Former UK student union head sues body after being ousted for alleged antisemitism

Shaima Dallali’s lawyers argue she was removed because of ‘antipathy’ to pro-Palestinian views, Islamic faith, despite apologies and inquiry finding tweets were only ‘discourteous’

Michael Horovitz is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel

Shaima Dallali (formerly president of City Students’ Union) takes over as president of the UK National Union of Students. (Screenshot via YouTube)
Shaima Dallali (formerly president of City Students’ Union) takes over as president of the UK National Union of Students. (Screenshot via YouTube)

The former head of the United Kingdom’s largest student representative body announced Friday that she is suing the union, claiming her removal after a months-long investigation into antisemitism allegations against her was discriminatory.

Shaima Dallali’s lawyers argued in a statement that the dismissal of the National Union of Students president was prompted by “antipathy” toward her pro-Palestinian views and Islamic faith — protected under the UK’s Equality Act — and that the disciplinary process against her was unfair.

The statement said Dallali “was the subject of numerous complaints as well as personal abuse and threats, to the effect that her past articulation of her anti-Zionist beliefs amounted to antisemitism.”

Dallali is seeking damages over her dismissal and has also launched an appeal against her removal through the NUS’s internal appeals procedure.

After Dallali’s election in March 2020, the Union of Jewish Students highlighted various anti-Israeli and allegedly antisemitic comments she is alleged to have made, including a post 10 years ago that read: “Khaybar Khaybar O Jews… Muhammad’s army will return Gaza,” referring to the Battle of Khaybar in 628 CE, during which Muslim troops reportedly attacked Jewish natives in the town of Khaybar. Dallali has since apologized for the social media post.

A probe was subsequently launched last year by Queen’s Counsel Rebecca Tuck into the claims. Dallali was then suspended from her position in August, then dismissed in November over her “unacceptable” comments and “significant breaches” of union policy, the NUS said.

Dallali’s lawyers claimed she was dismissed despite the inquiry determining that three of her posts were just “discourteous,” while adding that she did not believe her “Khaybar Khaybar” tweet to be antisemitic when she wrote it.

The lawyers argued the process was unfair in several ways, charging that Dallali was denied legal representation in the proceedings, the NUS refused to read her written submissions, and did not facilitate witnesses to be called to support her defense.

The lawyers stressed that the ousted student union head “has apologized fully and repeatedly since, much as both before and during her tenure as president of the NUS she has repeatedly made clear her opposition to all forms of racism, including antisemitism while continuing to campaign to denounce the plight of the Palestinian people.”

“It is Ms. Dallali’s position that these four tweets patently did not amount to a dismissible offense and that there can be no rational explanation for dismissing her on this (or any other) basis,” the statement read.

On Friday, an NUS spokesperson told the Jewish Chronicle that the group believed the probe to be “thorough and fair.”

“There is no room for doubt that this process has been as robust as it gets. We understand the former president has now submitted employment tribunal proceedings,” the spokesperson said.

“Our focus is to represent all students and to rebuild NUS to be an inclusive and progressive force for good. We are taking steps to enact our antisemitism action plan and to mobilize students to campaign for a better future,” the NUS added.

NUS is a confederate association of around 600 students’ unions, representing more than seven million students.

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