VERSA | NUS Presidential candidate attempts to dismiss anti-semitic claims with little success

In a restrained and inquisitive letter last week, signed by 56 Jewish Society Presidents (and undersigned by hundreds more in support), Malia Bouattia was asked to explain a number of her published comments. The letter included the accusation that “describing large Jewish societies as a challenge is the politics of division and not solidarity which should be the case” and questioned her endorsement by a member of a controversial group, Muslim Public Affairs Committee UK (MPACUK).

Bouattia is currently the NUS’s Black Student Officer

However, Bouattia replied to this open letter denying any anti-Semitism on her part. She claimed that “I celebrate the ability of people and students of all backgrounds to get together and express their backgrounds and faith openly and positively, and will continue to do so” and that  “I want to be clear that for me to take issue with Zionist politics, is not me taking issue with being Jewish.”

She continued, openly criticising her accusers, writing: “I am deeply concerned that my faith and political views are being misconstrued and used as an opportunity to falsely accuse me of antisemitism, despite my work and dedication to liberation, equality and inclusion saying otherwise.” You can read the full response here.

However Oxford’s Jewish Society President, Isaac Virchis, was unimpressed with Bouattia’s response. He told VERSA: “I, and many others, am not satisfied with Malia’s reply and feel that this only further demonstrates her inability to represent the full diverse range of religions and ethnicities of UK students.”

He continued that: “I’d say in all other forms of discrimination it is down to the minority to decide when they feel persecuted or offended. With antisemitism it seems that it is a legitimate defence to claim that Jews are simply mistaken in these circumstances whilst simultaneously suggesting that their claims are either racist, or part of a politically motivated smear as it were.”

Rowan Davies: Time to backtrack?

Similarly, the Oh Well, Alright Then group of NUS delegates from Oxford* were unsatisfied with Bouattia’s response, telling VERSA:  “We’re glad Malia Bouattia has taken the time to reply, but unfortunately the letter is lacking in several areas, and comes across in places as dismissive and overly defensive. There are still questions to be answered, and the unwillingness of Malia to answer them is highly disappointing.” They will be voting against Bouattia’s nomination.

Oxford’s other delegates, Becky Howe, Rowan Davies and Vivian Holmes, have all declined to comment but will announce their own voting intentions before the conference next week. Although, with delegate Rowan Davies’ Facebook profile picture having previously shown her support for Bouattia (until yesterday), it appears that she may be planning to retract her endorsement.

With elections fast approaching, and the NUS refusing to comment on the storm due to it being “too close to the election”, there seems to be serious hurt and upset that Bouattia’s response has not addressed.  

* The Oxford NUS Delegates from ‘Oh Well, Alright Then’ are Harry Samuels, David Klemperer, Matt Sumption and Anne Cremin. The statement was provided by Harry Samuels.