The National Union of Students is in crisis after an internal report found its President, Malia Bouattia, guilty of making anti-Semitic comments, but ruled that she should not be punished.
Bouattia, the first female Black British and Muslim leader of the NUS, first faced allegations of anti-Semitism during her presidential campaign last year. A blog post she co-authored in 2011 was particularly controversial. In the piece, written for the University of Birmingham Friends of Palestine, she described the University of Birmingham as “something of a Zionist outpost in British higher education”. Bouattia believed this was because the institution had “the largest JSoc in the country, whose leadership is dominated by Zionist activists”.
Her comments on the Israel/Palestine situation have also been deemed anti-Semitic by some. The audience at an Israeli Apartheid event at the School of Oriental and African Studies last year heard her describe the UK Government’s Prevent programme as run by “Zionist and neo-con lobbies”. At a 2014 conference entitled ‘Gaza and the Palestinian Revolution’, Bouattia said: “With mainstream Zionist-led media outlets — because once again we’re dealing with the population of the global south — resistance is presented as an act of terrorism.”
The NUS President’s comments have been met with outrage from the Jewish community. Daniel Clements, a former President of Birmingham’s JSoc, stated that they were “completely unsatisfactory.” Over 300 Jewish student leaders, the Union of Jewish Students and the Oxford University Students’ Union have criticised Bouattia’s remarks.
An investigation by the Home Affairs Select Committee last October found her comments to be “outright racism”. Amidst this backlash against her beliefs, Malia Bouattia has refused to apologise. In a Guardian Students article after her election as President of the NUS, she wrote: “For me to take issue with Zionist politics is not me taking issue with being Jewish.”
The internal inquiry by the National Union of Students, published last week, was headed by Professor Carol Baxter, who was formerly the NHS’s head of equality, diversity and human rights. Whilst the report found that Bouattia’s comments at an Israeli Apartheid meeting at SOAS “could be reasonably capable of being interpreted as anti-Semitic”, four other counts of anti-Semitism — including the “Zionist outpost” remark — were dismissed.
Baxter’s inquiry concluded that the President had been “genuine in expressing her regret” and had since spoken out against anti-Semitism. The report finishes: “The investigator therefore concluded that in light of the above mitigating circumstances no further action should be taken [against Malia Bouattia] within the NUS disciplinary process.”
Joshua Nagli, a spokesperson for the Union of Jewish Students, said of the NUS report: “This was an opportunity to reassure Jewish students that the NUS will take incidents of anti-Semitism with the utmost seriousness. The fact that no further action has been recommended, despite the NUS president being found to have used anti-Semitic rhetoric on two separate occasions, is deeply troubling.”
The findings of this internal report were made available to Malia Bouattia several weeks before its publication. She has yet to publicly apologise. An NUS spokesperson labelled newspaper coverage of the inquiry “part of a sustained attack on a high-profile Muslim woman in a public position”.
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