Student groups across the UK have launched efforts to disaffiliate from the NUS following the election of Malia Bouattia as president, due to her support for terrorism and use of antisemitic tropes, and her Guardian op-ed seems unlikely to stem the tide of criticism.
First, here’s a brief summary of her controversial views:
- Bouattia supports BDS against Israel, but opposed an NUS resolution condemning and boycotting ISIS, partly due to fears of stoking Islamophobia.
- Bouattia ‘accused’ the University of Birmingham of being “a Zionist outpost in British higher education”, citing her concerns about their “large Jewish Society”.
- Bouattia condemned “Zionist-led media outlets”.
- Bouattia (beginning at 1:10 of this video) seemed to characterize Zionism as a form of “white supremacy”.
- Bouattia expressed support for Palestinian terrorism and was critical of those who support ‘merely’ non-violent forms of resistance to occupation.
In her Guardian op-ed responding to the criticism (I’m the NUS president – and I’m not an antisemitic ISIS supporter, April 24), Bouattia refuted a charge that was never actually leveled (that she “supports” ISIS), failed to substantively address one of the main charges (her support for terrorism), and inadequately addressed the other main charge (that’s she’s used antisemitic rhetoric).
Here’s the relevant passage in her op-ed concerning ISIS
…newspaper reports this week still depict me as a young Muslim who supports Isis. This is simply not true.
However, the charge against her is not that she actually “supports” ISIS, but that she supports BDS against Israel yet opposed a resolution to boycott ISIS – citing the fear of stoking Islamophobia. (NUS later passed a watered down motion condemning ISIS “atrocities” that didn’t call for a boycott of the group.)
Here are the relevant passages in her op-ed concerning charges of antisemitism.
I am deeply concerned at accusations of antisemitism. In an open letter last week in response to concerns raised about my candidacy by Jewish students, I sought to allay their fears, and answered all points put to me honestly.
I want to be clear, again, that for me to take issue with Zionist politics is in no way me taking issue with being Jewish. In fact, Zionist politics are held by people from a variety of different backgrounds and faiths. For me it has been, and will always be, a political argument, not one of faith or ethnic identity. Zionism, religion and ethnicity must not be seen as one and the same. 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, although my political ideologies and beliefs remain unchanged.
There is no place for antisemitism in the student movement, or in society. If any of my previous discourse has been interpreted otherwise, such as comments I once made about Zionism within the media, I will revise it to ensure there is no room for confusion. I was being critical of media outlets that unquestioningly support Israel’s actions and maltreatment of Palestinians, I was not talking about the media as a whole, or repeating despicable antisemitic prejudice. The first thing I did on being elected was to hold a meeting with the Union of Jewish Students, and these meetings are set to continue.
First, Bouattia fails to address why she evidently believes that a “large Jewish society” on campus is a problem.
Additionally, though Bouattia pledges to be careful about the language she uses in the future, it’s stunning that someone so sensitive about words which stigmatise minority groups and stoke racism didn’t recognise the antisemitic connotations of the term ‘Zionist-led media’ – and how “Zionism”, in that context, is typically a euphemism for “Jewish”.
Further, she evidently fails to understand that all “Zionism” means is the right of Jewish self-determination in their historic homeland. In other words, the word she uses in the pejorative means merely: the right of Israel to exist. When you oppose ‘Zionism, yet don’t oppose any other expression of nationalism, you’re denying a fundamental right to Jews and only Jews – a position which is fundamentally antisemitic. Before 1948, you could oppose Zionism in theory, because the Jewish state (the ultimate expression of Zionism) didn’t yet exist. However, Zionism is no longer an abstraction. When you oppose Zionism today, you’re supporting the destruction (or radical reconstitution) of an actually existing state and the likely displacement (or much worse) of millions of Jewish citizens of that state.
Support for terrorism
Though she claimed in her op-ed that she’s “not an extremist”, she didn’t even address clear evidence that she supports terror attacks by extremists.
So, in light of the inadequate reply in her op-ed, here are three simple follow-up questions for Ms. Bouattia:
- Will you renounce your previous support for terror attacks against Jews in Israel?
- How can you claim to support minority rights, yet fail to support the most fundamental right of Jews (one of the smallest and most historically persecuted minorities in history) to have a national homeland?
- Do you seriously maintain that Zionism is a form of “white supremacy”?
Let’s hope that British media outlets will hold the new NUS president accountable to these questions.