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April 11, 2022 4:51 pm
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British MPs Call for Inquiry Into National Union of Students Over Allegations of ‘Systemic’ Antisemitism

avatar by Dion J. Pierre

Palace of Westminster. Photo: Berit/Wikimedia Commons

Officials in the United Kingdom are calling for an official inquiry into allegations that the National Union of Students (NUS) is fostering antisemitism.

The union, which represents over seven million university students in the UK, has in recent months made several decisions perceived by Jewish students as intentional moves to make them feel excluded, including the recent election as president of Shaima Dallali, who has been accused of tweeting antisemitic comments. Another furor was sparked in March when the union invited the rapper known as Lowkey to perform at an official event — despite his recent claim that that the media had “weaponized” the Jewish heritage of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to skew its coverage of the ongoing war, alongside other past antisemitic remarks.

On Monday, Minister of State for Universities Michelle Donelan said she is “deeply concerned” by developments at NUS and is considering disaffiliating the organization from the national government “unless they take immediate steps to regain the confidence of Jewish students.”

“This is the second time in ten years the NUS has elected a President with a history of antisemitic works,” Donelan tweeted. “While many in the NUS are genuinely committed to equality, this speaks of an organization with deeper, systemic issues.”

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Donelan’s remarks followed UK antisemitism advisor Lord Mann’s urging the government to respond to “escalating revelations about the continuing poor treatment of Jewish students and the lack of leadership on anti-Jewish racism from the union,” as reported by The Times. They also came on the same day that MP Robert Halfon wrote to the Charity Commission, a governmental body under which NUS is registered as a charity, asking it open an investigation of “systemic antisemitism” in the union that, he said, “can be traced back decades.”

“The NUS and its trustees past and present have consistently failed to protect Jewish students from discrimination and harassment, and indeed oftentimes been the cause of such discrimination and harassment,” Halfon wrote. “The culture that NUS has helped to create has permeated students’ unions around the country, impacting Jewish students on campus even more directly.”

Attached to Halfon’s letter was a new report by Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA), “How NUS Has Failed Jewish Students,” which cited examples of NUS leaders promoting antisemitic stereotypes and uttering other speech meeting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of antisemitism.

CAA’s report highlighted the 2016 election of NUS President Malia Bouattia, who once drew fire for calling University of Birmingham a “Zionist outpost in higher education” and denied Israel’s right to exist.

“NUS should set out and apply sanctions for activity that breaches the [IHRA] Definition by any of its sabbatical officers, candidates for office or partners, in the spirit of zero tolerance towards discrimination,” CAA said. “NUS should engage with the Union of Jewish Students (UJS) to better understand Jewish concerns and interests, including by considering the appointment of a liaison from UJS to NUS, in lieu of an NUS Jewish sabbatical officer.”

On Friday, the UK’s Jewish News reported, the Union of Jewish Students urged NUS to “take responsibility for their actions in failing to support Jewish students.”

“We welcome the letter from Lord Mann and ask the new leadership of NUS to take these matters seriously,” the group said.

Responding to Donelan’s latest criticism of the organization on Monday, NUS said it is “taking these allegations seriously.”

“There is no place for antisemitism within the student movement,” the union said on Twitter. “The Board are meeting to instigate our robust internal procedures including considering appointing an independent external party to support with this. If we find that action needs to be taken we won’t hesitate to take it, as we have previously.”

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