Is the NUS 'difference' racist?

In my experience, May is rarely a happy time on university campuses. Students are gearing-up for their end-of-year exams. Teachers are putting the final touches to the assessments their students will face - the ominous lull before the inevitable storm.

Administrators are preparing to implement next year's budgets. In Israel, May is the season in which university boards of governors customarily meet; this year's round of meetings has been characterised by an understandable but misplaced unwillingness on the part of some governing boards to face up to issues relating to academic "boycotters" and how to deal with them.

And May is also the season of student conferences.

On the face of it, last week's decisions by the National Union of Students' executive to build links with the Islamic University of Gaza, "twin" British student unions with Palestinian universities, demand the "right of return" for "all" Palestinian Arab refugees, and book tickets for British students on future Gaza blockade-running cruises sound frankly menacing.

No reputable insurance company will agree to underwrite such a risk

What do they tell us about the weltanschauung of members of this executive? Does the executive really understand what it has done?

Let's begin with the Islamic University of Gaza. This seat of learning was established by the late Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, one of the founders of Hamas and in his day a leading purveyor of Islamic fundamentalism. His oft-quoted demand - that "Israel, as the Jewish state, must disappear from the map"- might be taken as the mission statement of the university, which is little more than an intellectual training ground for Hamas and its operatives.

Even on the most liberal interpretation of the word "university", I have my doubts that IUG genuinely qualifies for this description, because its teachers seem to peddle as learning what most of us would regard as out-and-out racism.

Thus, for instance, Dr Ibrahim Al-Sinwar, who lectures at IUG on Islamic history, reportedly told Al-Aqsa TV in July 2009 that the ancient Egyptians had the right to force the Jews into slave labour because "the mentality of the Jews… is the mentality of people who like to have others work for them, and provide them with wealth, without any effort." In any authentic university, a faculty member who gave public vent to such an utterance would be immediately suspended or at least publicly disowned. But not at IUG. Yet this is the academy with which the NUS wishes to "build links."

As for "twinning" British student unions with other Palestinian universities, this sounds admirable. But the NUS needs to take care that the ethos of these institutions complements that to be found at British universities. A number of UK academies have partnership agreements with al-Najah university (Nablus). This institution notoriously promoted a student exhibition extolling the Jerusalem pizza parlour bombing of 2001, in which 15 people were murdered and tens of others wounded.

The display featured scattered pizza slices interspersed with representations of the body parts of murdered Jews. Presumably, the NUS is quite happy for its members to "twin" with an institution promoting such violent racism.

In voting for the "right of return" for "all" refugees, the members of the NUS executive know very well that this is tantamount to demanding the destruction of the Jewish state, which is, again, a racist demand fuelled by a racist ideology.

But what are we to make of the resolve "to send an NUS delegation on convoys to the Gaza strip?"

Before any British university sends any of its personnel anywhere - especially anywhere abroad -it is legally required to carry out comprehensive health-and-safety assessments, and to ensure that proper insurances are in place.

If it does not, and some harm then befalls an employee or student, it is civilly and criminally liable. With that in mind, I do wonder what on earth the brothers and sisters of the NUS think they might be doing sending an official "delegation" on a blockade-breaking convoy.

As we read in last week's JC, Lloyds has made it clear that it will refuse or cancel the insurance of vessels attempting to aid the Hamas regime in Gaza. I cannot imagine any reputable travel-insurance company agreeing to underwrite such a risk.

The recent decisions of the NUS executive are, in short, racially prejudiced in intent and effect - and irresponsible into the bargain. Is this what the NUS means by its claim to make "a real difference to the lives of students and its member students' unions"?

    Last updated: 10:59am, May 27 2011