NUS fails to reverse its anti-Israel policy

U-turn? Liam Burns

U-turn? Liam Burns

The new president of the National Union of Students has rejected the opportunity to repeal the union's new anti-Israel policy, despite previously indicating he would act on Jewish students' concerns.

Liam Burns, who took over the presidency this month, had offered assurances that the measures would be diluted or overturned at the first national executive council meeting under his leadership.

But at Monday's NEC meeting he put off proposals to alter aspects of the policy, creating what is said to be "a low point" in relations between NUS and the Union of Jewish Students.

Mr Burns said he did not want to use "the exact same crude process as was rightly criticised first time round".

The vehemently anti-Israel motion, voted through in May, pledges to send British students on future flotillas to Gaza, build links with the Hamas-backed Islamic University of Gaza, twin British student unions with Palestinian universities, and calls for the right to return for all Palestinian refugees.

The JC understands Mr Burns made the U-turn because NUS members were "still smarting" from comments made by former president Aaron Porter, who had criticised the "extreme position" adopted, and warned of the damage it could cause.

Mr Burns admitted that the policy would "cause significant problems in ensuring students' unions remain safe spaces for all students," but said it was important to "recognise the humanitarian crisis currently taking place as a result of the conflict".

Jewish students had hoped that the motion would be scrapped, but despite UJS's attempt to put forward a new policy, the 11th-hour change of plan saw the issue being
all but ignored at the meeting.

It now seems that the anti-Israel policy will still be in force when students return to campuses in September. Mr Burns said NUS would "consult and try to bring different voices together to avoid what so often becomes a divisive debate, rather than genuine dialogue".

Despite its disappointment, UJS representatives said they still saw NUS as one of the more "moderate" and "friendly" bodies with which they work, and were determined to continue building a relationship with Mr Burns and his colleagues.

UJS campaigns director Dan Sheldon said: "We will be working closely with NUS in the coming months to ensure we reach a policy position that reflects the genuine will of the NUS membership while protecting the welfare of Jewish students."

Mr Burns is expected to tour Jewish community organisations with UJS leaders during the summer to learn more about Jewish students' concerns and how debate on Israel impacts on campus relations.

In a separate move, NUS has issued its new guidelines on dealing with hate speech on campus.

The advice, sent to student unions across the country, includes guidance on how to chair meetings, provide security, and outlines disciplinary measures to be taken against university staff who break policies.

    Last updated: 1:56pm, July 28 2011