An open letter to Malia Bouattia
Jonty Leibowitz tells the new NUS President what’s on his mind.
Congratulations on your election as NUS President on Wednesday. You have won a clear and decisive victory and ran, in many ways, an inspiring campaign. It is heartening to know that the NUS will challenge Prevent, stand up for disabled students, and much more.
I do, however, have a few concerns.
You might have guessed from my surname what they’re about. Throughout the campaign, much has been made of your comments on Israel and Zionism. Words were said, letters were exchanged, and you addressed the subject directly in an open letter, found here.
Before we dive into the detail, I should make something clear. I share many of your opinions on the barbarity of the Israeli occupation, as many Jews do up and down the country. I too want a genuine Palestinian emancipation, and want it now, rather than later.
And yet, I still consider myself a Zionist. A Reform Zionism in the truest sense of the word, who believes that the belief in a Jewish state can sit side by side with a radical emancipatory Palestinian politics. I would like to think that if we ever met, we’d have quite a lot of common ground.
Which brings me to my first question- are you aware that some of your rhetoric on the issue has been deeply troubling to Jewish students across the country?
When you refer to the University of Birmingham as a ‘Zionist Outpost’, are you aware of how it comes across?
When you refer to the ‘Power of the Zio-lobby’, did you choose your words with care?
If you weren’t now the elected representative of thousands of students, we might be able to give you the benefit of the doubt and write this off as a poor choice of words, or at least a misunderstanding of the terms in play. But when it comes to the politics of liberation, as you well know, no such luck.
No such luck because anti-semitic attacks on campus are at their highest in recorded levels, and JSocs are employing more security guards than ever before. The atmosphere is becoming increasingly toxic. The scourge of anti-Semitism in Britain is not a distant sepia-tinged memory, but a depressing and urgent reality.
Malia, this matters to every single student, because the politics of liberation need to be walked together, or not at all. Your work on Prevent and tackling Islamophobia is inspiring, which makes it all the more perplexing that you’ve failed to address deep concerns about your rhetoric concerning Israel, Zionism, and anti-Semitism. You also won’t need to be reminded that just become someone is good at combating one sort of liberation, it does not actively mean that they are absolved of standing by, or even perpetuating, another.
Today, in your first full day as President, Jewish students will travel home to celebrate Passover, a festival dedicated to liberation, equality and freedom. These students deserve, demand, a President who will continue the fight against the evil of anti-Semitism.
We Jews are fond of the saying that ‘It is not your job to finish the task, but neither are you free from it either.’ We don’t expect you to single-handedly destroy anti-Semitism, but we expect you to try. We certainly don’t expect you to ignite the flames of hatred yourself.