National student leader Malia Bouattia this week suggested Jews would choose the Jewish representative to an influential anti-racism committee – but the community’s student representative body still feared it could be sidelined.
The furore surrounds the NUS’s Anti-Racism Anti-Fascism (ARAF) campaign, which has traditionally had a Jewish representative chosen by the NUS president in consultation with the Union of Jewish Students.
The NUS national executive committee (NEC) ruled in February to end the long-standing practice of having a guaranteed Jewish representative on ARAF, with the intention the group would be co-convened by the black students officer and another NEC member taken from one of several minorities. This was overturned by the NEC last week in a motion the wording of which implied the Jewish representative would be chosen by the 40-member NEC.
But according to student newspaper Varsity, Bouattia has now confirmed in a letter to Cambridge University Students Union that the Jewish representative will be elected by a “self-identifying caucus”, which is interpreted as meaning Jewish students, but Josh Nagli, Campaigns Director at the Union of Jewish Students said this was unlikely to involve the vast majority of Jewish students.
However, senior figures at UJS said that Malia’s “policy interpretation” would mean that only the handful of Jewish members of the NUS National Executive Committee would be involved. NUS has confirmed this is now the case.
“It’s more than a snub,” said Nagli. “It shows that there are still some in the NUS who are unwilling to listen to Jewish voices. She’s saying that four people [Jewish students on the NEC] will choose the Jewish representative, but they have not themselves been elected by Jewish students.”
Bouattia, whose election provoked widespread opposition after she had previously talked about “Zionist-led media”, met UJS officers the day after she was elected earlier this year. In her letter to CUSU, in which she responded to concerns about anti-Semitism and Jewish representation, she said: “As your president I intend to fight for the rights and safety of all students, including Jewish students.”
She said there was “no place for any form of racism, including anti-Semitism, in NUS, or across the student movement,” adding that she should be “held to account for upholding this belief”.