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Sabbatical Officers sign open letter to NUS President after anti-Semitism report

Malia Bouattia, the current President of the National Union of Students. Image credit: BBC
Malia Bouattia, the current President of the National Union of Students. Image credit: BBC
Malia Bouattia, the current President of the National Union of Students. Photo credit: www.bbc.co.uk

Two Sabbatical Officers of the University of York Students’ Union (YUSU) have committed their names to an open letter to the President of the National Union of Students (NUS), Malia Bouattia.

Millie Beach, President of the Students’ Union, and Alex Lusty, the Activities Officer, acting as representatives of YUSU, have added their names to an open letter calling on the incumbent NUS President “to issue a full and formal apology to Jewish students, and indeed to her entire membership”, following the publication of a Home Affairs Committee report on anti-Semitism.

On Sunday, the Home Affairs Committee published a report on anti-Semitism in the United Kingdom, documenting the Committee’s findings on the reported rise in anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic incidents in the country.

The Home Affairs Committee report makes specific reference to the current president of the national union, bringing up various past comments and descriptions in relation to Jewish students, Jewish societies, Zionism and the Israel-Palestine dispute.

Shortly after the publication of the report, Amanda Chetwynd Cowieson, an officer of the Falmouth & Exeter Students’ Union, penned an open letter to Malia Bouattia, which concludes:

“We, the undersigned believe that the statement issued by Malia 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.

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. We too believe that this report, the issues highlighted by it and the recommendations within should reinforce to others who hold office in NUS, who have either publicly defended Malia or actively chosen to remain silent that they too have a role to play in addressing the systemic problem of antisemitism within the student movement”.

On Monday, The Yorker contacted the five Sabbatical Officers at YUSU to ask whether they would sign the letter to the NUS President. So far, officers from the student unions at Kent, Keele, Sheffield, Liverpool, Winchester, York St. John, Leeds, Essex, Durham, Leicester and others have committed their names to the document. They are joined by some members of the National Executive Committee of the the NUS, as well as Josh Seitler, the President of the Union of Jewish Students.

The President of the University of York’s Jewish Society, Hanna Ferencz, told The Yorker:

“We find Malia’s past rhetoric worrying, and more troubling is the fact that she has failed to reassure the Jewish students she has a duty to represent equally alongside any other student in the UK. We had a quite promising meeting with Millie Beach about the report and what YUSU’s reply should be on Monday and we agreed that the sabbatical team would openly support Jews on campus and further discussions about defining anti-Semitic hate crimes would occur in collaboration with the university as well.”

The Jewish Society called for students to vote for their union to disaffiliate from the National Union during the affiliation referendum earlier this year.

Malia Bouattia has faced a number of accusations of anti-Semitic conduct before and during her tenure as President of the NUS. Prior to the publication of the Home Affairs Committee report, Bouattia maintained that her remarks have been misunderstood.

The Home Affairs Committee report resolved that Bouattia:

[…] “does not appear to take sufficiently seriously the issue of antisemitism on campus, and has responded to Jewish students’ concerns about her previous language with defensiveness and an apparent unwillingness to listen to their concerns [… Her] choice of language (and ongoing defence of that language) suggests a worrying disregard for her duty to represent all sections of the student population and promote balanced and respectful debate […]”.

The Committee noted that Bouattia’s description of Birmingham University as a ‘Zionist outpost’ “smacks of outright racism, which is unacceptable, and even more so from a public figure such as the President of the NUS.”

However, a second open letter has been written in defence of Bouattia, criticising the report. The letter’s signatories include NUS Officers and union officers from universities in Bradford, Huddersfield, Birkbeck, Warwick and others. They claim that Bouattia is being unjustly “singled out for her views on Israel”, and that the report ignored her “repeated assurances, within the union and in the media, that she will address concerns and revise her language”.

The second letter concludes:

“Finally, we believe this report’s selective and partisan approach attempts to delegitimise NUS, and discredit Malia Bouattia as its president. An attack on NUS is an attack on the student and union movements. This is completely unacceptable and we cannot allow these claims against us to go unchallenged. We demand a revised report that is impartial and contains factual evidence. We demand that all false statements are retracted, especially in relation to the sections regarding campus anti-Semitism, along with an apology to those who have been vilified by the inaccuracies and partisan biases it contains.”