The new president of the National Union of Students (NUS) has said she is “deeply concerned” at being labelled anti-Semitic following on from her election which divided opinion last week.
Writing in the Guardian, Malia Bouattia, who is the first black Muslim woman to hold the highest position in UK student politics, said that for her to take issue with Zionist politics does not mean she takes issue with being Jewish.
She also said her election was an “incredible landmark” which should have been celebrated, and accused media coverage of overshadowing this by “calling me a racist, an anti-Semite, an Islamic State sympathiser, and more.”
Insisting how Zionist politics are held by people from a variety of different backgrounds and faiths, she said that, personally, it will always be a political argument, adding: “Zionism, religion, and ethnicity must not be seen as one and the same.”
Ms Bouattia’s comments have come after more than 300 heads of student Jewish societies and protesters issued her with an open letter this month, asking her: “Why do you see a large Jewish society as a problem?”
The group was making reference to a 2011 article Ms Bouattia co-authored in which she referred to the University of Birmingham as being “something of a Zionist outpost in British higher education.”
Despite issuing a letter in response of her own, allegations that she was anti-Jewish gathered pace and, in the run up to the election, resulted in her losing the support of the students’ unions at one of the country’s top universities, Oxford.
Post-election, it emerged that students’ union from across the UK had begun campaigns and plans for referendums on whether they should disaffiliate from the NUS as discontentment with the national student campaigner seemed to grow.
However, writing in the Guardian, Ms Bouattia insisted “there is no place for anti-Semitism in the student movement” and, highlighting all the causes the NUS has thrown its support behind over the years, said a lot of work has to be done, but that it must be done “together.”
Under her leadership - from 1 July, she said: “The NUS must be about opening minds, educating people, and building human connection through intelligent discussion instead of angry rhetoric.”
During its three-day national conference in Brighton, the NUS passed a motion to commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day - something Ms Bouattia said she was “proud” to be a part of.
Politicians, however, criticised delegates for presenting arguments against passing the motion, and Labour MP for Bassetlaw, John Mann, released a statement shortly after announcing plans to convene a rally in Parliament against racism within NUS with former presidents of the Union.
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