Government cuts ties with NUS amid accusations of antisemitism

Leading Jewish organisations have branded the organisation 'toxic' and 'horrendous'


LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 02: Conservative MP Nadhim Zahawi arrives at 10 Downing Street on September 2, 2019 in London, England. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has threatened to sack Tory MPs who fail to support his government in the battle over planned legislation designed to block a no-deal Brexit.(Photo by Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images)

The UK government is cutting ties with the National Union of Students amid accusations of “antisemitic rot at its heart”.

Universities Minister Michele Donelan has ordered her departments and affiliated bodies to not engage with the union with the aim of “deny[ing] it a seat at the table”.

She has also reported the union to the Charity Commission for possible investigation, and the government is cutting its funding.

These unprecedented moves mean that NUS members and leaders will not be permitted to sit on any government panels under the purview of the Department for Education, Office for Students, nor the Student Loans Company.

Not only that, but the universities minister has written to Civica, the software company that oversaw the election of the new president, Shaima Dallali, asking for information on “how the electoral process was carried out”.

Announcing the move, the Department for Education cited “allegations of antisemitism, which have been well-documented and span several years”. It added that these allegations have caused “a feeling of insecurity amongst Jewish students across the country and a worry systemic antisemitism within the organisation is not being properly addressed”.

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said in a statement: “I am seriously concerned to hear of so many reports of alleged antisemitism linked to the NUS.

“Jewish students need to have confidence that this is a body that represents them, and we need to be sure that the student bodies that we engage with are speaking fairly for all students, which is why we are disengaging with the NUS until the issues have been addressed.

 “From the NUS’s initial response to our concerns, I am confident that they are keen to take action and welcome further updates from them. Antisemitism has no place in our society and we will stamp it out, wherever it occurs.”

Universities Minister Michelle Donelan added: “Whilst our door is not closed to the NUS, our message could not be simpler. We need decisive and effective action in response to these repeated allegations of antisemitic behaviour. We are glad that the NUS has started to respond and are ready to work with them again when sufficient action has been taken.”

Tensions between the NUS and the Jewish student community have been high for years, but they flared up most recently in March when rapper Lowkey, accused of antisemitism, was invited to perform at the annual NUS conference, and Jewish students were advised to effectively self-segregate to avoid hearing his performance.

Leading Jewish organisations had branded the organisation and its then president, Larissa Kennedy, “toxic” and “horrendous”, calling for her to resign or be sacked.

At that same conference, Shaima Dallali was elected the new President of the NUS, and it was revealed by The JC that she has previously praised a Jew-hating cleric and raised money for a Muslim advocacy group widely accused of having sympathised with terrorists.

Following widespread outrage, the NUS announced an independent investigation into itself and into the new president, Shaima Dallali, saying in a statement: “There can be no place for antisemitism within the student movement. We are listening to the concerns being raised and we’re very concerned about the pain and hurt being expressed.

 “We will take any and all actions that are needed to remedy any wrongdoing and rebuild trust with Jewish students as well as our Members, partners and stakeholders.”

The NUS has not yet officially responded to the government’s announcement, but incoming president Shaima Dallali labelled it “performative politics” in a lengthy Twitter thread, adding that “they don’t care about racism”.

She added: “The gov has decided to cut ties with NUS before the investigation is concluded. Which means they're not really interested in due process, rather, it's an opportunity to attack students.

“They cannot pretend to care about students when you have failed them for many years.”

Jewish organisations applauded the move with president of the Board of Deputies, Marie van der Zyl commending the government’s move in a statement.

She added: “The NUS now has a clear choice. It can continue to engage constructively with the UJS, as well as the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) like the government has advised. Or,it can persist in its previous behaviours and by doing so consign itself to complete irrelevance, unable to advocate for those it claims to represent.”

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