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17th October 2016

NUS President Malia Boutattia condemned as ‘racist’

The Home Affairs Select Committee have found Malia Boutattia to be “racist” in their cross-party investigation into allegedly anti-Semitic comments and incidents

The National Union of Students (NUS) has been condemned by MPs from the Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC) for neglecting to address an allegedly growing anti-Semitic culture on university campuses.

Following a cross-party investigation into her comments and actions, the President of the NUS, Malia Boutattia, has been deemed a “racist”. NUS Committee members have reportedly called on Ms Bouattia and the Union of Jewish students to make peace in the greater interest of the national student body.

Malia Boutattia has been President of the NUS since April of this year and has been accused by the Jewish student community of anti-Semitism with particular reference to her comments on ‘Zionism’ and ‘Zionists’. The report from the Home Affairs Select Committee draws on incidents such as a recorded 2014 conference speech in which Ms Bouttatia is talking about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and describes the ‘mainstream Zionist-led media outlets’ portraying ‘resistance as an act of terrorism’ in Gaza.

In response to the report, Ms Boutattia said: “The report’s data on increasing anti-Semitism and targeting of the Jewish community is deeply concerning. I welcome the report’s highlighting of the issue and its call for action across society, including in such areas as online platforms. This is also a priority for NUS.

“I will continue to listen to the concerns of Jewish students and the Jewish Community. As I wrote upon my election as President, and in the submission to this inquiry, if the language I have used in the past has been interpreted any other way then let me make this clear—it was never my intention and I have revised my language accordingly.

“Our movement has students, both Jewish and otherwise, who hold a variety of deeply held beliefs on Israel-Palestine but it is a political argument, not one of faith. There is no place for anti-Semitism in the student movement, and in society.

“Following two years as co-chair of the NUS’ Anti-Racist Anti-Fascist Campaign, I will continue to work across the student movement to eradicate all forms of hate, including anti-Semitism. We are stronger when we work together and I will continue to encourage progressive and inclusive working relationships across our movement.”

There have been mixed responses to NUS President’s condemnation and response. Yesterday, an open letter was published and signed on behalf of several University Students’ Unions and political societies stating that the President’s statement to the press following the publication of the report “does not go far enough in acknowledging or apologising for the significant damage that her actions and language have done to NUS and the student movement more widely.”

It further states: “If Malia fails to acknowledge the need for an immediate and full apology, as well as provide details of how she will personally address these issues going forward, then we believe that she must resign.”

However, another open letter was published today and signed by students who state that the report’s findings on the sharp growth in anti-Semitic incidents in the last year “is deeply troubling, and is an urgent call to all those involved in fighting against racism, oppression, and for a better society more generally,” but say they are “extremely alarmed at the way NUS’ National President, Malia Bouattia, is being singled out for her views on Israel by the HASC in its report, and depicted as the source of anti-Semitism in Higher Education.”

This new open letter claims that “Boutattia’s repeated assurances, within the union and in the media, that she will address concerns and revise her language, are completely ignored by the HASC report, despite the fact that she has done just that and reiterated her commitments to do this in her submission for the HASC report.”

The Union of Jewish Students have stated that they welcome the report and that anti-Semitic culture is being ‘manifested’ under Malia Boutattia’s watch.

Ilyas Nagdee, the University of Manchester’s Students’ Union’s Diversity Officer, has given this statement: “We believe that anti-Semitism and any form of racism and discrimination has no place on our campus and our key value as a team and as an Union is to create an inclusive environment on campus for all students.

“This has led to Officers planning key campaigns throughout the year, with our Womens and Community Officer are planning to do Active Bystander Training in November to give students the necessary tools to challenge discrimination and harassment and the Diversity Officer’s work on Hate Crime and Liberate My Degree.

“The General Secretary will be attending the Union of Jewish Students (UJS) Trip to Auschwitz and will also be working on events around Holocaust Memorial Day for which resources will also be coming from a national level as per the motion passed at National Conference this year.

“Our Advice Centre is a Third Party Hate Crime Reporting Centre and there are also tools to report any harassment and discrimination online via We Get It. The rise in anti-Semitism this year is worrying and the report acknowledges that 75% of that comes from far right groups and we will continue to oppose these groups on our campus and in our city. We have followed the work of NUS closely over the last few months and especially the Anti-Racism Anti-Fascism Campaign which now has reserved representation for groups affecting by racism and fascism with these positions elected from self-defining caucuses [sic].

“We were happy to this change from previous years and look forward to seeing the recommendation they bring to national conference [sic]. We understand when she was Black Students’ Officer, Malia fought for an Institutional Racism Review which includes anti-Semitism and which some of us gave evidence to within our voluntary and elected capacities in NUS [sic].

NUS’ sovereign decision making body is its National Conference which we will be electing delegates for soon. You can find all the details of this here, and we also led the way earlier this year with primaries on our campus with candidates coming down and answering questions put to them by you—the students. Voting was then opened and students voted on who delegates would vote for to hold the Vice President Positions and the position of National President. This will be happening again next year and we hope students engage with it.”

This is a developing story which The Mancunion will keep updated.

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