Malia Bouattia, the NUS Black Students’ Officer and one of the candidates for NUS president, has been sent an open letter from Jewish Societies at Universities across the country, including the University of Manchester’s JSoc.
The letter, signed by 47 presidents of Jewish Societies, addresses extreme concerns over Malia’s “past rhetoric” and a desire for “immediate answers considering [her] candidacy for NUS President in next week’s election”.
They reference an article co-written by Malia in 2011 where she refers to the University of Birmingham as a “Zionist outpost” and that it had the “largest [Jewish Society] in the country”, whilst describing the challenge she was facing at the time.
The Presidents argued that with 8,500 Jewish students in the UK, which is 0.12 per cent of the student body represented by NUS, it was shocking that “someone who is seeking to represent this organisation could possibly see a large Jewish student population as a challenge and not something to be welcomed.”
They add that they “fear that comments such as these will only hamper the amazing interfaith relations present on campuses across the country. Describing large Jewish societies as a challenge is the politics of division and not solidarity which should be the case.”
According to the letter the comments from 2011 are not isolated, claiming that just recently Malia explained at an event at SOAS that the government’s Prevent strategy is the result of a “Zionist lobby”. The letter argues that “by peddling these conspiracy theories to student audiences we are concerned that you are creating an element of suspicion towards Jewish students on campus.”
Finally they also raise concern over Malia’s relationship with Raza Nadim and the Muslim Public Affairs Committee (MPACUK). MPACUK were no-platformed by the NUS in 2004 after publishing posts on their website which promoted the idea of a worldwide Zionist conspiracy.
Raza Nadim used his Facebook account to endorse Malia’s campaign to be NUS President, to which Malia, according to the letter, thanked Nadim for the endorsement. The letter asks Malia to “clarify her relationship with MPACUK and its spokesperson Raza Nadim” and questions whether if elected she would continue “to interact with an organisation NUS has no-platformed due to antisemitism”.
Malia has since responded to the letter where she responds directly to the suggestion that she sees the large Jewish society as a problem, claiming that she does not “now, nor did I five years ago when I contributed to the article cited in your letter, see a large Jewish Society on campus as a problem”. She adds that she celebrates “the ability of people and students of all backgrounds to get together and express their backgrounds and faith openly and positively, and will continue to do so”.
She adds a clarification that taking “issue with Zionist politics, is not me taking issue with being Jewish. In fact, Zionist politics are held by people from a variety of different backgrounds and faiths, as are anti-Zionist politics. It is a political argument, not one of faith. We should be allowed to disagree on politics without this being a threat to the solidarity of the student movement. Debate and disagreement are vital to any healthy democracy.”
In response to the allegations that she claimed Prevent was a result of a “Zionist lobby”, she admits she “criticised the influence of organisations such as the Henry Jackson Society over policy making in the UK. I described it as promoting neo-con and pro-Zionist policies. In no way did I—or would I—link these positions to Jewish people, but to a particular (non-Jewish) organisation. I am alarmed that you have drawn a link between criticism of Zionist ideologies and anti-Semitism.”
Malia denies that she holds any relationship with MPACUK and Raza Nadim, stating: “I do not have a relationship, in any shape or form, with this organisation or the individual in question. I have always and will continue to respect and uphold NUS’ No Platform Policy.”
Explaining the Facebook post from Nadim she says: “I have a public facebook page with nearly 5,000 ‘friends’ on it, many of whom have posted supportive messages to my wall. In all honesty, I was not aware of who Mr Nadim was or his position when he posted to my wall and responded in the same way I would to any post.”
Malia expresses in her response deep concern “that my faith and political views are being misconstrued and used as an opportunity to falsely accuse me of antisemitism, despite my work and dedication to liberation, equality and inclusion saying otherwise.” Concluding her response by stating that as president of NUS, she “would continue to encourage students to oppose inequality, oppression—including racism—and injustice both at home and abroad”.