Yesterday saw the release of the Home Affairs Select Committee’s (HASC) report into antisemitism in the UK, which included a significant section on campus antisemitism.
While this section began by detailing the controversy around Oxford University Labour Club, as well as Baroness Royall’s report into the matter, the focus was on the National Union of Students (NUS) and its new president, Malia Bouattia.
Highlighting Bouattia’s infamous suggestion the University of Birmingham was “something of a Zionist outpost”, and her comments about “Zionist-led media outlets”, the report also documented the breakdown in relationships between Jewish students and the NUS leadership.
The report is damning in its conclusions, stating 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”.
It also slams her past comments as smacking of “outright racism, which is unacceptable, and even more so from a public figure such as the President of the NUS.”
This is a story that Student Rights has been following closely and has raised on numerous occasions as an issue of concern.
Only a few weeks ago, we reported that Malia Bouattia had been accused of ‘antisemitic rhetoric’ by a group of student leaders from within the NUS.
In response to this problem, the HASC report suggests that “for the sake of their own credibility and to ensure Jewish students across the UK are treated appropriately”, there must be efforts from the NUS and the Union of Jewish Students (UJS) to mend the damage to their relationships done by the NUS leadership.
It also suggests that Universities UK should work with students “to produce a resource…on how to ensure that pro-Palestinian campaigns avoid drawing on antisemitic rhetoric.”
Given the concerns expressed by Jewish students about antisemitism on campuses, as well as the blurring of boundaries between pro-Palestine activism and antisemitism, these recommendations are to be welcomed.
However, Bouattia’s failure to accept her past comments have been antisemitic, and the publication of an open letter attacking the HASC from her supporters, suggests any implementation will be difficult.
Here at Student Rights, we believe that until Bouattia and the movement she leads accept her past comments are part of the problem, it will be difficult to take their promises to address the issue seriously.
We find hope that student concerns are now being raised and taken more seriously, and that Bouattia remains scheduled to meet UJS in the near future.
However, as the report says, more needs to be done to rebuild trust between the NUS leadership and Jewish Students so that their concerns are adequately dealt with – and the defensive response from too many in the student movement so far does not bode well for future reconciliation efforts…
For more information and context to this blog, you can read our report into campus antisemitism from March 2016 here.