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When It Comes To Antisemitism, The NUS Just Doesn't Get It

20/10/2016 14:22
NUS

With the release of the Home Affairs Select Committee's (HASC) much publicised report concerning antisemitism in the UK, campus tensions facing Jewish students have once more become a pressing issue of public discourse.

Amid the general rise of antisemitic incidents in the UK, the British press has notably covered alleged antisemitic behaviour within the National Union of Students (NUS) and Oxford University's Labour Club.

These problems have only been exacerbated in the months since February and March - and the HASC report is a welcome step towards combatting antisemitism within the student movement.

Unsurprisingly, the HASC report's section on campus antisemitism refers to the well-known comments of NUS President Malia Bouattia, in which she described the University of Birmingham as a "Zionist Outpost." The committee's MPs have concluded that such behaviour - among many other incidents - smacks of outright racism. This is not to mention the scathing conclusion that Bouatia appeared not to have taken campus antisemitism "sufficiently seriously."

Of course, this is a long-held view, particularly among many Jewish students and was most notably expressed by the Union of Jewish Students (UJS) Campaign Officer, Josh Nagli, in a strong statement in response to comments made by Bouattia in the Guardian in September.

While the report has admirably tried to draw attention to a generally ignored issue, the response to it among the student movement has not been encouraging. One open letter to the Home Affairs Select Committee in support of Malia Bouattia - signed by over 150 student leaders - encapsulates the problem of antisemitism among the student left.

Despite the HASC report making recommendations that the NUS leadership and UJS should seek to repair relations and welcome moves towards dialogue, this conciliatory approach was completely rejected by the signatories to the open letter.

The letter even goes so far as to say that "all false statements should be retracted, along with an apology to those who have been vilified by the inaccuracies and partisan biases it contains."
The final paragraph in particular has enraged Jewish students, who feel that their concerns and oppression has not been taken seriously. In this, the open letter states that those signing it (a significant faction within the student movement) "believe the report's selective and partisan approach seeks to discredit Malia Bouattia as President. An attack on NUS is an attack on the student and union movement."

This is appalling reasoning. Implying that highlighting antisemitism is a political tool used only to discredit individuals is utterly self-absorbed and risks drawing attention away from the wider ranging consequences that this poisonous ideology has on society. Just as the report claims Jeremy Corbyn's leadership of the Labour party has allowed for safe spaces for vile anti-Jewish hatred to emerge, the same can be said for the student movement.

Unfortunately, it has shown disregard for UJS officers, Jewish students and other student leaders who have stood up to antisemitism, and in the words of one UJS officer, is riddled with people who seek to deny anti-Semitism and the legitimate concerns of Jewish students.

The outrage that has followed legitimate criticism over a failure to deal with antisemitism can only strengthen these feelings, and demonstrates the rank hypocrisy of a student movement which zealously claims to be anti-racist.

The lack of trust which has now developed between the NUS and UJS - two organisations which have historically shared a proud record in combatting racism - is a sad state of affairs, and I do not have the confidence that this relationship can be repaired while Malia Bouattia is NUS President.

While she refuses to accept any of her past comments have been problematic, her supporters seem blind to the problem, more intent on suggesting that highlighting incidents of antisemitism is done to demonise their leadership than dealing with the problem itself.

There is an age-old cliché that students are the leaders of tomorrow, yet too many student leaders are now part of a problem which has left thousands of Jewish students without any trust in the organisation which is supposed to represent them on a national level. When the seriousness of antisemitism is trivialised in this way by those at the top of a movement, we should worry about the direction in which our society is heading.

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