Education secretary accuses NUS of ‘systemic antisemitism’

Department for Education looking at its relationship with NUS and at body’s charitable status, says Nadhim Zahawi

April 20, 2022
London, westminster, parliament, government
Source: iStock

UK education secretary Nadhim Zahawi has said there is “systemic” antisemitism in the country’s National Union of Students, with ministers “looking at every option” in response.

Mr Zahawi made the comments in an appearance before MPs on the Education Select Committee on 20 April, following a crisis within the NUS sparked by its decision to invite the rapper Lowkey to one of its events.

Nina Freedman, president of the Union of Jewish Students, has said that when the organisation raised concerns with NUS leadership, it was suggested that “Jewish students go into an existing safe space designated for neurodivergent students who are sensitive to loud noise for the duration of Lowkey’s performance”.

The NUS last week said it would open itself up to an independent investigation into allegations of antisemitism, following a crisis meeting of its board, The Guardian reported.

Conservative MP Robert Halfon, who chairs the committee, asked the education secretary if he thought the NUS was “institutionally antisemitic” and whether his department would continue to recognise the NUS “as a body organisation which represents the voices of students”.

Mr Zahawi told the committee: “I am deeply concerned about the NUS. It feels to me that there is systemic antisemitism.”

The investigation at the NUS will look into complaints about its president-elect, Shaima Dallali. The UJS has complained about a comment made by her on social media when she was a teenager, which reportedly read: “Khaybar Khaybar O Jews…Muhammad’s army will return Gaza,” referencing a massacre of Jewish people in the seventh century. She has since apologised for the post.

“I am worried about the NUS,” said Mr Zahawi. “Michelle Donelan [the universities minister] is looking at how we deal with this issue.”

He added that the NUS needed to “regain the trust of Jewish students because at the moment that trust has collapsed” and needed to work to get back to being “a proper, functioning, representative organisation”.

Mr Zahawi continued: “It feels like the NUS is going through the same, sad predicament as the Labour party under [Jeremy] Corbyn, where you have antisemitism rife and leaders within it either participating or turning a blind eye. And that is unacceptable. And you will see more from us and from Michelle Donelan on this.”

Asked by Mr Halfon what action would be taken, Mr Zahawi replied: “We’re looking at everything, from [the NUS’] charitable status…No option is off the table, including our relationship with the NUS.”

An NUS spokeswoman said: “There can be no place for antisemitism within the student movement. We are listening to the concerns being raised and we’re very concerned about the pain and hurt being expressed. 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.”

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