Jews resign over 'racism' in the NUS

April 15, 2005

Allegations of anti-Semitism in higher education were brought to the fore this week as three Jewish officers resigned from the National Union of Students and leaders of the faith branded a proposed boycott of three Israeli universities "deplorable".

Luciana Berger, the NUS anti-racism and anti-fascism officer; Mitch Simmons, the officer for ethical and environmental issues; and Jonny Warren, of the NUS steering committee, resigned after last week's union conference in Blackpool.

They said their resignations were prompted by "a year's worth of inactivity by the national union and two days' worth of the same apathy to anti-Semitism at the annual meeting". Their concerns centred on two leaflets - Zionism and The Jews Are not a Race - on a stall at the conference.

They called for the union to launch a national inquiry into anti-Semitism in its ranks and urged Jewish students to ask their local unions to reconsider their affiliation to the NUS.

Ms Berger said: "After five years fighting racism in the student movement, I am devastated to find it so prevalent at the heart of my own union."

Kat Fletcher, NUS president, said the union was "deeply concerned" by the resignations and stressed that it had a "proud record in tackling racism and fascism".

"The NUS will be looking at the issues that have been brought up in great detail, and we will be seeking to ensure that students of all faiths and backgrounds can continue to participate in our campaigns and our democracy," she said.

In a separate development, the Board of Deputies of British Jews condemned a motion put forward for the Association of University Teachers council meeting later this month calling for a boycott of three Israeli institutions (though it would not cut ties with Israeli academics opposed to the Sharon Government).

The proposals, tabled by the AUT's Birmingham branch, attack Israel's "occupation, colonisation and system of apartheid" and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Haifa University and Bar-Ilan University.

Sue Blakemore, of Birmingham AUT, dismissed any suggestion that the proposals were motivated by anti-Semitism. She said the branch was responding to calls from Palestinian colleagues.

One of the Birmingham delegates to the council who was likely to speak in support of the boycott was Jewish, she said.

"We are trying to attack the myth that Israeli universities have nothing to do with the occupation and exist in some kind of moral vacuum. They do not."

But the Board of Deputies said: "This is an irresponsible and blinkered approach to the current situation in the Middle East, and it damages the positive contacts between Israeli and Palestinian leaderships."

The AUT rejected calls for a boycott two years ago, and the union executive will table a motion at the council meeting on April 20 calling for "open dialogue" with Palestinian and Israeli academics and institutions. It is understood that the AUT executive will seek to have the matter referred back to them for further consideration.

The Board of Deputies' concern emerged just a week after the Home Office said it was monitoring an internal investigation into claims of anti-Semitism at the School of Oriental and African Studies, in London.

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