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NUS National Conference begins with controversy for Sussex delegates

Three of Sussex’s delegates for 2016’s National Union of Students (NUS) conference are publicly backing a candidate, Malia Bouattia, who has been asked to explain her “extremely concerning rhetoric” by a group of 57 Jewish representatives from universities across Britain.

Ms Bouattia, current NUS Black Students’ Officer, is alleged to have claimed at a 2016 meeting hosted by London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies that the government’s controversial anti-extremism policy, Prevent, was created by “all manner of Zionist and neo-con lobbies”.

In response, 57 Presidents and Vice-Presidents of student Jewish Societies put their names to an open letter accusing Ms Bouattia of “peddling conspiracy theories” which could create “an element of suspicion towards Jewish students on campus”.

The open letter chastises Ms Bouattia for accepting the endorsement of a spokesperson for the Muslim Public Affairs Committee UK, an organisation which has been no-platformed by the NUS since 2004 for propagating the idea of a worldwide Zionist conspiracy, and for re-posting articles from neo-Nazi and Holocaust Denial websites.

Upon receiving the message of support from the controversial Muslim group’s representative, Ms Bouattia replied simply: “Thank you :-))”. The open letter’s signatories say this “worried” them.

In spite of the controversy surrounding Ms Bouattia, Sussex delegates Annie Pickering, Bethan Hunt and Rose Taylor intend to vote for her to be the next NUS National President.

Gabor Szekely, co-president of Sussex Jewish Society, released a statement saying: “Jewish students at Sussex need to know that USSU will take seriously the worries of Jewish students. Therefore, as co-president of the Jewish Society, I ask Annie Pickering, Bethan Hunt and Rose Taylor to publicly condemn Bouattia’s distressing comments and attitude toward the Jewish student community and her failure to address the concerns of more than 250 Jewish students. Furthermore, I strongly urge the USSU representatives to reconsider whether or not Bouattia is a suitable candidate for NUS Presidency.”

Ms Pickering, Ms Hunt and Ms Taylor responded to the statement by Mr Szekely, saying: “Whilst we respect the concerns raised, we feel that comments Malia has made have been taken out of context. We have discussed these concerns with Malia and her campaign team and feel that they have been addressed. Malia has clarified that she has never seen a large Jewish society on campus as a ‘problem’ stating that she ‘celebrates the ability of people and students of all backgrounds to get to together and express their backgrounds and faith openly and positively’.”

Ms Bouattia is part of the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC) faction, which is also fielding candidates for the other 5 positions. Ms Hunt, Ms Taylor and Ms Pickering are supporting all of NCAFC’s candidates for the NUS officer positions.

Malia Bouattia’s has penned her own letter in response to the controversy. It reads in part: “I am deeply concerned that my faith and political views are being misconstrued and used as an opportunity to falsely accuse me of antisemitism, despite my work and dedication to liberation, equality and inclusion saying otherwise.

“I am alarmed that you have drawn a link between criticism of Zionist ideologies and anti-Semitism.

“I do not have a relationship, in any shape or form, with this organisation or the individual in question [Raza Nadim]. I have always and will continue to respect and uphold NUS’ No Platform Policy.”

The National Union of Students’ (NUS) National Conference is being held in Brighton between Tuesday and Thursday (19th-21st April).

The National Conference sets policy for the NUS.

Students’ Unions up and down the British Isles send representatives to vote on motions and to elect the NUS’ leadership for the next academic year.

Delegates are set to debate hundreds of motions, including a proposed boycott of the National Student Survey; an attempt to get “oppression” and “privilege” inserted into the compulsory curriculum at schools; investment in a community-owned wind farm in Mexico; and expulsion of the Israelis from the West Bank.

More traditional policies concerning communications, students’ rights and unionisation will also be debated.

According to NUS, nearly a thousand representatives will fill the seafront Brighton Centre for three days of democratic decision-making and fringe sessions.

The University of Sussex Student’s Union is sending four representatives to the conference, all of whom were elected last month:

  • Current USSU president, Abe Baldry;
  • President-elect of the USSU, Annie Pickering;
  • Undergraduate Education officer Bethan Hunt;
  • Postgraduate education officer, Rose Taylor.

Photo: NCAFC

Miriam Steiner

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