong team already set up for next year, we can only be optimistic.
Contributed by CAMERA Fellow Joelle Reid.