The election of a president of the NUS who holds such self-evidently toxic views should be looked upon not as an isolated case of individual intolerance, but as an indication of wider prejudices pervading the NUS. Malia Bouattia once described Birmingham University as a “Zionist outpost” and criticised “mainstream Zionist-led media outlets” and their effect on the anti-Israel movement during the Gaza and the Palestinian Revolution event in September 2014. It speaks volumes that throughout UK universities, even the most devoted amen corners of the NUS have reacted with indignation at the appointment of such an individual.
Yet that is not to say that her ascendency is some anomalous blip in the voting system, nor that her views are at variance with radical student sentiment. NUS delegates recently cheered as speakers at their annual conference argued against commemorating the Holocaust. Students at the University of Edinburgh pinned up a poster on campus which claimed that the Holocaust was a Jewish invention fabricated for financial gain, labelling it “the greatest swindle of all time”. It seems strange that Edinburgh students will vote on whether to throw out their vice-president for academic affairs after she raised her hand in a meeting, since such a gesture violates their safe space policy, all the while anti-Semitic ideology is left to decorate the corridors. The poster remained undetected until that very same vice-president exposed its contents for wider scrutiny.
The NUS itself has come under fire for a series of increasingly extreme reforms, after its now infamous decree to outlaw representatives for gay men in student LGBT+ societies on the grounds that “cis gay men” are exempt from oppression. With the motion passed, the delegates later confirmed that gay men were disproportionately at risk of violence. This seemingly contradictory stance either stems from differing opinions from the floor being put forward, or an NUS which has allowed “progressive” radicalism to manifest itself both as hypersensitive parades of victimhood and as unashamed displays of some of the oldest bigotry around.
The appeal from Cambridge students to disaffiliate from the NUS is not only a fitting reaction to the election of Ms Bouattia, but a message of defiance against an association which has fanned the flames of intolerance for far too long. Students are clearly beginning to recognise the incongruity to Ms Bouattia lambasting the Government’s anti-terror policy for aiding Britain’s “steady descent into a police state”, when she holds sway over a Union which has prohibited clapping as it “triggers anxiety”, and instead demands the use of jazz-hands to signify approval at some conference meetings.
It is time to strongly applaud those at Cambridge who have stood up against both Bouattia and, by extension, the organisation which has bestowed such a level of authority upon the holder of these indefensibly repellent views. After all, she was elected not in spite of, but precisely because of her beliefs.