The students’ union at Britain’s Newcastle University this week voted to cut ties with the National Union of Students after the umbrella body elected as president a woman accused of anti-Semitism.
Two-thirds of Newcastle students came out in favor of disaffiliating from the NUS in Wednesday’s vote, Britain’s Daily Telegraph reported, two days after students at Lincoln University decided by 88 votes to disaffiliate. According to The Telegraph, the vote makes the Newcastle students’ union a separate entity from the NUS.
Both decisions follow the controversial election of Malia Bouattia as NUS president, the body’s first black female Muslim leader.
Bouattia, an activist in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, has previously advocated for Palestinian violence against Israelis, and has refused to condemn the Islamic State terrorist group. Her April 21 election sparked allegations of anti-Semitism and widespread criticism of the NUS.
The Telegraph quoted Dominic Fearon, the president of the Newcastle students’ union, as saying that “it is clear that our students feel that the NUS no longer represents their views, does not prioritize correctly, and is not effective at achieving change.”
Fearon indicated that Newcastle and Lincoln were not the only universities mulling disaffiliation.
“The current discontent amongst students nationally can be measured in the number of unions considering holding referenda on their membership,” he said. “We hope that the NUS will acknowledge their shortcomings and will work to become the national union that students deserve and can identify with.”
A statement posted on the University of Lincoln website denied Bouattia’s appointment or her controversial remarks were the driving force behind the decision to hold a referendum, saying instead its representatives were “disillusioned with the direction” in which the union was headed.
“The fact that it is a national union and the officers themselves aren’t working in unity lost their confidence on whether they will do anything of benefit to our members and not just actions for their own political gain,” the statement said.
According to British news reports, a series of decisions taken by the union’s national conference in Brighton last month prompted students from Durham, Edinburgh, Westminster, Aberystwyth, Manchester, York, Exeter, London South Bank, Oxford and Cambridge universities to also consider disaffiliating from the NUS through a referendum vote on their campuses.
If universities continue to sever ties with the NUS, the organization could lose hundreds of thousands of pounds in membership fees and commercial revenues, throwing the national student union into a funding crisis.
In 2011, Bouattia wrote an article in which she described Birmingham as “something of a Zionist outpost in British higher education,” and, in a 2014 speech, even 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 amongst 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, some 57 Jewish student leaders penned an open letter to the president-elect voicing worry that she is “creating an element of suspicion towards Jewish students on campus.”
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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