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May 16, 2022 2:57 pm
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UK Government Cuts Ties With National Union of Students Over Antisemitism Accusations

avatar by Dion J. Pierre

Palace of Westminster, c. 2015. Photo: Carlos Cunha/Wikimedia Commons.

A top British Jewish student group on Monday said it would engage with the UK’s National Union of Students (NUS) to help investigate antisemitism in the organization, after the UK government suspended ties with the body over a series of allegations.

Higher Education Minister and MP Michelle Donelan said on Friday that the government will “temporarily disengage” from NUS and cut all funding over accusations of widespread antisemitism at NUS that go back decades.

“The allegations of antisemitism, which have been well-documented and span several years, have prompted a feeling of insecurity amongst Jewish students across the country and a worry systemic antisemitism within the organization is not being properly addressed,” Donelan said.

Donelan first announced pending action against NUS in April, after consecutive incidents reinforced a perception that the union was intentionally ostracizing Jewish students. In March, the group invited a rapper to perform at an official event despite his history of antisemitic rhetoric, and later elected a union president accused of tweeting antisemitic comments.

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The Union of Jewish Students (UJS), a longtime advocate of reforming NUS, said in a statement Monday it would “continue to be part of an ongoing consultation with NUS to help facilitate an effective, independent investigation into antisemitism and we appreciate their ongoing engagement, and hope that it leads to positive change for Jewish students.”

“NUS must ensure that anti-Jewish racism is wiped out of the student movement so that Jewish students can feel safe in higher education,” said UJS, which represents nearly 9,000 students across the UK and Ireland. “We hope that the government’s intervention will serve to further highlight the importance of these issues and we look forward to the implementation of real change within the organization.”

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said that the NUS’ initial response to the government’s concerns was encouraging, but that concrete action is needed.

“Jewish students need to have confidence that this is a body that represents them, and we need to be sure that the student bodies that we engage with are speaking fairly for all students, which is why we are disengaging with the NUS until the issues have been addressed,” Zahawi said.

The government’s decision was welcomed by several UK Jewish groups, with the Board of Deputies of British Jews (BOD) calling it an “unprecedented step.”

“The NUS now has a clear choice. It can continue to engage genuinely and constructively with UJS, as well as the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) like the Government has advised. Or, it can persist in its previous behaviors and by doing so consign itself to complete irrelevance, unable to properly advocate for those it claims to represent,” said BOD President Marie van der Zyl.

Responding to the decision on her Twitter account, NUS President-elect Shaima Dallali described it as “an attempt at crippling the student voice and continuing policies that harm the most vulnerable.”

According to Jewish News, an NUS spokesman said the organization — which counts some 600 student unions as affiliates, representing over seven million university students — is “disappointed” that the government acted before the conclusion of its internal investigation.

“We have sought to undertake the investigation in a serious and proper way, and are working in collaboration with UJS at every step of the way,” the spokesman continued.

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