Government demands probe into election of NUS president

Shaima Dallali has long campaigned against the IHRA definition of antisemitism


The election of the new National Union of Students (NUS) president may be invalid because she failed to commit to the International Holocaust Remembrance Association (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, ministers believe.

It comes just days after the Government severed ties with the union over a series of antisemitism allegations.

Now a Department for Education source has 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”.

Left-wingers such as Ms Dallali have long campaigned against the IHRA definition, which has been adopted by all Britain’s main political parties, more than 95 universities, 200 other higher education colleges and many other public and private-sector bodies.

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.

They were posted by City Friends of Palestine, the society that Ms Dallali founded and headed before becoming a full-time union officer.

One read: “Vote Yes, reject the IHRA definition of antisemitism”. Another, posted by a Palestinian student, stated: “Israel is a racist endeavour… not rejecting the IHRA means rejecting my lived experience.”

The referendum rejected the IHRA definition by a two-thirds majority.

Earlier in the week, Ms Donelan and Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi announced that the Government is to “disengage” from the union.

This means it will no longer receive Government funding and its leaders will be denied a “seat at the table” in talks with the Department of Education, the Office for Students and the Student Loans Company.

The NUS is to set up an independent inquiry under a QC into both alleged antisemitism and Ms Dallali’s history.

The Union of Jewish Students (UJS) said that during the recent presidential campaign, it tried to ask Ms Dallali what she thought of the IHRA definition and invited her to attend a hustings, warning that this was one of the questions that would be asked. “The President-elect was unable to attend the hustings and failed to send videos clarifying her position, as was requested,” UJS president Nina Freedman said.

The JC contacted Ms Dallali. 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 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.

Jonathan Turner, from campaign group UK Lawyers for Israel, told the JC it was considering the possibility of a legal claim against the NUS to contest the election’s legitimacy.

Former NUS president and Labour MP Lorna Fitzsimons said: “NUS has a long and proud history of standing with the Jewish community against antisemitism. It never fails to astound me how many people don’t understand how endemic antisemitism is and don’t recognise it as out-and-out racism. The aim of delegitimising the definition is so people can say they aren’t antisemitic when they actually are. It is also taking away the right of self-determination of the Jewish people.

“NUS must do everything to ensure that it is maintaining its highest traditions of integrity.”

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