The leader of a student union has been suspended from his position after he urged members to vote against a candidate for campus office because he was a “Zionist”.
Zain Choudry, president of the student union of the University of the West of England, sent an “urgent” message to a student Whatsapp group in November, during voting for positions on the union’s democratic procedures committee.
The message called on students not to back the frontrunner, William Bates.
Mr Choudry wrote: “Please vote for Alex to be a member of the DPC instead of this William Bates as he is a very Zionist type person who pushes for Israel flags to be put up outside of the SU [student union] and wants to end the BDS campaign.
“William is currently the most likely to win, and we cannot tolerate his type of behaviour.”
After the message was publicised, the deputy returns officer cancelled the election. It is against union rules for a serving president to attempt to influence the outcome of a vote for a union position.
This week, the union announced that it had “concluded that there was a breach of its internal rules and regulations.
“As a result, the president will undergo one month’s suspension, as well as undertaking additional training.”
Mr Bates welcomed the move. He said: “I feel that a one-month suspension is an appropriate sanction for his breach of electoral rules. However, I think the fact that the content of the 'anti-Zionist' comments has not been addressed is concerning.”
In the re-run of the election, Mr Bates lost out in second round voting after being in front at the end of the first round.
In a post on Facebook, Mr Choudry said he would be using the time away from the union to “read many books and resume grassroots level activism”.
When Mr Choudry’s comments first became known , Mr Bates called for him to step down, and said that “myself and other students will be making a complaint against the SU president for the content of his comments rather than the fact he broke campaigning rules.”
He added: “The position I was running for had nothing to do with Israel, and so it seems to me that it could be questioned what 'very Zionist type of person' means to him here,” he said.
He said that although he was not Jewish, his campaign “was supported by several Jewish students, which probably led to this.
“I have no idea where he got the claim regarding Israel flags outside the SU from, although UWE does have a flagpole that flies international flags for various national days and I wouldn't be opposed to that in that context.”