The last year for the NUS has been unsettling, student groups and societies from the left to the right of the political spectrum have vocalised their dismay about the new President Malia Bouattia. Many have felt that Malia’s enforcement of the “no platform policy” and “safe space policy” have stifled free speech, while others have taken offence, and have felt victimised by her controversial remarks, which have caused accusations of vehement anti-Semitism.
Remarks such as referring to Birmingham University as a “Zionist outpost”, due to its highly active Jewish society, labelling parts of the media as “Zionist-led media outlets” and stating that “Zionist lobby groups were responsible for the Prevent Strategy” has resulted in a heated backlash against Ms Bouattia. Malia has since defended her remarks on BBC Radio 4:
‘I would certainly review my language and would definitely want to explain the political context which I was discussing.”
‘I absolutely was not saying the things that it has been interpreted as”
Senior Jewish member of the NUS, Izzy Lenga, has stated that the National Executive Conference of the NUS “isn’t a safe space for us”, Ms Lenga’s remarks came following the decision of the NUS to overrule the Union of Jewish Students position of delegating a representative for the Anti-Racism Anti-fascism conference, the decision was also strongly backed by Ms Bouattia. Prominent members of the Union of Jewish students have spoken out against the decision, calling it “blatant anti-Semitism. In light of the NEC meeting on 18th July, UJS Campaigns Director, Josh Nagli has said:
“Today, NUS NEC once again showed its complete lack of commitment to Jewish students by voting for a motion that means that Jewish students will have no say in who represents them on the NUS Anti-Racism, Anti-Fascism (ARAF) committee. It will now be down to NEC to elect the ARAF committee and therefore to decide on behalf of Jewish students who represents them. This decision is undemocratic and excludes the 8,500 Jewish students that we represent.”
“Does she realise that many Jewish students have fears about going on to campus this year.”
It was also at the National Conference that a wide variety of students proposed to ban Holocaust Memorial Day, one of which, from the University of Chester, was met with standing ovation.
Oxford’s Jewish Society put out the following infographics to condemn Malia’s remarks and to raise support for the Oxford’s Student Union disaffiliation campaign.
Jewish students were not the only ones to become disenfranchised with the organisation after a motion was proposed at the LGBT conference to abolish all White Homosexual representatives within LGBT societies. The motion stated that “cis white gay men” no longer needed representation within the organisation as “they are no longer oppressed”, an advocate for the motion further stated:
“Misogyny, transphobia, racism and biphobia are often present in LGBT+ societies. This is unfortunately more likely to occur when the society is dominated by white cis gay men.”
A crucial point about the NUS that has demoralised so many students is the lack of equal representation, I spoke with Luke Jones a prominent young conservative and member of “Young Britons for liberty”, a movement campaigning for universities across the country to disaffiliate from the NUS. Luke expressed his frustrations about the democratic process adopted by the NUS, saying:
“The bizarre notion that we have 7 million students and yet only a mere 700 that can vote for, and propose policies, that’s only 0.01 percent of the student body.”
“It is thus an issue of national importance that our most prized academic institutions are being taken over by these left-wing bullies. In the name of “safety”, students’ unions now censor any speech or events which left-wing academics (not uncommonly sociologists) fear could possibly make a student feel even slightly uncomfortable.”
“Last academic year, four universities disaffiliated from the NUS, and those of us who champion the fundamentally human values of free debate and intellectual diversity, are determined that more will join them this year.”
Luke’s dialogue with me brought up some key issues about the status of free speech within universities, he also expressed that “it’s certainly is not just conservatives who are unhappy with the current situation”, he continued to reference Barrack Obama’s criticism of safe spaces saying: “I don’t believe you, as students need to be coddled from different points of view”
After reviewing the disaffiliation campaigns of the University of Loughborough, University of Surrey and Bath Spa University, it became abundantly clear that most unions feel the political agenda of the NUS does not align with their apolitical stance, and question as to how an organization that should be solely campaigning on behalf of the interests of students, has taken radical, left-leaning positions such as supporting boycotts against Israel and no-platforming pro-Israel speakers.