Anti-Zionist student leader Malia Bouattia was facing an exodus of universities this week as several high-profile institutions prepared to vote to leave the National Union of Students.
With Cambridge and Warwick undergraduates voting this week, and Oxford peers doing likewise at the end of May, student unions across the country reacted to requests to disaffiliate from the national body.
At Durham, students triggered a referendum, which will be held before the summer, while at Warwick, students debated the “tense atmosphere created by comments” from NUS President Bouattia and local Labour councillor Aysegul Gurbuz.
Bouattia incurred the wrath of Jewish societies up and down the country following statements she made referring to the “Zionist-led media” and her description of the University of Birmingham as a “Zionist outpost”.
There will now be votes to disaffiliate from the NUS held at Worcester, Hull, Leicester, Loughborough and Salford, with petitions to do so currently being promoted at Nottingham and King’s College, London. Students at Newcastle and Lincoln have already voted to leave the NUS.
At York, an earlier petition on NUS disaffiliation led the issue being considered in a “formal policy review,” with concerned student groups and societies being consulted. “A decision on whether we hold a referendum should be made in the next week or two,” said a spokeswoman.
The growing discontent was echoed by the Union of Jewish Students, which said Bouattia would have to change her tune if there was to be any future working relationship between the two.
“I understand the anger displayed by Jewish students following NUS Conference this year,” said UJS campaign manager Russell Langer. “I share that same anger, and if Malia continues to deny that she’s done anything wrong then we will find it impossible to work with her.”
However, Langer added that “with the election of vice-presidents Robbie Young and Richard Brooks and the re-election of Jewish student Izzy Lenga on to NEC, we still have allies who are willing to fight our corner”.
Elsewhere, there were pockets of support for the embattled NUS president. Last week, students at Exeter chose to remain affiliated to the national body, after more than 5,400 votes, while at Leeds, where there is a large Jewish student population, the student union said: “Officers are unanimous in remaining as an NUS affiliate. We have had no formal calls to disaffiliate.”
At the London School of Economics, Nona Buckley-Irvine, general secretary of the LSE’s Student Union, said: “Currently there are no plans for a vote to disaffiliate,” adding: “I haven’t had anything through from any Jewish students – that’s not to say that they wouldn’t have concerns, just that they haven’t expressed them to me.”
At Edinburgh, the student union’s vice-president of academic affairs, Imogen Wilson, said: “We’re not currently considering disaffiliation,” adding: “If any student were to propose disaffiliation, this would be put to the whole student body in a referendum.”