The National Union of Students has been engulfed by an antisemitism crisis as hundreds of Jewish students wrote to the organisation accusing it of creating a climate of fear on campus.
It came as 21 former NUS presidents and several senior government figures warned the organisation it urgently needed to tackle deep concerns over internal racism or face losing official recognition.
The crisis follows the JC’s revelation last month that the NUS had proposed segregating Jewish students attending a concert that due to feature an anti-Zionist rapper.
Two weeks later, the student body again prompted fury with the election of a president exposed for posting highly inflammatory messages including heaping praise on antisemitic cleric Yusuf Al-Qaradawi.
A letter signed by hundreds of Jewish students said the student body had left them “scared, distressed and upset and feeling that NUS is not a safe place for them”.
Submitted ahead of an emergency meeting of the NUS board on Wednesday, it called on the organisation to launch an independent investigation into whether the controversial new president, Shaima Dallali, was fit for office and to appoint an external-led review, in consultation with Jewish students into “antisemitism within the NUS and their continued failings of Jewish students”.
It also called for a public commitment by NUS officials to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism.
“We as Jewish students have a right to be included in NUS and the wider student movement,” the letter stated. “It is deplorable that some Jewish students should feel excluded or unwelcome within NUS spaces.”
On Monday, 21 former NUS presidents, including three former cabinet ministers, sent an unprecedented private warning to the organisation’s trustees, urging them to address Jewish students’ concerns.
The letter, whose signatories included former cabinet ministers Jack Straw, Charles Clarke and Jim Murphy, as well as the shadow health secretary Wes Streeting, and Labour peer Maeve Sherlock, said that the NUS’s “anti-racist principles” were at stake.
It added: “We hope that the trustees understand the gravity of the crisis facing the organisation, the reputational damage it is suffering, and the potentially existential threat that de-recognition of NUS poses to the future of the organisation – and your responsibility to act.”
The NUS announced last week it would investigate newly elected president Shaima Dallali over her history of incendiary posts, including one which read: “Khaybar Khaybar O Jews… Muhammad’s army will return Gaza” – a reference to a 628 massacre.
The move, however, failed to allay concerns. This week senior Jewish MP Robert Halfon referred the NUS to the Charity Commission, accusing the organisation of fostering a “culture of discrimination” against Jewish students.
Mr Halfon, chairman of the Commons Education Select Committee, said in a letter to the watchdog: “The NUS and its trustees past and present have consistently failed to protect Jewish students from discrimination and harassment and indeed sometimes have been the cause of such discrimination and harassment.”
Mr Halfon’s intervention came after Universities Minister Michelle Donelan revealed the government was considering suspending engagement with the NUS over claims of antisemitism.
In his letter to Charity Commission chairman Ian Karet – written with the Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA) - Mr Halfon said the body had the power to act under the Charities Act 2011 when there was “a need to safeguard public trust” or there were concerns that a charity was being mismanaged.
He added that, under the terms of the NUS charitable status, its trustees had a duty to promote “equality and diversity” and “good citizenship”.
Mr Halfon said a dossier, compiled by the CAA and sent to the Charity Commission, also showed “a history of systemic antisemitism within the NUS” that went back decades.
The dossier catalogued how the culture had been allowed to permeate into student unions in campuses across the country, directly impacting Jewish students and undermining the confidence of Jewish students in the body supposed to represent them.
A 2017 survey carried out by the NUS itself found that 65 per cent of Jewish students disagreed with a statement that they believed the body would deal with their complaints appropriately.
The government is also considering suspending engagement with the organisation. Universities Minister Michelle Donelan said she was “actively considering” the move and that she was “deeply concerned by antisemitism within the NUS, including the remarks of the new President”.
Ms Dallali has apologised for one post and said she would meet Jewish students to “listen to concerns on how we can make our movement inclusive and open to all”.
However two days after extending the olive branch, Ms Dallai re-tweeted posts which attacked her critics and claimed she was the victim of “a clear example of racist gendered Islamophobia”.
An NUS spokesman said: “The NUS is taking antisemitism allegations seriously. There is no place for antisemitism within the student movement. We have unreservedly apologised for the concern and worry caused in recent weeks, and are working to address any wrongdoing and rebuild trust. The Board are meeting to instigate our robust internal procedures including considering appointing an independent external party to support with this. If we find that action needs to be taken we won’t hesitate to take it, as we have previously.”
Shaima Dallali did not respond to an earlier request for comment.