By Michael Curtis
What a sad coincidence that on the very week that the story of Passover, the liberation of the Jewish people from slavery and evil, is celebrated, particularly disturbing events occurred in a meeting of leaders of student bodies in Britain.
The British National Union of Students (NUS) has a membership of 7 million – 2.5 million in higher education and 4.5 million in further education. The NUS Conference, the chief policymaking body of the NUS, held its meeting in Brighton, England on April 20, 2016. Brighton is a charming seaside resort, but the sun did not shine on the Conference, where events that can only been seen as eruptions of anti-Semitism occurred.
One event concerned a proposed motion that the NUS commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day, at which a number of students applauded arguments that this should not be done.
The feeble excuse for this outburst was that a motion to commemorate the Holocaust was not inclusive enough, since it did not mention other genocides, such as those in Tibet and Rwanda. The fact that none of these protesters against the memory of the Holocaust had ever introduced or thought of introducing any motion other than one hostile to Jews was left unstated.
The more important event at the conference was the election as president of the NUS of Malia Bouattia, the first black Muslim woman to be elected to the position. She won with 50.9 percent of the vote, 372 to 328. Ms. Bouattia, employed as a salaried officer in the NUS National Black Students group since 2014, is no stranger to controversy. Her battle cry is that she will put “liberation at the heart of our work.”
Bouattia, like all Muslim critics of the State of Israel, wrote that she is “extremely uncomfortable with insinuations of antisemitism.” Like so many others, she asserted that taking issue with Zionist politics is not taking issue with being Jewish. Like so many others, she made a distinction without meaning. With or without those “insinuations,” she appeared aware of a diabolical “Jewish conspiracy” of which others were ignorant.
In 2011, Bouattia wrote a blog for a Friends of Palestine campaign group. It asserted that the University of Birmingham, where she had studied, was “something of a Zionist [sic] outpost in British higher education.” She claims that Birmingham has the largest Jewish (sic) student society in the country. That “Zionist ” university now houses about 35,000 students and has a history of alumni that includes some who apparently suffered from former Jewish control such as two British prime ministers, Stanley Baldwin and Neville Chamberlain, and eight Nobel laureates.
Evidently she is no admirer of Nobel Prize winners, nor is she a keen fan of Birmingham – why, she asked, is “my University curriculum white?”
Her political views are well known. Bouattia advocated that Muslims should support Palestinian “resistance” but had been prevented because of “internalized Islamophobia.” She believed that actions against Israel such as BDS, fundraising, and non-violent protest were “problematic.” These are insufficient and have been misunderstood, as if they were the alternative to resistance by the Palestinian people.
In October 2014 she rejected the motion in her own organization to condemn terrorist acts committed by ISIS. A month earlier, she had rejected the idea of peace talks between Israel and Palestinians because they would only strengthen “the colonial project.” Instead, she appeared to endorse armed struggle as she attacked the “mainstream Zionist-led media outlets.”
The British government for some years has had a “Prevent Program.” It is intended to counter the ideological challenge of terrorism and the threat from those who promote it. In contrast, Bouattia argues that this anti-terrorist policy is an indication of the descent of the U.K. into a “police state.”
It is true that individuals, no matter the nature of their point of view, cannot be held responsible for the statements or actions by others who support them. Nevertheless, those who support Bouattia give cause for alarm. And she has done nothing to disown them.
It is worth mentioning just a few of the people and groups that endorsed Bouattia for president. One such is a man named Raza Nadim, spokesperson of MPAC, British Public Affairs, an extreme lobbying group. The group had been banned from student unions by the NUS itself because of its racism and anti-Semitism. Nadim himself has addressed his enemies: “You’re Zionists, the most vile animal to walk the earth.”
Another supporter is an organization called CAGE, a body whose stated aim is to “empower communities impacted by the war on terror.” Its director is Moazzam Begg, a British citizen from Birmingham and a former inmate at Guantanamo Bay who was released in 2005 by President Bush over the objections of the Pentagon and CIA, who considered him a terrorist.
Bouattia has had many contacts with CAGE and shared platforms in British universities with it, although it is a group that denied the existence of Islamist terrorism. According to the rival candidate, Megan Dunn, in the NUS election, CAGE has been sympathetic to violence against women.
CAGE is in essence a network of extremists, active in mosques, universities, and community groups. It has some links with Taliban people and supporters of al-Qaeda.
What is remarkable, and indeed incomprehensible, in this is that CAGE got funding from two respectable sources and has worked with Amnesty International, the human rights group generally considered unfriendly to Israel.
The Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust gave CAGE £305,000, and the Anita Roddick Foundation, whose ambition is to change the world, gave it £120,000. In 2015, both organizations finally saw the light when it found that CAGE was in regular contact with Mohammed Emwazi, the infamous ISIS executioner known as “Jihadi John,” the terrorist who beheaded at least seven people, including two U.S. journalists. The research director of CAGE, Asim Qureshi, described Emwazi as “a beautiful young man.” CAGE has also defended a number of convicted terrorists, including Aafia Siddiqui, the MIT-trained Pakistani scientist who is jailed for 86 years for her attempt to kill U.S. officials in Afghanistan.
The link of CAGE with mainstream leftist groups is more disturbing. In October 2015, Amnesty International and a number of other human rights groups joined with CAGE to protest against British army detainees. It was Salman Rushdie who, on February 21, 2010, wrote, “Amnesty has done its reputation incalculable damage by allying itself with Begg and his CAGE group, and holding them up as human rights advocates.”
It is shameful that British students have elected a person with the extreme views and associations that she has. Like other British bodies, the National Union of Students is not doing enough to counter and overcome anti-Jewish manifestations. The sensible among them should remember that the NUS has been honored in its 94-year history by presidents such as public servants like Jack Straw and Trevor Phillips. It is time for all decent students, and indeed members of the British community, to recognize that the new incumbent brings no such honor and should act accordingly.