Around 170 student leaders, including five SU officers and student leaders from UEA have signed an open letter opposing claims made in a report on ‘Anti-Semitism in the UK’ by a Home Affairs Select Committee. The committee of MPs criticised NUS President Malia Bouattia for showing a lack of commitment to tackling the issue of anti-Semitism on university campuses.
This letter has been signed by Jo Swo, Welfare Community and Diversity Officer, Abi Mulcairn, Women’s Officer and UEA Labour Students’ Chair, Emmanuel Agu, Ethical Issues Officer, Lucy Auger, UEA Labour Students’ Vice Chair, and Finn Northrop, Non-Portfolio Officer.
In addition to the officers, at the time of publication, two students have also signed the letter defending Bouattia.
The letter argues that the report by MPs is politically biased, and does not focus enough on the “far right”, whilst it disproportionately criticises the Labour Party and the NUS. Signatories say that acknowledging the increase in anti-Semitic hate crimes effectively must be done “without falling prey to partisan selectivity.”
In its conclusion, a revised report with a more neutral approach is demanded, as is a retraction of “false statements” and an “apology to those who have been vilified by the inaccuracies and partisan biases” they believe to be included in MPs’ document.
Swo called the select committee report “inadequate in giving guidance on how to deal with the far right, which has historic ties with anti-Semitic abuse and crime,” and instead targets the NUS President, Malia Bouattia, despite her repeated assurances both within Student Unions and the media, that she will address concerns.” She also said, “we can only tackle bigotry and hate crime like anti-Semitism and Islamophobia by working together.”
In contrast to the letter supporting Bouattia, two UEASU officers have alternatively signed an open letter asking Bouattia “to issue a full and formal apology to Jewish students, and indeed to her entire membership.”
The letter, signed by Theo Antoniou-Phillips, Undergraduate Education Officer, and Amy Rust, Campaigns and Democracy Officer, describes the NUS as being in an “unprecedented situation.” The letter concludes by stating that if Bouattia does not issue an apology and provide further information on how to tackle anti-Semitism in the student movement, its signatories believe that “she must resign.”
Commenting on her decision to sign the letter criticising Bouattia, Amy Rust said she did so “because the language used by Malia in discussing anti-Semitism and Jewish students has been inadequate to address the concerns of those students.”
Rust also stated that she was pleased to be working with signatories of the alternative letter, particularly on a new Say No to Hate Crime campaign, “so our students know the Union supports all Jewish students alongside all those directly or indirectly affected.”
Rust stressed that she does not believe the NUS President to be “a racist”, but said that the “systemic problem of anti-Semitism within the student movement” needed to be acknowledged.
The parliamentary report found a 29 percent increase of anti-Semitic hate crime in England and some part of Wales between 2010 and 2015. This is in comparison to a nine per cent rise across all categories of hate crime.
A study by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research found a fifth of British Jewish people have experienced at least one incident of anti-Semitic harassment during the last year was also cited by MPs.
This follows consistent criticism of the NUS President since her election last spring.
Swo spoke of the SU’s “good relationship” with UEA’s Multi-Faith Centre and said that the SU will be releasing a “Multi-Faith Guide” soon in a bid to “get more students of faith involved in the Student Union.”
Swo also said that next year she will be launching a “Multi-Faith Working Group”.