NUS announces independent investigation into antisemitism allegations

The union had been under growing pressure to act on antisemitism, with loud calls for action from both the government and current and former members

The National Union of Students (NUS) has announced an independent investigation into allegations of antisemitism, pertaining to both the president elect and the organisation as a whole.

“There can be no place for antisemitism within the student movement,” said the NUS board in a statement on 13 April.

A series of controversies relating to the NUS and antisemitism were brought to a head by the election of Shaima Dallali (pictured above) as president-elect of the organisation last month.

As well as posting a tweet containing a violently anti-Jewish passage from the Quran, Dallali more recently described Muslim cleric Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi as “a moral compass,” despite allegations of him holding virulently antisemitic views.

“We are listening to the concerns being raised and we’re very concerned about the pain and hurt being expressed,” continued the NUS board’s statement.

“We will take any and all actions that are needed to remedy any wrongdoing and rebuild trust with Jewish students as well as our members, partners and stakeholders.

“We will be appointing a highly regarded independent party to undertake the investigation and we will be consulting with the Union of Jewish Students [UJS] in making the appointment. Whoever is appointed must have the confidence of Jewish students.”

Channels by which individuals can feed into the investigation will be announced in due course.

We will take any and all actions that are needed to remedy any wrongdoing- NUS board

The NUS had been under growing pressure to act on the issue.

Two days before the board met, universities minister, Michelle Donelan, threatened to cut contact with the NUS over Dallali’s election.

To stave off such a move, said Donelan, union leaders should “take immediate steps to regain the confidence of Jewish students”.

To that end, as well as the investigation, the NUS said that it will commit to:

  • Meet regularly with UJS to hear concerns, receive input, and explore how to move forward together
  • Willingly open its doors for scrutiny
  • Develop an action plan on building trust and community cohesion in the future
  • Actively welcome ideas from members and stakeholders to contribute to the action plan  

Donelan had been far from alone in demanding that the union be altogether more proactive in addressing issues around antisemitism.

On the same day she threatened to break ties with the NUS, more than 20 of its former leaders sent a letter to outgoing president Larissa Kennedy and the organisation’s trustees.

“We are writing to you privately as former presidents with serious concerns about antisemitism, the safety and treatment of Jewish students at NUS events and within your democracy, and the way in which the NUS is responding to these concerns,” it read.

Read more: Donelan threatens to cut contact with NUS over alleged antisemitism

In part, the letter took issue with the NUS’ failure to send a representative to Westminster to answer questions from the Education Select Committee on topics including “recent controversies on antisemitism”.

It also expressed concern over inviting Lowkey to give a keynote address at the recent NUS conference.

The rapper has been roundly condemned for lyrics containing antisemitic tropes, as well as his support for former MP, Chris Williamson, who insisted that Labour had been “too apologetic” over allegations of antisemitism within the party, and sacked Bristol University professor, David Miller, who claimed that that members of the university’s Jewish Society were pawns of Israel.

The former presidents called on the incumbent and trustees “to act urgently” and issue “a full and unreserved apology” to Jewish students and the Union of Jewish Students.

“This is not just a matter of protecting NUS’ reputation, but honouring NUS’ proud anti-racist principles,” it added.

The high profile intervention followed publication of a number of open letters from current NUS branches.

Lancaster University SU, for example, wrote to the president and executive on 6 April to say that it was “deeply disappointed and hurt by the way the Jewish community have been engaged with and treated this year”.

On 1 April, the president and delegation teams of Reading University SU published an open letter saying it was “particularly disappointing” that “at no point in the conference was the issue of antisemitism addressed”, before calling on the NUS “to seriously tackle antisemitism within the organisation, once and for all”.

Picture credit: National Union of Students. 

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