Student leaders, including three NUS vice presidents, have signed an open letter criticising the union for “anti-Semitic rhetoric.” Signatories also said the union needs to do more to “address its attitude towards Jewish students.”
44 student leaders signed the letter, which claims that “Jewish students have not felt safe participating in our national movement.” The letter accuses NUS’ leadership of “rightly” having been placed under “increased scrutiny” for their actions and rhetoric regarding Jewish students.
Richard Brooks, one of the vice presidents who signed the letter, spoke on BBC Radio 4’s The World At One to explain his decision. He said he wanted new Jewish students starting university to feel that the union was a “place for them”.
When questioned on how such alleged anti-Semitism had manifested in the student movement, Brooks said: “It is obviously a very challenging and nuanced argument, but when a number of Jewish students over a consistent period of time say they do not feel safe participating in student politics and in the student movement, I think we have to take that really seriously and listen.”The letter does not mention current President Malia Bouattia by name but alludes to previous incidents where she has been criticised for “anti-Semitic” remarks.
Notably, the President described her alumus the University of Birmingham as “something of a Zionist outpost in British Higher Education” in a 2011 blog comment.
Bouattia however, insists that her previous statement was a political argument rather than an attack of religion, and has refused calls to apologise for it.
Following the open letter Bouattia has said that she supports her colleagues in the NUS in “calling for assurances that Jewish students will be safe on campus”
Bouattia continued to say that “I will do everything in my power” to ensure Jewish students feel safe both on campus and to particpate in the student movement.
She said: “I look forward to working with my officers and NEC colleagues to continue to listen to Jewish students and support them in being part of NUS.”
Bouattia made history last April by being the first black Muslim woman to be elected president of the National Union of Students.
However her appointment was not without controversy, and triggered students from several universities to attempt to disaffiliate from the NUS.