NUS Conference clouded by controversy

Maria Bouattia (Source: NUS)

The NUS have come under fire after their controversial conference last week which saw their first Black Muslim President elected.

The conference, which was held in Brighton, involved almost 1000 delegates from a number of UK universities and discussed around 100 motions. These motions covered a number of issues, some of which have caught negative social media attention.

One motion proved surprisingly controversial as some NUS representatives argued against implementing university events on Holocaust Memorial Day. The motion, which did eventually pass, was met with unexpected resistance when Darta Kaleja of Chester University suggested that the motion was not “inclusive enough”.

Kaleja stated: “I am against the NUS ignoring and forgetting other mass genocides and prioritising others. It suggests some lives are more important than others. When during my education was I taught about the genocides in Tibet or Rwanda? It is important to commemorate all of them.”

This resistance to the motion was heavily criticised on social media and many students expressed their outrage. One student took to Twitter to show their anger, tweeting:”Honestly disgusted that we had to listen to speeches against commemorating HMD.”

Women’s Officer for Manchester Students’ Union expressed similar views on the social media site: “Why are we even debating whether NUS should commemorate the holocaust? And ppl say NUS doesn’t have an anti-Semitism problem.”

One second year Religious Studies student at Cardiff University, who wished to remain anonymous, spoke to Gair Rhydd about her views:

“In my opinion, you shouldn’t not commemorate the holocaust because the NUS doesn’t commemorate other mass genocides, six million Jews were murdered. Just because it’s not ‘inclusive’ of other genocides it doesn’t mean it can be ignored.”

Discussion surrounding anti-Semitism has been a common theme of the controversy during the conference and the newly elected President, Malia Bouattia, has faced allegations of discrimination due to her views.0[‘

Bouattia won the election by 50 votes, beating the previous President who was running for re-election. This is only the second time that this has been done in an NUS election and Bouattia made history as she became the first black female Muslim President.

Whilst some have praised this as an achievement for the NUS, Bouattia’s views are proving problematic as some universities are threatening to disassociate themselves with the organisation. Oxford and Cambridge are amongst those threatening to stop their support for NUS as their students lobby for a vote to leave.

Bouattia first caused controversy when it was discovered she had referred to the University of Birmingham as “something of a Zionist outpost in British Higher Education” in a blog post from 2011.

Jewish Societies from across the UK were in uproar about the comments and 47 Jewish Society Presidents signed an open letter to Bouattia whilst she was campaigning for her new position:

“We are shocked that someone who is seeking to represent this organisation could possibly see a large Jewish student population as a challenge and not something to be welcomed.

“Our question for you is clear: why do you see a large Jewish Society as a problem?”

The new NUS President, who previously held the position of Black Students’ officer responded to this criticism saying: “I do not now, nor did I five years ago when I contributed to the article cited in your letter, see a large Jewish Society on campus as a problem.

“I celebrate the ability of people and students of all backgrounds to get together and express their backgrounds and faith openly and positively, and will continue to do so.

“I want to be clear that for me to take issue with Zionist politics, is not me taking issue with being Jewish”.

Zionism is a movement which supports the establishment of an Israeli state as hte Jewish Holy Land and is mostly discussed as a political movement rather than a religious one.

Nevertheless students still suggested these views were not appropriate for a leader of the NUS. One particularly outraged student took to Yik Yak to express their concerns about the NUS and its new leader:

“Oh good the NUS have elected an Anti-Semite to be our president. Clearly the main problem with student politics is the self important twats who forget they’re there to represent us not dictate to us.”

Bouattia has also come under fire for blocking a motion put forward by the NUS which condemned ISIS as she felt it could encourage Islamaphobia. It was not the motion itself, however, that Bouattia objected to but the way it was worded.

The original motion that was put forward called for the NUS to: “condemn the IS and support Kurdish forces fighting against it, while expressing no confidence or trust in the US military intervention.” Bouattia then put forward a ‘Kurdish Solidarity’ motion which condemned the”atrocities” committed by ISIS. This motion was approved unanimously in 2014.

Despite the negative reactions to Bouattia’s election, a spokesperson for Cardiff University Islamic society said they were happy with the new NUS President.

“We welcome the election of Malia as president of the NUS. We feel this is a great achievement for students, Muslim or otherwise, up and down the country. Her work towards a better society has been exceptional.

Malia’s family fled a terror torn country when she was just a child. Any attempt to paint her as some sort of terrorist sympathiser by any outlet is inaccurate and ignorant of what she has been working for in her activism.”