Call for antisemitism probe into NUS over ‘self-segregate’ plan for Jews at rapper Lowkey gig

'Sickening' suggestion, put forward by union's head Larissa Kennedy at a meeting with the Union of Jewish Students, has sparked calls for her to resign


The National Union of Students (NUS) is facing calls for a probe into “institutional antisemitism” after its president reportedly said Jewish students could segregate themselves at a concert to avoid hearing anti-Israel rapper Lowkey.

The “sickening” suggestion has sparked calls for Larissa Kennedy to step down immediately.

It comes as the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, told Parliament that universities had been “tolerant of antisemitism for too long,” and called for a task force to “root out” the problem “in education at all levels”.

Ms Kennedy put forward the “self-segregation” plan at a meeting with the Union of Jewish Students (UJS), whose members were worried about Lowkey’s scheduled appearance at an event at the NUS conference in Liverpool later this month, the UJS President said.

Leading Jewish organisations and activists branded the comments “toxic” and “horrendous” and called for Ms Kennedy to resign or be sacked, saying she could no longer be trusted to protect the security of Jewish students on campus.

Conservative MP Robert Halfon, chairman of the Education Select Committee, told the JC: “Invitations to controversial rappers, talk of Jewish students being segregated — we are getting to the sad stage as to whether or whether or not the Equalities and Human Rights Commission should investigate the NUS for institutional antisemitism.”

The UJS had raised “deep concern” in a letter to the NUS about Lowkey’s planned performance, given his “history of divisive behaviour and conspiratorial language”.

UJS President Nina Freeman told the JC how she and UJS Head of Campaigns Amanda Sefton met with Ms Kennedy and NUS Campaigns Director Natasha Dhumma on 9 March.

Ms Freeman raised concerns about Lowkey’s support for sacked Bristol academic David Miller and former Labour MP Chris Williamson, as well as his promotion of 9/11 conspiracy theories.

Ms Kennedy reportedly said NUS officials had put mitigations in place.

She explained that artists would be barred from political discussion during their performance. All speakers would receive a briefing in which they would be told not to be negative towards any NUS members. Finally, Ms Kennedy added, it would be announced that Lowkey would perform between 9pm and 10pm so Jewish students could leave the room.

Jews could remain in a separate quiet area designed for neurodivergent students, who cannot tolerate loud noise, during the performance.

Challenging the proposal, Ms Freeman said: “It feels like you want Jews out of sight out of mind, to keep us in the corner.” Ms Kennedy reportedly replied that was not the impression she wanted to give and claimed she could not see why a segregated area for Jews was a problem.

The NUS President reportedly then said: “What do you expect me to do? If we cancel him, we’ll offend other people.”

Ms Kennedy also claimed that Lowkey’s voice was “vital” to the student movement, Ms Freeman told the JC. Asked whether the NUS had considered booking a different musician, Ms Kennedy reportedly said they had booked Lowkey for “mate’s rates” because he was a friend of the organisation. Ms Freeman added: “The feeling we got is that they were never going to cancel him.”

Ms Kennedy’s term in office ends in July. Her successor is to be announced at an NUS conference next week.

Lowkey has now stood down from appearing at the upcoming NUS event.
Lord Ian Austin, the Government’s Trade Envoy to Israel, described the NUS president’s comments as “horrendous”. Andrew Percy, chairman of the All Party
Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism, said: “The suggestion that Jewish students should be effectively separated is beyond sickening.

“Rather than cancelling the performance by Lowkey, who has made increasingly offensive an erratic statements in relation to Israel and Jews, the NUS is effectively victim-blaming by calling for Jewish students to be effectively separated off. This is sinister, it is sickening and the President of the NUS should resign for sanctioning such a suggestion.”

The Government’s independent antisemitism adviser Lord John Mann said the NUS President had “lost the plot”.

Board of Deputies President Marie van der Zyl said: “It is disgraceful that President of the NUS called for Jews who objected to the performance of a conspiracy theorist rapper to segregate themselves from other students.

“This is an administration that has demonstrated very clearly that it does not have the interests of its Jewish members at heart.”

In 2019, Ms Kennedy hailed “the power of direct action” after a student group at Warwick University occupied a building in protest at a visit by an IDF colonel.

Ms Kennedy last year came under fire for sharing an online platform with the founder of the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, Omar Barghouti, for Israel Apartheid Week.

Dave Rich, director of policy at the Community Security Trust, said: “It is no surprise that many Jewish students feel that NUS is currently incapable of representing their interests and suggests there needs to be fundamental change before NUS can regain their confidence.”

Alex Hearn, spokesperson for Labour Against Antisemitism, said:  “If these allegations are correct then Larissa Kennedy should resign or be removed as NUS President with immediate effect. There must also be a full investigation into what appears to be a culture of antisemitism within the NUS.   Ms Kennedy’s proposal that Jewish students should be effectively segregated because of the NUS’s own choice of artist booking is a blatant  example of institutional racism.” 

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