UK government suspends funding for national student union over alleged antisemitism

Ministers, former NUS presidents raise concerns about reported incidents ‘over many years,’ following union’s election of new president accused of hatred

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 announced Friday that it will back off from its affiliation with the UK National Union of Students (NUS) over allegations of antisemitism within the organization.

UK Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawai said Friday the government’s funding of the organization will also be suspended until the allegations are “suitably addressed.”

“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,” Zahawi said.

Michelle Donelan, the minister for higher and further education in England, detailed her action against the organization.

“Enough is enough. I’ve prepared a package of sanctions against NUS following concerning incidents over many years,” Donelan wrote Friday on Twitter. “Disappointed it has come to this but proud to stand up for Jewish students. NUS will not have a seat at the table until we see real change.”

Dallali told the Guardian last month in an interview that she welcomed an ongoing investigation of antisemitism within the organization, which included a complaint about her own social media posts.

Matt Western, Labour’s shadow universities minister, said that it was crucial for Jewish students to feel safe and included in student organizations. “It is important that the NUS is listening, and I hope that the independent inquiry they have rightly set up resolves these issues to the satisfaction of all concerned,” he said.

A spokesperson for NUS told UK media that it was unfortunate the government did not work with the union directly over the disengagement, but that it has opened an independent investigation to work with the Union of Jewish Students.

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.

The organization has had a long history of accusations of antisemitic remarks and exclusion of Jews from union activities.

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

NUS has previously faced criticism for omitting Judaism from a survey of members’ religions twice within a year. The form offered 11 options including Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, Agnostic and more, but neglected to mention Britain’s fifth-largest religion. Former NUS president Shakira Martin apologized and promised to rectify the matter.

Martin was also reported to have signed the letter to the organization’s board in favor of addressing antisemitism.

Former president Malia Bouattia was accused in 2016 of antisemitic comments after she said Birmingham was “something of a Zionist outpost in British higher education.” Britain’s Newcastle University and Lincoln University voted to disaffiliate from the organization as a result.

Bouattia, an activist in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, had allegedly advocated for Palestinian violence against Israelis, and refused to condemn the Islamic State terrorist group.

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

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