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January 19, 2023 4:29 pm
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Oxford Student Union Tables Motion on Leaving UK National Union of Students Due to Antisemitism Allegations

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avatar by Dion J. Pierre

Oxford University students in formal academic dress, c. 2006. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/James

The Oxford Student Union (SU) Student Council has withdrawn a resolution that would have led to a vote on whether it disaffiliates from the National Union of Students (NUS), which is accused of fostering an antisemitic culture.

According to Cherwell, a campus daily, during a meeting held on Tuesday, several councilors complained that the resolution, put forth by Ciaron Tobin and Mundher Ba-Shammakh, “lacked clarity,” while others argued that it would alienate SU from the broader UK student movement to address “issues that extend beyond Oxford.” After several hours of debate, during which several motions to alter the resolution’s text were considered and many councilors left the meeting, the body agreed to postpone action on the measure and open a period of student feedback. There are, Cherwell continued, tentative plans to reintroduce it at a later session.

Arguments supporting disaffiliation cited a recent report that described NUS, which represents over 7 million UK university students, as unwelcoming to Jewish students and obsessed with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. NUS resources are also wasted on “policy debates, activism, and political dealings” that are extraneous to its mission, Ba-Shammakh said.

Jojo Sugarman, president of the university’s Jewish Society (JSoc) said “political matters” are subordinate to reforming NUS and that neither he nor JSoc has formed an opinion on proposals to leave the organization or spoken to students who do.

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“We would need to speak to Jewish students and learn more about the consequences of disaffiliation to determine whether it is the right thing to support,” he added.

NUS has long been dogged by accusations of prevalent antisemitism throughout its organizing structure. A report, written by independent lawyer Rebecca Tuck in early January after an internal investigation of the organization cited dozens of examples of antisemitic incidents alleged by Jewish students, many of which occurred at NUS conferences.

Students reported incitement of violence against Israeli civilians, the spreading of conspiracy theories about Mossad’s rumored role in the Union of Jewish Students (UJS), and opposition to a motion proposing observance of Holocaust Memorial Day.

Tuck also noted that a core principle of NUS’ progressive culture is the idea that minority groups “define the terms of their oppression,” making it less likely that choosing not to use the IHRA definition, which NUS adopted in 2017, will improve the organization’s relationship with Jewish students going forward. She also acknowledged that “Zionist” is used as a slur in place of “Jew”, with the “insult or discriminatory message still being administered.”

Community Security Trust (CST), a nonprofit based in the UK, described Tuck’s report as a “shocking indictment of NUS.”

Follow reporter Dion J. Pierre at @DionJPierre.

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