A Cabinet minister has criticised the newly elected president of the National Union of Students for making “unacceptable” comments about Zionism.
Chris Grayling said 2016/17 NUS president Malia Bouattia’s assertion that the University of Birmingham is a “Zionist outpost” was “not acceptable”.
In a video taken in September 2014, Ms Bouattia is also seen calling for Palestinian “resistance” and condemning what she calls “mainstream Zionist-led media outlets”.
She has since insisted she is “extremely uncomfortable with insinuations of anti-Semitism” and stated: “for me to take issue with Zionist politics is not me taking issue with being Jewish”.
In a separate exchange, Mr Grayling also turned his fire on the Labour Party, which has been plagued by allegations of anti-Semitism in recent weeks.
The Parliamentary Labour Party is currently carrying out an investigation into anti-Semitism in the Oxford University Labour Club.
Mr Grayling called on politicians of all sides to work together against anti-Semitism after Conservative MP Matthew Offord (Hendon) condemned Ms Bouattia’s comments and the situation in the Labour Party.
During the business statement in the Commons, Mr Offord said: “Just weeks after the co-chairman of the Oxford Union Labour Club stepped down after he said that a large proportion of both OULC and the student left in Oxford ‘have some kind of problem with Jews’, I’m sure you will find it incredulous that students who attended the NUS conference in Brighton yesterday debated boycotting Holocaust Memorial Day and then went on to elect as their president someone who described the University of Birmingham as being ‘something of a Zionist outpost in British higher education’.
“Can we have a minister come to the Despatch Box and set out measures the Government will take to counter this rise in anti-Semitism that is fomenting on university campuses?”
Commons Leader Mr Grayling replied: “It is simply unacceptable in our society.
“The views expressed yesterday are not acceptable, the shadow leader (Chris Bryant) was absolutely right when he talked about anti-Semitism in his own party, it is something we should all, on all sides of politics, want to stamp out across our society.
“It’s simply unacceptable.”
Earlier, Mr Grayling told shadow Commons leader Chris Bryant that his party was “clearly riddled with anti-Semitism”.
The Tory minister said: “You also gave an interview a few days ago in which you accused me of telling the same joke five weeks in a row.
“I can only say to you that when I kept asking why you were still on that frontbench I was not joking.
“You are sitting there representing a party that wants nothing to do with Britain’s largest provider of apprenticeships, you represent a so-called democratic party that now apparently wants to support direct action to bring down this Government, you represent a party that wants to dismantle our nation’s defences, led by a man who believes we haven’t had enough immigration into this country already.
“And despite your own wise words, and I pay tribute to you for them, you still represent a party that is clearly riddled with anti-Semitism.”
Labour MPs could be heard branding Mr Grayling’s comments an “outrageous slur”.
Bob Blackman, Tory MP for Harrow East also criticised the NUS.
He said: “It is ironic that the Holocaust Educational Trust were holding a reception and an information session in this place at the same time as the NUS were debating a motion to boycott Holocaust Memorial Day.
“And equally that speakers in favour of that were being applauded for saying that Holocaust Memorial Day was not inclusive enough.
“Clearly there is a great deal of work to be done on education to combat the scourge of anti-Semitism, so can we have a debate in Government time on what action we are going to take to actually root this out once and for all amongst all political parties and amongst all sections of societies?”
Meanwhile, Barry Sheerman criticised Mr Grayling for his comments about Labour and criticised the EU Leave campaign, of which the Commons Leader is a part, claiming it had invited French Front National leader Marine Le Pen to the UK.
The Labour MP for Huddersfield said: “After your unfortunate remarks about the Labour Party being riddled with anti-Semitism, as someone who has fought anti-Semitism in the Labour Party all my life, and in this country, could we have an early debate on this?
“It is so important on a day when the people that want to take us out of Europe have invited Marie Le Pen to come here and speak.”