The National Union of Students’ decision not to depose Malia Bouattia of her role as president could be the latest example of how rife anti-Semitism is becoming across higher education in the UK.
Pinchas Goldschmit, president of the conference of European Rabbis warned the European Parliament back in October 2016 that Britain leaving the EU could result in turmoil for the continent and that Jews felt scared and concerned regarding a new rise of Semitism.
The UK’s student population are feeling this rise of bigotry, with the first higher education adjudicator, Baroness Ruth Deech warning that some of Britain’s top universities are failing to adequately deal with complaints of anti-Semitism due to an unwillingness to challenge benefactors.
Baroness Deech described it as a bad situation and speculated that universities chasing donations from Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf states might be “frightened of offending them”, but ultimately did not know why those institutes were not doing anything to combat the attacks against Israel, or protect their Jewish students. Some of these universities are gathering a reputation of being “no-go areas” for Jewish students.
And the National Union of Students has not been left out of the controversy. Over the past 10 months that Malia Bouattia has served as the President of the National Union of Students (NUS) she has been accused of making anti-Semitic remarks.
The accusations levied at Malia actually go back as far as 2011 when she co-authored an article referring to the University of Birmingham being a “Zionist outpost.” Again, in 2014 when she served as the NUS’ black students’ officer, she used the term in a pejorative manner when speaking at the Gaza and Palestine Revolution conference.
She has faced a number of accusations of anti-Semitism, some of which she has apologised for and some of which she has flatly denied, including one instance of her refusing to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist. Alongside the accusations of anti-Semitism, students across the country have expressed concern over her ability or willingness to represent all students fairly.
Her remarks concerning Jewish students have led to several universities, such as Newcastle, Loughborough and Hull to disaffiliate themselves from the NUS in protest, with others holding referendums to determine if they should follow suit.
There were also claims that Richard Brooks, the Vice President of the NUS was in talks to oust Malia of her role, claiming that her presidency has been a damaging one for students.
For her part, Malia has theorised that the accusations made against her, as well as the media’s accounts of the events, are fuelled by her own religion, ethnicity and gender, and the fact that she holds a position of power.
An unnamed NUS spokesperson has reiterated Malia’s concerns, saying that “The resuscitation of this story in the media is part of a sustained attack on a high-profile Muslim woman in a public position.” And spoke out against the treatment of Malia’s family throughout the ordeal, claiming they have been harassed and received threats.
Malia has been subject to an inquiry over the scandal, which has since determined that she does not need to step down as president of the NUS despite making comments which “could be reasonably capable of being interpreted as anti-Semitic.” According to Professor Carol Baxter, who chaired the inquiry.
It was found that as long as Malia issued an apology she did not need to resign from her post, or face any disciplinary action whatsoever, a decision which has caused a row within the NUS as well as an emergency meeting to occur next week.
Malia could still be forced to step down at next week’s emergency meeting with the NUS’ board, who ultimately have the final say.