Tom Harwood, a candidate to succeed Malia Bouattia as President of the National Union of Students, has released a video making a pledge to fight antisemitism one of his core manifesto promises. Decrying the loss of legitimacy suffered by the National Union of Students under Bouattia’s leadership, Harwood has identified antisemitism as an “advancing bigotry” which must urgently be tackled.
It is a damning indictment of the National Union of Students that a candidate has had to make fighting antisemitism within the union a major part of his election manifesto, and it is more damning still that this is newsworthy.
Bouattia has previously called Birmingham University a “Zionist outpost in higher education” because it has “the largest Jsoc [Jewish student society] in the country.” She has railed against “Zionist-led media outlets”, defended Palestinian terrorism as “resistance” and voted against condemning ISIS. When called on by Campaign Against Antisemitism and countless student leaders to retract her comments, she penned an article in The Guardian claiming that her accusers were simply sexists and racists. Bouattia since refused to confirm that Israel has a right to even exist, and told an audience at the School of Oriental and African Studies that the government’s anti-terrorism strategy is led by “Zionist and neo-con lobbies”. Last July Bouattia drew further condemnation when she used her casting vote to strip Jewish students of their ability to elect their own representative.
Student leaders have gone so far as to write open letters expressing embarrassment and apologising to Jewish students for the actions of Bouattia and the National Union of Students. The Union of Jewish Students has called for her resignation, as have other student groups including Oxford University Students’ Union. The House of Commons Home Affairs Committee’s Inquiry into the Rise of Antisemitism in Britain strongly criticised her.
A two-month inquiry launched to ascertain whether Bouattia is an antisemite found that Bouattia made comments that “could be reasonably capable of being interpreted as antisemitic”, but recommended that no disciplinary action be taken. Instead, Professor Carol Baxter, the NHS’s former equality chief who authored the report, proposed that Bouattia should apologise instead and escape any further consequence.