NUS disaffiliation campaigns at universities of Cambridge and Oxford gather pace

Oxford students' union announces referendum is to take place within weeks

Aftab Ali
Student Editor
Friday 29 April 2016 08:58 BST
Discontent has been growing at students' unions across the UK after the election of Malia Bouattia, pictured
Discontent has been growing at students' unions across the UK after the election of Malia Bouattia, pictured (NUS)

The National Union of Students (NUS) disaffiliation campaigns at the country’s top universities are escalating as the Jewish society at Cambridge announces it is throwing its support behind a cause to break away from the student campaigner.

In an online statement, Cambridge University Jewish Society (CUJS) said it had passed a motion in support of a university-wide referendum regarding disaffiliation from the NUS.

The society said: “In light of the election of Malia Bouattia - whose rhetoric has disturbed many of our members - a referendum will allow Cambridge University students to decide whether they wish to be represented by the NUS.”

According to The Cambridge Student, around 40 students attended a CUJS meeting this week, and passed two motions.

Eighty-five per cent voted in favour of officially adopting a position of support for a CUSU referendum leaving the NUS - allowing for the possibility of re-affiliating at a later date - while 64 per cent agreed that, if a referendum is facilitated by CUSU, CUJS would back CUSU disaffiliating itself with the NUS.

The move has come amid growing discontent with the NUS at students’ unions from across the UK due to the controversial election of the new national president, Malia Bouattia.

Ms Bouattia has faced allegations of anti-Semitism - something she has strongly denied - after an article she co-authored in 2011 came to the attention of over 300 heads of Jewish student societies and protesters, who issued her with an open letter asking her to justify her words.

In the article, Ms Bouatta referred to the University of Birmingham as “something of a Zionist outpost in British higher education,” which prompted the letter to ask her: “Why do you see a large Jewish society as a problem?”

Ms Bouattia - who is the first ever black Muslim woman to be elected NUS National President - appeared on Channel 4 News this week, and said: “It’s no surprise that a Muslim woman elected into a national position will receive such extensive national attention, and quite racialised and sexist abuse over social media.”

Malia Bouattia interview

NUS: Let Cambridge Decide, the official university campaign, said it was “thrilled” to have the support of CUJS, and said: “We will strive to work alongside Jewish students and ensure their experience at the University of Cambridge is as comfortable as possible.”

The leader of the campaign, Jack May, described the election of Ms Bouattia as sending “a horrifying message to Jewish students in the UK.”

Upon its launch, Mr May said: “Unfortunately, Malia’s election is just the latest event in a tide of anti-Semitism sweeping UK universities.

“Cambridge students should be given a chance to decide whether or not to remain part of the increasingly toxic culture and management of the NUS. Our students’ union should represent what we want, and not act as a mouthpiece for the extreme views of anti-Semitic individuals.”

According to Oxford student newspaper, OxStu, the students’ union (OUSU) there confirmed on Wednesday that it had voted for a referendum on NUS disaffiliation to be held within weeks. The Independent has contacted OUSU for comment.

Students at Cambridge are due to debate a motion on whether to hold a referendum on disaffiliation on Monday.

Addressing “whispers of disaffiliation” at the NUS National Conference in Brighton, outgoing president, Megan Dunn, cautioned students’ unions: “Know this: we are stronger when we work together.

“When students’ unions are under attack, we are better off united than we are standing on our own, believing we can defend ourselves by standing apart, so don’t walk away.”

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