Fury as NUS backs ‘Israel Apartheid Week’

Union of Jewish Students Presidents says the event promotes 'division not dialogue'


Jewish students have accused the National Union of Students (NUS) of stoking division after it declared it would “stand in solidarity” with activists planning to smear Israel as an “apartheid state” next month.

The annual Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW), which begins on 21 March, has been widely criticised for intimidating Jewish students and stifling reasoned debate about the Middle East. The NUS has supported it in the past.

Nina Freedman, President of the Union of Jewish Students, said it was disappointing that the students’ union had again backed IAW, adding: “NUS have placed themselves in a position of division not dialogue.”

She said: “Israel Apartheid Week is a divisive and confrontational tool used to damage and polarise communities, rather than building consensus and co-operation around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We see year on year that it creates a hostile environment on campus and online for Jewish Students.”

Jonathan Hunter, chairman of the Pinsker Centre, a think-tank that advocates for open debate on university campuses, said: “As a student organisation, the NUS ought to represent the rights of all students to the best of their ability.

“It is disappointing that they instead choose to vouch for radical activists who routinely perpetuate antisemitic tropes.”

The declaration by the union comes after the Community Security Trust revealed last week that incidents of antisemitism on campus rose three-fold in 2021 to 128 cases.

Writing for the, former Labour MP Joan Ryan, executive director of Elnet UK, which works to strengthen UK and Israel relations, said: “Next month’s annual Israel Apartheid Week has stifled debate about the complex causes of this tragic conflict and led to an atmosphere of fear and intimidation.”

She added that the “apartheid smear” that originated with the BDS movement that had “done nothing to further the cause of peace, co-existence and reconciliation in the Middle East”.

An NUS spokesman said: “Israeli Apartheid Week is a tactic chosen by Palestinian people to peacefully fight their own oppression.

“NUS is supportive of student activists that choose to stand in solidarity with them in that spirit.”

In 2017, the University of Central Lancashire blocked an IAW event from taking place on campus as a breach of IHRA — the internationally recognised definition of Jew-hate.

The event was a panel discussion that included anti-Israel activist Ben White who once said he could “understand” why people were antisemites.

In 2018, former universities minister Jo Johnson wrote to all vice chancellors to remind them of their duties in respect to IHRA ahead of IAW.

Last month, Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi warned universities that adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism (IHRA) had to be more than a “tick-box exercise”.

IAW, now held in 55 countries, started at a university in Toronto in 2005, The series of events has led to Jewish students in the UK being subjected to abuse, intimidation and threats, as well as campus demonstrations and even mock Israeli checkpoints being erected.

But while a spokesman for Universities UK said it was important that campus was a “safe space”, he said it was up to individual universities to determine their policy on IAW.

He added: “Harassment and hate have no place on campus and should not be tolerated.”

The row follows Amnesty International’s report this month that also smeared Israel as an “apartheid state”.

Welcomed by Hamas, the report caused a major international backlash and was hastily re-drafted.

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive