Divisive pro-BDS student leader ousted in UK

Malia Bouattia, who made controversial militantly pro-Palestinian comments, loses National Union of Students reelection bid

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter

The new president of the UK National Union of Students Malia Bouattia (YouTube screenshot)
The new president of the UK National Union of Students Malia Bouattia (YouTube screenshot)

British university students have dumped a controversial leader of the National Union of Students who three years ago spoke out passionately in support of violent Palestinian “resistance,” insisted it should not be considered terrorism, and criticized the notion that “Palestine” could be freed by nonviolent action alone.

Malia Bouattia — the union’s first black female Muslim leader and an activist in the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions (BDS) movement — was defeated by Shakira Martin by 402 votes to 272, just a year after being elected.

A spokesperson for the Union of Jewish Students told the London Jewish Chronicle, “We extend heartfelt congratulations to the newly elected NUS President Shakira Martin on her election win. In particular, Shakira’s election demonstrates a rejection of the divisive rhetoric used by the current president, Malia Bouattia, whose past antisemitic comments have remained problematic for Jewish students for over a year.”

In 2011, Bouattia wrote an article in which she described Birmingham as “something of a Zionist outpost in British higher education.”

In a 2014 speech, she suggested that British student activists should “take orders” from Palestinian terrorists.

In that address, Bouattia protested that in “mainstream Zionist-led media outlets… resistance is presented as an act of terrorism” and complained that this has “become an accepted discourse among too many.”

She went on to say it was “problematic” to view efforts to boycott Israel as an alternative to Palestinian “resistance,” and appeared to encourage engaging with terrorists, raising the possibility of “taking orders” to show solidarity.

In the wake of Bouattia’s election a year ago, three universities disaffiliated with the NUS and some 57 Jewish student leaders penned an open letter to the president-elect voicing concern that she is “creating an element of suspicion towards Jewish students on campus.”

Outgoing NUS President Malia Bouattia (National Union of Students)
Outgoing NUS President Malia Bouattia (National Union of Students)

Despite apologizing for her comments about Birmingham University and denying that she was anti-Semitic, Bouattia said during her reelection bid that she had received death threats and been harassed while president, the BBC reported.

Martin has already struck up a relationship with the Union of Jewish Students, the Jewish Chronicle reported, traveling to Poland ahead of Holocaust Memorial Day this year, attending an annual UJS awards dinner last month and accompanying the union on a trip to Israel because, as she posted on Facebook, it was “essential I listen to the voices of my membership and educate myself on particular issues such as Israel and Palestine to ensure that I make informed decisions as a leader.”

The trip, she said, would “provide me with the opportunity to speak to both Israeli and Palestinian people who have lived these experiences. I go in with no preconceptions, I genuinely want to understand views from all sides – Palestinian and Israeli.”

The NUS is a confederation of some 600 UK students’ unions, representing over 95% of all British higher and further education unions. It claims to speak for seven million British students.

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