NUS president Malia Bouattia says accusations of anti-semitism and Isis support ‘simply not true’

Ms Bouattia, 28, became the first black woman and first Muslim to be elected head of the NUS last week

Peter Yeung
Sunday 24 April 2016 20:12 BST

The newly-elected National Union of Students president, Malia Bouattia, has said media reports describing her as an anti-semitic Isis sympathiser are “simply not true”.

Ms Bouattia, 28, became the first black woman and first Muslim to be elected head of the NUS last week, beating the incumbent president, Megan Dunn, with 372 votes to 328.

But her victory has caused controversy, with some individual student unions, including Cambridge University Students’ Union (CUSU), considering disaffiliation from the NUS in response.

In a piece for Guardian on Sunday, Bouattia said anti-Semitic prejudice is “despicable” and revealed she has received rape and death threats since her election as NUS black students’ officer two years ago, forcing her to involve the police for her parents’ protection.

Ms Bouattia wrote: “Instead of celebrating and publicising this incredible landmark [my election], the media coverage has been cluttered with stories calling me a racist, an anti-semite, an Islamic State sympathiser and more.”

“The truth is, as those who know me well understand, I’ve always been a strong campaigner against racism and fascism in all its forms.

“Some may not agree with my politics and ideologies, but I do believe the student movement has a shared goal: to liberate education, creating and supporting access and opportunity for all. This is what I intend to focus on.”

The main controversy surrounded Bouattia’s campaign was over past comments describing the University of Birmingham – with its large Jewish community – as “something of a Zionist outpost” and separate claims about “Zionist-led media outlets”.

More than 300 heads of student Jewish societies and protesters previously issued Ms Bouattia with an open letter, asking her why she referred to the University of Birmingham as “something of a Zionist outpost in British higher education” in a 2011 article.

The Cambridge students said they have also taken issue with the fact that, at an event in 2014, Ms Bouattia - as NUS’s black students’ officer - claimed a “Zionist-led media” oppresses the “global south,” adding that she gave support to “resistance,” an alleged reference to the “violent form”.

In the article, Ms Bouattia says there is a difference between Zionism, religion and ethnicity and made clear her condemnation of Isis.

She wrote: “There is no place for antisemitism in the student movement, or in society. If any of my previous discourse has been interpreted otherwise, such as comments I once made about Zionism within the media, I will revise it to ensure there is no room for confusion.”

“I was not talking about the media as a whole, or repeating despicable antisemitic prejudice."

“Yet newspaper reports this week still depict me as a young Muslim who supports Isis. This is simply not true.”

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