The National Union of Students, an umbrella organization for British student unions, elected Malia Bouattia as President on Wednesday.
The NUS, which includes some 600 local student unions across the United Kingdom, represents more than 95% of British college students.
Bouattia’s campaign for NUS president raised eyebrows due to her radical positions on terrorism and history of rabidly anti-Israel statements.
In the past, Bouattia has voiced support for violent attacks on Israelis and blocked passage of a motion condemning the terrorist organization ISIS.
Speaking in 2014, Bouattia attacked a proposed measure in the NUS calling for a formal denunciation of ISIS, claiming statements against the Islamic terror organization were Islamophobic.
“We recognize that condemnation of ISIS appears to have become a justification for war and blatant Islamophobia," she said.
Even within the anti-Israeli movement Bouattia has in the past staked out extreme positions. Speaking at an event in September 2014, Bouattia openly legitimized terrorism and condemned the use of peaceful tactics against Israel to the exclusion of violent “resistance."
Praising what she called “Palestinian resistance," Bouattia blamed “mainstream Zionist-led media outlets” for labeling such actions as terrorism. She later asserted that reliance on exclusively non-violent tactics was “problematic."
“To consider that Palestine will be free only by means of fundraising, non-violent protest, and the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement is problematic," she said.
“My issue is that whilst at times it’s tactically used or presented as the non-violent option it can be misunderstood as the alternative to resistance by the Palestinian people.”
Despite her comments, Bouattia denies claims her rhetoric is anti-Semitic. Responding to an open letter by Jewish leaders, Bouattia said her statements had been misrepresented. She argued that her virulent opposition to Zionism had no bearing on her view of Judaism.
"It seems I have been misrepresented. I am extremely uncomfortable with insinuations of anti-Semitism. I want to be clear that for me to take issue with Zionist politics is not me taking issue with being Jewish. In fact, Zionist politics are held by people from a variety of different faiths, as are anti-Zionist politics.”
The UK Zionist Federation expressed dismay at Bouattia’s election, noting that it legitimized the same kind of rhetoric used by white supremacist movements.
“This is a deeply challenging day for Jewish students,” Zionist Federation Chairman Paul Charney said. “[T]he NUS has unequivocally voted for a candidate whose rhetoric and views on Jews and ‘Zionists’ echo those of any classic right-wing white supremacist.”
Bouattia defeated incumbent Megan Dunn in the first round of voting, 372 to 328. She will assume the position this fall with the start of the new academic year.