Antisemitism claims leave UK student body facing uncertain future

Universities minister says government may suspend engagement with National Union of Students in light of recent allegations

April 11, 2022
A dictionary containing a definition of antisemite
Source: iStock

The English higher education minister has said she is considering suspending government engagement with the National Union of Students (NUS) after its new president was accused of making antisemitic comments.

Michelle Donelan has threatened to replace the country’s largest student organisation with “alternative voices” unless “they take immediate steps to regain the confidence of Jewish students”.

She also urged students’ unions – 600 of whom are members of the NUS – to consider disaffiliating from the organisation “unless matters improve quickly”.

The intervention came after a tweet emerged that had been written a decade ago by NUS president elect Shaima Dallali, in which she referenced a massacre of Jewish people in 628.

Ms Dallali – who will take up her post in July – has already apologised for the tweet and said she wants to meet the Union of Jewish Students (UJS) once she is in office.

NUS has previously been accused of “institutional antisemitism” after an incident in which controversial rapper Lowkey was invited to perform at the organisation’s conference in Liverpool last month.

Outgoing president Larissa Kennedy reportedly told Jewish students who were worried about the performance because of the artist’s “history of divisive behaviour and conspiratorial language” that they should leave the room, in what the UJS said amounted to a “self-segregation plan”.

Ms Donelan said she was “deeply concerned” by recent events, adding that “students deserve better from their representative organisation”.

As well as considering suspending engagement with government, she said she may report the body to the Charity Commission, which has the power to investigate allegations of misconduct within charities and order certain actions to be taken. An NUS charity was created in 2020 that covers its work supporting students’ unions, while its campaigning arm comes under a separate non-charitable organisation.

Ms Donelan’s message to students’ unions calling on them to assess “how your ongoing association with the NUS will make many Jewish students feel” is likely to cause concern within the organisation, which generates a large amount of its income from affiliation fees.

Lord Mann, the government’s antisemitism adviser, has also called for “tough sanctions” to be placed on the NUS in response to the “escalating revelations”.

In response, a spokesman for the NUS said it was taking the allegations seriously, adding that “there is no place for antisemitism within the student movement”.

“We are truly sorry for the concern and worry caused in recent weeks and are working to address any wrongdoing and rebuild trust,” he said.

The organisation is considering appointing an independent external party to support its board in following “robust internal procedures” and has offered those in government “full sight” of what it is doing to address the allegations, the spokesman added.

He said that the NUS wrote to Ms Donelan last week and will “gladly keep our door open to hear her concerns”. But he added that it is “deeply concerning” that allegations are being made by those in government “without evidence or engaging in any due process”.

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Reader's comments (3)

And who was behind the (alleged) massacre in 628 AD? Let's all pretend we con't know!
And who was behind the (alleged) massacre in 628 AD? Let's all pretend we don't know!
Protest the right of Palestinians - who are being killed and violated daily by the Israeli security forces and settlers - and you are immediately accused of antisemitism, regardless of the IHRA or JDA.