New NUS President sparks further controversy

The new academic year has barely started, yet the new President of the National Union of Students (NUS), Malia Bouattia, has once again sparked controversy.

During her time as NUS Black Students’ Officer, Bouattia infamously opposed a motion condemning Islamic State, and earlier this year 50 Presidents of Jewish student societies criticised her for previously labelling the University of Birmingham a “Zionist Outpost”, and for claiming the ‘Zionist Lobby’ was behind the government’s Prevent strategy.

Such events, amongst other activities, have raised concerns about Bouattia’s stance towards extremism, antisemitism and censorship, all of which contributed to several students’ unions deciding to disaffiliate from the NUS after her election victory.

In an in-depth Guardian interview, published last weekend, Bouattia had an opportunity to set the record straight and reach out to her critics.

However, she did no such thing and instead argued animosity towards her was due to her radical left-wing politics. She once again denied saying anything antisemitic, and stated such accusations had “not necessarily” diminished her power as president.

Finally, asked if there were any comments she made in the past that she would not say now, she replied:“It’s not about not saying it again, it’s about just breaking them down to explain what I meant.”

This has provoked a strong response from Josh Nagli, Campaigns Director of the Union of Jewish Students (UJS), who wrote in response:

“Her poor attempts to clarify her past rhetoric are clumsy and do not remotely hold with Jewish students. They have not misinterpreted her, nor misunderstood her. This was, and still are, their concerns, those of which she is still yet to adequately acknowledge, let alone appropriately address.”

During the interview, Bouattia was also asked to explain low voter turnout in NUS elections. Bizarrely, she sought to blame the Prevent strategy for this low turnout, arguing Prevent is “hunting down students that choose to be politicised”.

She also used the opportunity to argue Prevent simultaneously targets Black and Muslim students, as well as anti-austerity and environmental campaigners.

Bouattia’s ignorance on the subject of counter-extremism was further exposed when challenged to suggest an alternative strategy to stop radicalisation. Instead of offering an alternative, she repeated the absurd claim that cuts to youth centres and the cost of student living are responsible for the problem.

With Bouattia at the head of the NUS it is clear that this distorted view of radicalisation and extremism will dominate student politics in the year ahead.

We have already seen a poster spreading lies about Prevent at the University of Reading, as well as plans for more ‘Students Not Suspects’ events on campus.

Student Rights will continue to monitor misleading opposition to Prevent on-campus, and seek to counter any myths and scare stories put out by the NUS and its representatives.

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