Members of the Union of Jewish Students (UJS) rejected the motion tabled by “angry and frustrated” students, with newly-elected UJS president Josh Holt explaining: “There is so much that can be done from within the room, and we can do far less if we shout from the outside.”
However, Jewish students say they are still not prepared to work with Bouattia, who the motion accused of using anti-Semitic language, refusing to allow Jews the right to identify anti-Semitism and failing to listen to the concerns of Jewish students.
Earlier this year, the union president was condemned in a Home Affairs Select Committee report into anti-Semitism for referring to Birmingham University as “something of a Zionist outpost in British higher education”, a comment the committee said “smacks of outright racism”.
Bouattia also caused controversy during a 2014 conference speech on ‘Gaza and the Palestine Revolution’, when she said that “with mainstream Zionist-led media outlets... resistance is resented as an act of terrorism”.
Speaking when the motion was tabled, then UJS-president Josh Seitler said: “Like huge numbers of Jewish students I am appalled by Malia’s past rhetoric and ongoing behaviour.
“It is inexcusable that despite plenty of opportunities – most recently when I put the concerns and demands of Jewish students to her directly – Malia has failed to unequivocally apologise and commit to uphold NUS policy on antisemitism underpinned by the EUMC working definition.”
In a blog on The Huffington Post UK last month, Bouattia said she was committed to challenging anti-Semitism and racism "in all its forms".
“Much of my activist life has been dedicated to anti-racist campaigning and it remains central to my purpose," she said.
“I am determined to ensure that all students, including Jewish students, feel safe and are safe on campus and in society,” she added.
The UJS is calling for a “full, direct and unequivocal apology” from Bouattia before it will work with her again.
Binyomin Gilbert, who proposed the motion for the UJS to disaffiliate, said he was disappointed it didn’t pass.
“It was a key opportunity to stand up against what many Jewish students do see as a core and fundamental problem in the NUS and I will continue to fight on behalf of Jewish students against antisemitism in the NUS and everywhere else.”
However, others have been more positive about the move:
UJS member Rebecca Filer said: “As an NUS delegate to both NUS National Conference and NUS Women’s Conference, I know that when we want to make change for ourselves, we are best placed to do that from within.
“I also know that we have allies in the movement and maintaining our current relationship with NUS allows us to continue working with those who support Jewish students.”
Several NUS officers also said they were pleased that the UJS, which represents more than 8,500 Jewish students, would continue to work with the NUS.
A spokesperson for the NUS added: “We are pleased UJS will continue to work with NUS as our two organisations have a long history of standing up to racism and fascism together, which we are very proud of.
“We have just launched research into Jewish students’ experience on campus and we have a whole programme of work being undertaken to fight anti-Semitism on which we hope to work with UJS.”