The United Kingdom's National Union of Students (NUS) is in crisis. Three major university student associations -- Newcastle, Lincoln and Hull -- have disaffiliated themselves from the organization, and more are set to follow. NUS is struggling even to retain its previous strongholds, such as Exeter's Student Association.
The Exeter University campaign to leave the NUS managed to increase the number of votes to defect from roughly 200 to 2546. This stampede occurred despite the massive protests by the "stay" campaign, including text messages to thousands of students and visits to the school by more than 10 senior NUS officials, including two Vice Presidents-elect and the President-elect.
Why are students from so many British universities fighting to leave the NUS? Well, take for example statements by its new president-elect, Malia Bouattia.
Bouattia actively promotes violence against Israel. She has argued that,
"To consider that Palestine will be free only by means of fundraising, non-violent protest and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement is problematic... Boycott can be misunderstood as the alternative to resistance by the Palestinian people."
Presumably, then, Bouattia means that violent "resistance" against Israel is something she supports -- such as the theocratic group, Hamas, whose policies include preaching genocide against the Jews, or ISIS, who crucify children and also believe in murdering Jews.
Supporting terrorism against the only free state in the Middle East, according to Freedom House, is, and should be, deeply concerning. It is to the students' credit that they seek to distance themselves from Bouattia's views.
Bouattia's role is meant to entail representing the best interests of students in the UK. How does endorsing and legitimizing terrorist attacks in Israel the best way to improve conditions for students in the UK? Is Bouattia trying to radicalise students in the UK? The more Bouattia legitimizes violence, the more students might decide that violent "resistance" is acceptable.
Of course, statements such as Bouattia's also make Jewish students across the UK feel even more at risk, especially in the wake of rising anti-Semitism throughout the UK.
Bouattia's remarks at a Middle East Monitor (MEMO) event included arguing that:
"David Cameron and [Israeli PM] Netanyahu seem to be in competition over who can deliver the most over-the-top and outlandish sermons on the apparent existential threat their nation seems to be facing from these invisible 'terrorists."
Invisible? Does Bouattia mean that Israel only imagines it is under threat from nations such as Iran, which is on the fast track to acquiring nuclear weapons and which repeats, "Death to Israel"? Or from Hamas, which threatens genocide not only to Israelis but to all Jews? Or from Hezbollah, a puppet of Iran, which has 100,000 missiles pointed at northern border of Israel, a country the size of New Jersey? Or from organizations that openly wish to destroy Israel?
What about the terrorists who murdered Israel's athletes at the Munich Olympics, in 1972, or who murdered an elderly wheelchair-ridden Jew by throwing him overboard from a ship in 1985? What about the terrorists who spent years blowing up cafes, buses, discotheques -- and now the better part of a year in knifing Israeli Jews and car-ramming attacks? All, of course, are totally invisible.
Bouattia also seems to have missed the nine attacks on Israeli military personnel and civilians in January 2016, and the 18 attacks in February 2016. A quick Google search of "list of Palestinian terror attacks" reveals 1,210,000 entries -- that is a lot of invisibility. It seems bizarre, therefore, that Bouattia would claim such violent terrorism does not exist.
It also seems bizarre that she implies that there is no threat to the UK from terrorism. A quick Google search of "Terrorism incidents in the United Kingdom" lists 1,130,000 entries -- so evidently there is nothing to worry about. These include London's 7/7/2005 transport system attacks, which included among its victims students such as Atique Sharifi. It also seems odd to state that there is no threat to the UK from terrorism just as London is "preparing for up to 10 simultaneous terror attacks" in the wake of the Paris attacks of November 13, 2015. Subsequent arrests in Paris and Brussels revealed that attacks on central London landmarks such as the London Eye were also planned.
Bouattia, it seems, has either concluded that either the organizations preaching anti-Jewish violence and trying to destroy Israel do not exist -- along with those targeting London -- or it would appear that she is she is simply not interested in facts.
Bouattia also argued that "Muslims in the UK find themselves in a situation where their democratic freedoms have been comprehensively stripped." Really? Didn't London just elect a Muslim mayor, and isn't the Business Secretary a Muslim, and haven't there been Muslims in the cabinet and the House of Lords?
Bouattia spoke at an event for the Middle East Monitor, MEMO, an organization which has claimed that Israelis are "pathological liars from Eastern Europe, who lie as much as they breathe oxygen." Wouldn't one think that appearing on the event platform of an organization that promotes negative national stereotypes is the exact opposite of what an "anti-racist" should be doing? Bouattia claims she has "always been a strong campaigner against racism and fascism in all its forms."
MEMO's senior editor, Ibrahim Hewitt, also a Holocaust-denier -- he has referred to the "so-called Holocaust" -- claims that homosexuals would suffer "severe punishments" in an Islamic state for their "great sin." How should Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transsexual (LGBT) students feel about their newly elected president sharing a platform with an organization whose editor calls for "severe punishments" against homosexuals? The NUS actually campaigns against homophobia and homophobic attitudes, with slogans such as "Zero tolerance to LGBT bullying." How does appearing at events organized by those who would like to see homosexuals "suffer" help to fight homophobia?
On a final note, it is important to ask, what is the purpose of the NUS? According to the organization's official website, it is to "make a real difference to the lives of students and its member students' unions." Its successes include electing new Black student officers who "will help to make sure that issues such as racism, anonymous marking and a 'no platform policy against fascists and racists' remain high in the agenda of their students' unions."
When students need representation, the voice often heard is that of the NUS, and that is often channelled through its president, Malia Bouattia. Is it any wonder that when this voice has a history of endorsing terrorism, including sharing platforms with convicted terrorists, that students may want a different voice?
Robbie Travers, a political commentator and consultant, is Executive Director of Agora, former media manager at the Human Security Centre, and a law student at the University of Edinburgh.