National Union of Students (NUS) leaders and Students’ Union officers have demanded an apology and a rewrite of parliament’s findings into anti-Semitism citing “inaccuracies and partisan biases”.
An open letter, signed by academics, Students’ Union leaders and NUS officers, accused the Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC) of adopting a “selective and partisan approach to delegitimise NUS, and discredit Malia Bouattia as its president.”
The letter, which has over 350 signatories including SU presidents, NUS officers and students from across the country, reads: “Despite outlining that the large majority of anti-Semitic abuse and crime has historically been, and continues to be, caused by the far right, the report fails to address the group in any detail.
“Instead it focuses virtually all its attention on the Labour Party and the National Union of Students (NUS), without providing any evidence that these organisations are responsible for the deplorable situation it describes.”
The HASC report was particularly critical of the NUS, finding its newly-elected president Malia Bouattia “does not appear to take sufficiently seriously the issue of antisemitism on campus”.
Bouattia has come under scrutiny in the past for making alleged anti-Semitic comments prior to her election, for instance saying during a 2014 conference speech on ‘Gaza and the Palestine Revolution’, that “with mainstream Zionist-led media outlets… resistance is resented as an act of terrorism.”
The report concluded many of these remarks, including “referring to Birmingham as a “Zionist outpost” … smacks of outright racism.”
Bouattia had previously addressed these incidents by making assurances to revise her choice of language, and cited her longstanding work with both anti-fascist and anti-racism campaigns.
Responding to the HASC’s findings, she said: “I will continue to listen to the concerns of Jewish students and the Jewish Community. As I wrote upon my election as President, and in the submission to this Inquiry, if the language I have used in the past has been interpreted any other way then let me make this clear – it was never my intention and I have revised my language accordingly.”
But NUS Northern Ireland’s president Fergal McFerran has echoed the report’s criticisms.
He published another open letter on Monday posing a series of accountability questions to Bouattia, and set a 24-hour deadline for a response.
He also demanded that Bouattia “distance [herself] from the people circulating a letter discrediting the report”, saying “the response … has so far seen your supporters try to discredit its finding and claim that it is Islamophobic to accuse you of being racist.”
But the deadline passed without reply, and on Tuesday McFerran wrote in a Facebook post: “I am under increasing pressure to speak publicly about the report and the implications that it has for Malia, for NUS and the wider student movement.”
He added: “I want all of you who have concerns about the current situation facing NUS to be assured that there are officers who take those concerns seriously.”
The NUS, which is not responsible for either open letter, issued its own response shortly after the HASC’s report was published.
Responding to the HASC’s findings, an NUS spokesperson said: “NUS takes all forms of racism, including anti-Semitism, extremely seriously. As such, we recognise the importance of the report and its deeply troubling findings regarding the sharp rise in anti-Semitism across society.
“It is concerning that the report identifies that 3/4 of politically motivated anti-Semitic incidences come from far-right groups, yet focuses almost exclusively on NUS in relation to anti-Semitism on campus. This fails to address the reality for students.”
The NUS was approached to clarify its views, and the views of its officers, but did not respond. The Home Affairs Select Committee was also approached for comment.