Malia Bouattia was elected President of the NUS earlier todayNUS

A campaign calling for CUSU to disaffiliate from the National Union of Students has been launched today, after Malia Bouattia was elected President of the NUS at their conference in Brighton earlier this afternoon.

The campaign intends to present a motion to CUSU Council calling for a referendum on whether or not CUSU should remain affiliated to the NUS and says that disaffiliation will be debated at the Cambridge Union tomorrow evening.

Bouattia won by a margin of 44 votes, defeating the incumbent Megan Dunn in the first round of voting, accruing 372 votes to Dunn’s 328. The third candidate Adil Waraich received just nine votes, while 22 delegates voted to re-open nominations.

Bouattia, who is currently the NUS Black Students’ Officer, pledged in her manifesto to “build a stronger national union ready to lead the way in the fight for the education we all deserve and need.” She will be the first black and the first Muslim woman to lead the NUS in the organisation’s 94 year history.

However, Bouattia’s candidacy has caused controversy over allegations that some of her statements and political positions may be anti-Semitic.

In an open letter to Bouattia, 47 presidents of Jewish Societies at British universities raised concerns over her “past rhetoric”, citing an article co-authored by Bouattia in 2011, which referred to the University of Birmingham as “a Zionist outpost”.

It also sought clarification over Bouattia’s relationship with the Muslim Public Affairs Committee UK (MPACUK), a group which has been no-platformed by the NUS, whose spokesperson Raza Nadim publicly endorsed her. In 2013, a post on MPAC’s Facebook page read: “Take your holocaust, roll it up nice tight [sic] then shove it up your (be creative)!”

In a statement, the leader of the Cambridge campaign, Jack May, said: “The election of Malia as NUS President is a horrifying message to Jewish students in the UK. Attention has been repeatedly drawn to her anti-Semitic comments. Unfortunately, Malia’s election is just the latest event in a tide of anti-Semitism sweeping UK universities."

“Cambridge students should be given a chance to decide whether or not to remain part of the increasingly toxic culture and management of the NUS. Our students’ union should represent what we want, and not act as a mouthpiece for the extreme views of anti-Semitic individuals.”

Responding to these allegations, Bouattia said that “for me to take issue with Zionist politics, is not me taking issue with being Jewish,” and that she does not see “a large Jewish Society on campus as a problem”.

She also said she does “not have a relationship, in any shape or form” with the MPACUK and has “always and will continue to respect and uphold NUS's No Platform Policy.”

In her election speech, Bouattia said: “I know many of you will have seen my name dragged through the mud by right wing media. You’ll have read that I’m a terrorist, that my politics are driven by hate. How wrong that is. I know too well the price of terrorism, the consequences of violence and oppression. I saw a country ripped apart by terror, was pushed into exile by its doing. I know too well the damage done by racism and persecution – I faced it every day.”

She went on to say that she "will continue to fight in all its forms, whoever its target, whether its anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, xenophobia or any other bigoted idea.”

Bouattia recently voted against a motion to condemn ISIS put to the NUS’s National Executive Council (NEC). Spearheading a group of NEC members, she argued that “condemnation of ISIS appears to have become a justification for war and blatant Islamophobia”.  

Another supporter of the campaign for disaffiliation, Adam Crafton, who is Jewish, said: “This is a deeply disappointing day for Jewish students at Cambridge… The failure of the national body means that the responsibility now falls upon our own Cambridge representatives.

“We call upon CUSU Council to recognise this shift in the political landscape and sense the need to offer students the freedom to choose who should represent their interests. As such, we implore CUSU Council to pass this motion, engage in a democratic process and ensure the freedom and security of Jewish students.”

In light of the election result, the Labour Party’s Wes Streeting MP - formerly a president of CUSU and the NUS - said that the “NUS is lost I'm afraid. It's had good leadership from Megan Dunn, but it no longer represents students well.”

Reacting to news of the Cambridge campaign, Elinor Clapson, chair of the Cambridge Universities Labour Club (CULC), tweeted: “Oh lord I have concerns about Malia Bouattia too but can't deal wth [sic] budding outraged middle class white man crusade to disaffiliate from NUS.”

Further afield, there has also been a petition launched on the Parliament petition website with the motion: “Remove Malia Bouattia as NUS President.” It is currently awaiting moderation, having received initial support.

There was also outcry after there was opposition to an amendment to a motion to combat anti-Semitism. The amendment, which contended that “education is vital”, said that the NUS should co-ordinate events to commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day.

The prevailing argument against the amendment was that commemorating Holocaust Memorial Day ignored other atrocities and genocides. Darta Kaleja, of Chester University, said: “I am against the NUS ignoring and forgetting other mass genocides and prioritising others.”

One of the Cambridge NUS delegate, Olly Hudson, who spoke in support of the motion and commemorating Holocaust Memorial Day, took to Facebook to express dismay.

“Arguing that oppression takes place in a zero sum framework is nonsense,” he said. “By saying that we cannot recognise the struggles of one group until all other struggles have been overcome is the same derailing argument as the ‘all lives matter’ response to the Black Lives Matter campaign.

“Anti-Semitism is the scourge of the student movement and the willingness of some to speak over the lived experiences of Jewish students in the most powerful forum of student democracy has both shocked and scared me.”

In other developments, the NUS conference also voted today on the position of Vice-President for Higher Education, for which CUSU President Priscilla Mensah was a candidate. Mensah was unsuccessful, however, with the post going to Sorana Vieru.

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