Jewish students across the UK waited with baited breaths during the runnings for Presidency of the National Union of Students, not necessarily for our adoration of student politics, or misplaced patriotism, but for more of a severe issue — our concern with candidate Malia Bouattia.
To make a simplification of all things problematic, our concern regarded the fact that an individual with recorded anti-Semitic rhetorics had a possibility to claim throne to the most powerful and influential seat in our student body.
My shock and fear come from the reality that an individual in a public position has openly regurgitated classic antisemitism. The kind I was brought up hearing around my grandmother’s dinner table, not at a student conference.
However, my fear has now morphed into anger and frustration because Malia Bouattia has been officially elected as President.
Before her election, controversial accounts in the past resurfaced. But without a fraction of surprise left in me, they went unnoticed and were seemingly undervalued. What I saw, and what has been a pattern too often on British campuses, are the worries of Jewish students being taken lightly; that our circumstances are not as important as other social and cultural groups, and that our rights have moved to the mild side of student apathy.
The now President of NUS has described the University of Birmingham as a “zionist outpost” as well as referring to the Jewish society on campus as a “challenge” regarding its large size.
The President of NUS has been endorsed by Raza Nadim, a Holocaust denier. The President of NUS has refused to condemn ISIS. And the President of NUS calls for continued Palestinian violence and resistance, not peace.
If I dare say it, she sounds like a racist supremacist. But when it comes to Jews, she is “just being critical”. If any other religious, ethnic, or gender affiliated group was spoken about with such distinction and prejudice, she would no doubt be asked to step down.
Truthfully, Malia is a microcosm of my concern.
We must acknowledge the fact that the world has an ingrained double standard. That questioning Australia or Germany’s right to exist is absurd, but to question Israel is being analytical. That questioning the memory of the Armenian genocide is unheard of, but to debate the commemoration of the Holocaust at the NUS conference is legitimate.
The timing of Malia’s victory, with the upcoming holiday of Passover, draws stark messages of forewarning in my mind. There is a reason why it is an obligation for our people to remind ourselves of the exodus from Egypt. To go beyond the matza, and comedic seder woes, the story of Passover teaches us 2 things.
Firstly, the freedom the Jews experienced was a mental freedom as much as it was physical. We were free to make our own decisions, to care for our own needs, and to fight for the justice we saw fit.
Secondly, we remind ourselves that in every generation, there will always be an entity trying to bring us down. But by observing the strengthening of Jewish solidarity, especially amongst students, we are witnessing our very own miracle. We are witnessing the rebirth of Jewish visionaries, who do not take no for an answer.
Yes the election of Malia Bouattia is worrisome, and yes NUS is a flawed organisation, but what I know, and what I can’t help but seek comfort in, is that feeling of confidence in our resilience.
We will not back down, its just not in our DNA.