A former Home and Foreign Secretary has said that the future of the National Union of Students is at "serious risk" amid the organisation's failure to address allegations of antisemitism.
Jack Straw, also a former NUS president, condemned president-elect Shaima Dallali for not making clear "her explicit commitment against antisemitism, despite repeated opportunities to do so".
These comments come after the The JC revealed that ministers believe Ms Dallali's election as president may be invalid because she failed to commit to the International Holocaust Remembrance Association (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, as per NUS rules.
A Department for Education source told The JC that Universities Minister Michelle Donelan wrote this week to Civica Election Services, which officiated in the recent election of Shaima Dallali, asking that it conduct an investigation.
According to the source, the reason for the probe is that Rule 8 of the NUS’s “core rules” state that all candidates for office “must have a commitment to anti-racism… and antisemitism as per the IHRA definition”.
The JC has unearthed numerous social media posts “liked” by Ms Dallali which opposed the IHRA definition and called for students at her own institution, City University, to reject it in a referendum on the issue, held in March 2021.
Responding to these revelations, Jack Straw, a former Cabinet minister under Tony Blair, told The JC: “Shaima Dallali has not made clear her explicit commitment against antisemitism, despite repeated opportunities to do so.
"This is a terrible mess created by the president-elect and her supporters, and it is placing at risk the future of the National Union of Students which has served generations of students so well for 100 years.
"The NUS is at serious risk through the failure of the president-elect to make clear her opposition to antisemitism, and the failure of the NUS Executive to grip the issue. They seem to me to be sleepwalking into disaster."
Last week, the government announced that it was severing ties with the NUS over numerous allegations of antisemitism.
The NUS announced last month that it was setting up an independent inquiry under a QC into both alleged antisemitism and Ms Dallali’s history.
On Wednesday, The JC contacted Ms Dallali, and when asked whether she is committed to the IHRA definition now, she said only: “I am committed to creating an NUS that is open to all students… a community that is free from and stands against all forms of discrimination and injustice."
She added: “My commitment to antiracism has not changed.”
Asked whether it planned to conduct an investigation in response to Ms Donelan’s request, a Civica spokesperson told the JC that it had already been rejected: “The matter raised by the Department for Education was the subject of a complaint that was appealed to us in our role as Chief Returning Officer and ruled on accordingly. There is no further investigation in progress.”
It is understood that the Department for Education now intends to take the matter further, following the JC’s disclosure that Ms Dallali opposed IHRA in the City University referendum. Ms Donelan’s staff are said to be “continuing to engage with Civica” over whether the NUS rules were observed.