UK student union elects anti-Israel president, argues against marking Holocaust Day

Malia Bouattia, National Union of Student's first black Muslim woman president, was elected on the same day the Union argued against an amendment for campuses to commemorate the Holocaust.

April 21, 2016 07:53
2 minute read.
A red rose lies at Gleis 17 (platform 17) holocaust memorial in Berlin

A red rose lies at Gleis 17 (platform 17) holocaust memorial at a former cargo railway station in Berlin-Grunewald. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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Britain's National Union of Students (NUS) elected a new president who has been criticized for her anti-Israel views, and argued against an amendment to commemorate the Holocaust on campuses on the same day, British media reported on Wednesday.

Malia Bouattia, NUS's first black Muslim woman president, has been heavily chastised for her controversial opinions. In a 2011 blog post for a Friends of Palestine campaign, Bouattia called Birmingham University "a Zionist outpost." Bouattia also did not initially support a motion condemning ISIS as a terror organization, according to BBC.

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The new leader promised to put "liberation at the heart of NUS' work," and her campaigns have included "Why Is My Curriculum White?" and opposing the government's Prevent counter-extremism strategy.

Bouattia's appointment has outraged many across British campuses, particularly Jewish society leaders, who signed an open letter slamming her prejudicial views.

In response, Bouattia made attempted to prove her views were not anti-Semitic, saying: "I want to be clear that for me to take issue with Zionist politics is not me taking issue with being Jewish. In fact, Zionist politics are held by people from a variety of different faiths, as are anti-Zionist politics."

"It is a political argument, not one of faith," she said.

On the same day of Bouattia's appointment, NUS student leaders from across England argued against a motion to commemorate the Holocaust.

Chester University’s Darta Kaleja spoke against commemorating Holocaust memorial day on the grounds that it ignores other global atrocities and genocides.

“Before I start I want to make it clear I am not against commemorating the Holocaust,” Kelja said. “I am against the NUS and the government forgetting and ignoring the mass genocides, and prioritizing some lives over others.”

“In my five years of UK education throughout GCSEs and A Levels, not once were the genocides of Tibet, Rwanda, or Zanzibar taught to me and my peers,” Kelja added. “So please, please vote against this motion, against the one day dedicated purely to atrocities of just one mass genocide, as it suggests that some lives are more important than others. Instead campaign for a day to commemorate all of them.”

Kaleja's speech was received by the audience with a strong round of applause.

Sam Gold of Leeds University spoke in favor of the amendment, asking for delegates to support the motion to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive in the NUS.

“The living memory of the Holocaust is dying,” said Gold.

At the end of the debate the motion to commemorate the Holocaust passed.

Some students grappled with the NUS' new attitude, and considered leaving the union.

"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," student Jack May told BBC.

Wes Streeling, a Labour MP and former NSU president, had tweeted: "NUS is lost I'm afraid." He said "it no longer represents students well".

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