Jewish students failed once again by NUS National President

This is in response to Sunday’s interview with the NUS National President in the Guardian (https://www.theguardian.com/education/2016/sep/18/nus-president-malia-bouattia-political-activists-are-being-demonised).

The same Black Students’ Conference that elected the current NUS National President to Black Students’ Officer in 2014, passed policy that supported the full implementation of the Macpherson recommendations. This meant that NUS must take complaints of racist incidents seriously, from the victim or any other person. Whether a subsequent investigation vindicates their complaint or not, NUS’ initial response must respect their perception that they have been racially abused.

When applied to Jewish students, this means that they are allowed to define their own oppression. If Jewish students believe something to be antisemitic then it must be considered and investigated as such.

In Sunday’s interview, the NUS National President completely denied the right of Jewish students to define their experiences of antisemitism. She “does not accept that just because some Jewish people consider her antisemitic, that means she is.” This is, to a certain extent fair, if you do not uphold the Macpherson recommendations. But as the interviewer proceeded to ask: “why, then, does she not accord this principle to anyone else?” One rule for the Jews, another for everyone else.

Her poor attempts to clarify her past rhetoric are clumsy and do not remotely hold with Jewish students. They have not misinterpreted her, nor misunderstood her. This was, and still are, their concerns, those of which she is still yet to adequately acknowledge, let alone appropriately address.

In future, according to the National President in reference to her past rhetoric, “It’s not about not saying it again, it’s about just breaking them down to explain what I meant.” This abhorrent statement proves that Jewish students’ concerns have fallen on deaf ears. Does she realise that many Jewish students have fears about going onto campus this year, let alone engaging in NUS’ structures? Does she realise the impact that her election has had on Jewish students? The student movement that the National President is shaping is one that many Jewish students are not invited to engage with. It is one where terms like ‘Zionist-led media’ and ‘Zionist lobby’ are clearly accepted.

But, I save the best till last. The National President was asked if she was worried that the antisemitism row has diminished her power as president. Her response is shocking. She said that she thinks the controversy raised the profile of the NUS, and provided new platforms for her “to put out our vision of the future”. If her vision of the future is one where Jewish students are made to feel intimidated by the things their National President says and where their oppression is used as a wave to ride on and not taken seriously, then it is a future that I, and I’m sure many, don’t want to be part of.

Malia, this was your opportunity to look Jewish students in the eye, recognise the problems with your past rhetoric, and apologise. It was your opportunity to reassure the 8,500 Jewish students who will be heading back to campus over the next few weeks that you are listening to their concerns, that you are actively willing to engage with the issues they’ve raised. But you didn’t. Again, you have failed Jewish students.

Instead of engaging with UJS, the national representative of Jewish students, you try and defend yourself in the pages of national newspapers. Why do you continue to ignore the concerns of Jewish students? Why are you continuing to use Jewish students, their experiences, and crucially, their oppression, as a political stick with which to beat them with?

Malia, Jewish students deserve better.

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