Two weeks ago, an Al Jazeera investigation alleged that the Israeli Embassy was secretly infiltrating political arenas in the country, including the Labour Party, and perhaps most laughably the NUS.
The original headline, “Israel Lobby Infiltrates UK Student Movement”, relying on anti-Semitic Jewish conspiracy tropes, should have been suspect in and of itself, and to many it was. To the NUS far-left, however, this became immediate proof of a witch-hunt against themselves and the NUS’s controversial, ambiguously-legitimate President Malia Bouattia. They were half-right; there was a witch-hunt, but rather they were the hunters, and Richard Brooks was their target.
Brooks, an NUS Vice-President, became the focus of the Al Jazeera investigation into the NUS. Yet to this day he does not appear to have done anything objectively wrong. Unless, of course, one counts opposing Bouattia; visiting Israel; and working with the UJS and Jewish students on common concerns about Bouattia as prima facie wrongs.
Yet in the eyes of some of her supporters, this does seem to be the case. From the moment Bouatta was elected, her opponents have been tarred as racist, sexist Islamophobes – when ironically it has only been her supporters that have ever brought any facet of her identity up in such discussions.
The prospect that large numbers of students might be unhappy that the head of their self-declared “definitive national voice” has described her former university disparagingly as a “Zionist outpost”, was grateful for the endorsement of members of the anti-Semitic group MPAC (which the NUS itself no-platforms) and argued that condemning ISIS was Islamophobic (all without a direct vote on whether she actually represented them) seems lost on some of her supporters.
The idea that factions within the NUS can disagree with her and organise against her far-left agenda seems similarly unfamiliar to them, with calls for Brooks to resign for allegedly plotting against her coming from several student union leaders in the country, including at least one other NUS VP.
Ironically, many of these same people probably share the sensible concerns many on the right feel over Donald Trump’s calls for “total allegiance” to him, yet seemingly they demand it of their preferred leader. Organising factions within the NUS, or any other organisation, and pointing people to such factions is not a sinister plot but merely normal internal politics.
The other accusation commonly levelled against Bouattia’s opponents – that they oppose anyone who is pro-Palestine – also made an ignoble appearance in the aftermath of AJ’s story, including in a (withdrawn) motion to condemn Brooks in Oxford. Yet her views go far beyond being “pro-Palestine”, extending to open support for Palestinian violence, saying that Brits should laud “violent resistance” and that it was not her place to condemn it.
When Bouattia cannot condemn blowing up buses and ploughing them into soldiers, it should come as no surprise that large numbers of people are adamant that she does not speak for them. Nor too would many people want to be represented by someone who has claimed that “internalised Islamophobia” causes Muslims to “present themselves as peaceful” (a statement rather too close to Zakir Naik’s infamous line that every Muslim should be a terrorist). Yet approximately 7 million young people find themselves in that position as students, despite having had no say in her election.
In an age of Trumpism and rising authoritarian tendencies, attempts to hold leaders to account and ensure they actually represent those they claim to should surely be welcomed. Yet according to some of Bouattia’s supporters, any attempts to express opposition are instead treated as evidence of every snarl word under the sun. Ironic then, that these same witch-hunters are casting themselves as the victims of a witch hunt.