Malia Bouattia, the newly-elected National Union of Students president, has responded to media reports describing her as an anti-semitic Isis sympathiser, claiming that they are “simply not true”. 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. However her victory has caused major controversy, with a number individual student unions, including OUSU and CUSU, considering disaffiliation from the NUS in response.
In a piece for Guardian on Sunday, Bouattia condemned anti-Semitic prejudice as “despicable” and revealed that since her election as NUS black students’ officer two years ago, she has received rape and death threats — forcing her to involve the police for her parents’ protection. She 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 surrounding Bouattia’s election was over past comments describing the University of Birmingham (with its large Jewish community) as “something of a Zionist outpost” in a 2011 article and separate claims in 2014 that “Zionist-led media outlets” oppress the “global south.” More than 300 heads of student Jewish societies and protesters previously issued Ms Bouattia with an open letter, criticising her for the comments. In the article, she responds directly to these accusations, explaining that there is a difference between Zionism, religion and ethnicity. She wrote: “I was not talking about the media as a whole, or repeating despicable antisemitic prejudice.” “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.” She also made clear her condemnation of Isis: “two years ago I delayed a National Executive Council motion condemning Isis – but that was because of its wording, not because of its intent. Its language appeared to condemn all Muslims, not just the terror group. Once it was worded correctly I proposed and wholly supported the motion.” “Yet newspaper reports this week still depict me as a young Muslim who supports Isis. This is simply not true.” Ms Bouattia’s final claims said that, despite the fact that “students won’t see eye-to-eye”, “something we must all agree on” is that “there is no space for prejudice in our movement, and I will continue to fight it in all its forms, whomever it targets. That is my promise.”
Image: The Independent