By Connor Ford
Yesterday an article was published here on HUB to help us all understand the difference between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. Whilst education through journalism is a noble cause, it is clear that the real purpose of the article is to exonerate the UWE Students’ Union President, Zain Choudhry, of any wrongdoing on a technicality. I would argue that Zain’s comments being anti-Zionist, rather than anti-Semitic, is not the crux of this issue – nor of the referendum as yesterday’s article insinuates – and is, in fact, an irrelevant point when considering the appropriateness of the comments made by Mr Choudhry.
The issue, in regard to the comment in question, is not whether Zain’s comment was anti-Semitic or anti-Zionist, but that Zain believed that a candidate’s, William Bates, alleged geopolitical views were reason enough to lobby against him for a place on the Democratic Procedures Committee (DPC).
UWE describes the DPC, and the roles of its members, as the following:
“The Democratic Procedures Committee is made up of 5 students who make sure that democracy at The Students’ Union works by ensuring it’s fun, engaging and inclusive.
In order to do this, they can propose changes to how the democratic systems work to ensure they continuously improve and are relevant to the students of UWE.
They also have to make important decisions on procedural matters and deal with complaints and problems that students raise about democratic processes as well as overseeing the operation of Student Ideas to ensure the system is sutdent-led.
Ultimately, the DPC ensures Student Ideas and Student Council Meetings are open, transparent, and adhere to the letter and spirit of the bye-laws. [sic]”
This role clearly has no relevance to geopolitical issues, so why would Mr Choudhry think the candidate’s alleged Zionism relevant? Does he believe that because the candidate is a “very Zionist type person” he would be unable to do the role justice, and if so why?
Now I do not know if, nor believe that, Zain is anti-Semitic, but the reason for his comments being disturbing to me is that it had no relevance to the function of the DPC. What makes it more concerning is the later comment made by Mr Choudhry, that “we cannot tolerate [William Bate’s] type of behaviour”. This begs the questions: Why can’t alternative geopolitical views be tolerated by our Students’ Union President? Are there other views that students may have that “cannot [be] tolerate[d] by the President? As demonstrated above, the candidate’s views on world issues have no impact on his role on the DPC, so it would seem that Mr Choudhry does not wish to tolerate those with Zionist beliefs regardless of the relevancy of said beliefs. Is this really the “unity, diversity and progression” the Students’ Union President spoke of during his campaign?
Yesterday’s article wasn’t the first time this argument has been made on behalf of Zain. On Monday, 5th February 2018, at a debate entitled “This house has no confidence in the Students’ Union President”, hosted by the UWE Debating Society, Mr Choudhry’s debating partner made similar, actually almost verbatim, representations during his opening statement in defence of the SU President – despite no mention of anti-Semitism from the proposition side. To me, these seem like clear attempts to reframe the issues at hand in this referendum and reduce core issue to nothing more than a misunderstanding.
Much like Zain’s partner in the debate yesterday (on different point, relating to a tweet in which Mr Choudhry stated “some students at UWE literally make me lol out of my skin due to their unparalleled stupidity and incompetence”), Miss (Liberty) Strong’s aforementioned article appears to imply that because Mr Choudhry’s comments were on a private forum, rather than a public one, it should render them less concerning. I would disagree – he should not be making these comments at all, due to him being an elected representative of the whole student body. Using the term ‘Zionist’ as a pejorative against a constituent you’re supposed to represent should never be okay, regardless of where it is uttered.
A line from the conclusion of yesterday’s article reads: “Students in the campaign against our President have even linked him to extremism due to his activism in October for Islamophobia Awareness Month”. This misrepresents what the concerns of students actually were. I am sure that nobody disagrees with the premise of the IAM campaign, I certainly do not – the attack and mistreatment of peoples because of their identity is disgusting and those who perpetrate it should suffer serious consequences for their actions. My concern with the campaign, as I’m sure was the concern of others, was the inclusion of MEND (Muslim Engagement and Development) as I sponsor. Maajid Nawaz, an ex-member of Islamist group ‘Hizb ut-Tahrir’, and founder of counter-extremism group ‘Quialliam’ has labelled the non-profit organisation as an ‘Islamist lobby group’, and the Henry Jackson Society described MEND as ‘Islamists masquerading as Civil Libertarians’. Leading figures of MEND are said to have supported praised members Al-Qaeda and called the killings of British troops ‘justified’ (it is proper of me to state here that MEND have disputed these claims). I regret that the SU President has been “linked to extremism” as I do not think it to be fair. However, the points made above do show why some students may feel that the inclusion of MEND to be inappropriate, and I do not believe that raising such concerns amount to “unfair treatment”, dealing with the concerns of UWE Students relating to who the SU affiliates themselves with is surely part of his job.
“Knowing the facts is key to formulating opinions” read the closing statement in yesterday’s article, despite missing out most of the facts actually important to this referendum. The article sets out to discredit the ‘no’ campaign in this referendum through the explaining that the SU President’s comments were anti-Zionist, rather than anti-Semitic, followed by referring to events that followed the leak of said comments before dismissing them without any exploration or noting the full context in which they took place. Is it then important for the student body to be aware of the ‘antisemitism/antizionism debate’ for the purpose of this referendum? I would say no. First of all, the official ‘no’ campaign has not mentioned the content of the comments, only that as a result of them he was suspended for breaking election rules; secondly, the term is being used pejoratively, regardless of its severity; in addition, it was completely irrelevant to the suitability of William Bates as a candidate for the position on the DPC; and finally, the comments call into question whether the President can represent all at UWE. This referendum should be fought on facts, yes, but they should be facts that are relevant when considering the whether the student body has confidence in the Students’ Union President to deliver on his aim of ‘unity, diversity and progression’ – not semantics.