Scottish Tories stand by Fraser’s “bigots” attack on National Union of Students
THE TORIES are exploiting anti-semitism “for their own cynical political ends”, according to the former president of the National Union of Students (NUS) in Scotland.
Gordon Maloney, president from 2013-15, has criticised attempts by the Scottish Tories to deflect from controversy over Murdo Fraser describing the UK-wide students union as “bigots”.
Today [Thursday 9 June] Fraser will present a parliamentary statement attacking the NUS on the basis of anti-semitism. A motion, condemning Fraser’s remarks, has been presented by Labour MSP Neil Findlay, and signed by SNP and Scottish Green MSPs.
“Nobody anywhere should be taking lessons in anti-racism from the Tories.” Gordon Maloney, ex-NUS Scotland president
Fraser’s behaviour has caused consternation at NUS Scotland and from former president Maloney, who is himself Jewish and an anti-racism campaigner.
Speaking to CommonSpace, Maloney said: “Nobody anywhere should be taking lessons in anti-racism from the Tories. This is a party whose leaders supported South Africa during apartheid with members calling for Mandela to be hanged, and whose candidate for mayor of London has just run – and, thankfully, lost – a campaign racist enough to put Ukip to shame.
“However, as if Murdo Fraser's hypocrisy wasn't enough, the absolute last thing the Jewish community need is people like him weaponising the very real issue of antisemitism for their own cynical political ends. Antisemitism is a serious issue and it exists across the political spectrum – including within the Tory party – but for him and people like him to use it as a political football cheapens the struggle against it and ultimately it is Jewish people who lose out.”
Fraser’s description of the NUS – which has seven million members of affiliate institutions across the UK – led to a backlash from student representatives and political opponents.
Current NUS Scotland president Vonnie Sandlan pointed to Fraser’s own voting record of opposing equality for same-sex couples.
MSP Findlay’s motion called the “bigots” remark an “outrageous insult to thousands of the students up and down the country who work to improve the education, welfare and lives of seven million students across Scotland and the UK, and urges Mr Fraser to withdraw this remark and apologise.”
However, rather than withdrawing the insult Fraser has instead attacked the NUS again – with the support of Tory colleagues.
Reigniting recent media attacks on NUS’s muslim president Malia Bouattia, Fraser points to institutions leaving the NUS “following concerns about comments made by the newly-elected NUS President, who has been accused of anti-Semitism”. He also quotes John Mann’s claims that the NUS is “not doing enough to combat anti-Jewish hatred”.
Attacks on the NUS leadership are part of a decades long dispute between right-wingers and the organisation. Tories – including Fraser who was active with Tory student societies – view the NUS as too left-wing to represent student opinion.
“This is a completely unacceptable tweet from Murdo Fraser and he needs to retract his comment and apologise immediately. In Scotland, the National Union of Students do exceptional work campaigning for equality.” SNP MSP George Adam
Bouattia, also an anti-racism campaigner, and her supporters saw attacks in the media as a political attempt to use anti-semitism to smear supporters of Palestinian rights through misconstruing previous comments.
Explaining her position, Bouattia said: “I want to be clear, again, that for me to take issue with zionist politics is in no way me taking issue with being Jewish. In fact, zionist politics are held by people from a variety of different backgrounds and faiths. For me it has been, and will always be, a political argument, not one of faith or ethnic identity. Zionism, religion and ethnicity must not be seen as one and the same.”
However, in recent months the issue of anti-semitism has repeatedly become a political football following remarks made by ex-Labour major of London Ken Livingstone, when he claimed nazi leader and hollocaust perpetrator Adolf Hitler supported the aims of the zionist movement to create a homeland for the Jewish people.
While Livingstone was condemned, it led to a wider debate on anti-semitism in political activism.
NUS Scotland sought to avoid a full on rammy with Fraser over his remarks and instead pointed to its “long and proud history of being an inclusive and diverse campaigning organisation”.
However, Fraser’s wading into the debate by branding the NUS “bigots” – without retraction – has been condemned by opponents.
SNP MSP George Adam added: “This is a completely unacceptable tweet from Murdo Fraser and he needs to retract his comment and apologise immediately. In Scotland, the National Union of Students do exceptional work campaigning for equality – and for the Tories to insult them like this simply isn’t on.
“Since the election, Ruth Davidson’s new MSPs have proven to be something of a headache for her, making a series of gaffes and unacceptable comments – but when these type of remarks are made by someone she has hand-picked to serve in her frontbench team, she simply can’t shirk responsibility.
“It’s time for Ruth Davidson to finally show some leadership and get a grip of the Tory group at Holyrood – and for Murdo Fraser to issue a full and unreserved apology to students in Scotland for his unacceptable, offensive tweet.
“If Ruth Davidson fails to take any action, it can only be assumed that she agrees with this ludicrous statement – and students in Scotland will not be quick to forget the unacceptable slur from a Tory party which has too often worked against the interests of our students.”
NUS Scotland sought to avoid a full on confrontation with Fraser over his remarks and instead pointed to its “long and proud history of being an inclusive and diverse campaigning organisation” including its work for same-sex marriage and against apartheid South Africa.
Fraser was a leading Tory student when the party was supporting the racist apartheid state, and when young members “gained notoriety by wearing ‘Hang Mandela’ T-shirts and badges”.
A spokeswoman for the Scottish Conservatives refused to condemn Fraser’s remarks, and instead attacked the SNP: “It is surprising that the SNP are riding to the defence of an organisation accused of anti-Semitism, given the difficulties that some of their own backbenchers have got in to in relation to this area in the recent past.”
Picture courtesy of Scottish Parliament
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