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Government has already suspended union's funding

UK government questions student union head’s election over alleged antisemitism

Minister requests probe into involvement of Shaima Dallali in campaigns against the IHRA definition of Jew hatred, allegedly violating the ‘core rules’ of NUS

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 British government requested an inquiry this week into the election of the head of the country’s largest student representative body, alleging that her victory may be invalid due to her failure to commit to the required definition of antisemitism.

UK National Union of Students president Shaima Dallali is already under fire for instances of alleged antisemitism, and was involved in a campaign to reject the adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition in a referendum held on the issue while studying at London’s City University in March 2021.

According to the Jewish Chronicle, Dallali liked posts on social media by City Friends of Palestine, a society she founded, that called for the rejection of the IHRA definition.

The referendum went on to reject the adoption of the definition by a two-thirds majority.

When asked by the Jewish Chronicle if she supported the IHRA definition, Dallali stated: “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.”

“My commitment to antiracism has not changed,” she said.

According to the Chronicle, the UK’s Universities Minister Michelle Donelan has now written to Civica Election Services, the body that oversaw the election of Dallali, requesting an investigation over allegations that the new president violated the “core rules” of the NUS due to her opposition to the definition.

Nadhim Zahawi, Britain’s Secretary of State for Education, left, with Michelle Donelan, Minister of State for Education, leave 10 Downing Street in London, Wednesday, October 27, 2021. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

The report said the NUS rules say all candidates for office within the union “must have a commitment to anti-racism… and antisemitism as per the IHRA definition.”

However, a spokesperson for Civica told the Jewish Chronicle that the request for an investigation 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,” the organization said.

Officials within the Education Ministry are now reportedly investigating other avenues for taking the matter further.

The IHRA working definition was adopted in 2016 by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance and describes various forms of antisemitism, including Holocaust denial and denying Jewish self-determination. It remains controversial for including some forms of anti-Israel speech among its examples of antisemitism.

The definition has been adopted by Britain’s main political parties and about 300 various educational institutions.

Illustrative: A London bus stop defaced with an unauthorized poster reading, ‘Israel is a racist endeavor,’ which a pro-Palestinian group put up in protest at the UK Labour Party’s adoption of the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism, on September 6, 2018. (Twitter)

Speaking to the Jewish Chronicle, former Home and Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, who was also a former NUS president, assailed Dallali for her lack of an “explicit commitment against antisemitism,” and worried that the future of the NUS was at “serious risk.”

Last week, UK Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawai announced that the British government was suspending funding and disengaging from the NUS.

Zahawai defended the government’s decision, stating: “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.”

The NUS has faced a number of allegations of antisemitism and exclusion of Jewish members from its activities.

After Dallali’s election, 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.

Jewish students also raised concerns after the rapper Lowkey was invited to an NUS event, after he said in an online interview that the media had “weaponized the Jewish heritage of [Ukrainian president] Zelensky” in order to ignore alleged far-right activity in Ukraine.

When the Union of Jewish Students met with NUS over the planned event in March, the NUS stated that if the appearance was problematic, they were able to stay in a “safe space” designated for those who are sensitive to loud noise to avoid Lowkey’s concert, according to The Guardian. Lowkey ultimately canceled his appearance at the event.

In April, more than 20 former presidents of the NUS sent a letter to the organization’s trustees urging them to address the concerns of antisemitism, according to The Guardian.

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

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