Students at a UK university quit national union for failing to address antisemitism

Warwick University Students’ Union announces departure after independent investigation finds National Union of Students ‘constantly’ failed to deal with bigotry allegations

University of Warwick. (Wikimedia Commons/Mike1024, public domain)
University of Warwick. (Wikimedia Commons/Mike1024, public domain)

Students at a British university on Friday voted to leave the UK’s National Union of Students after an independent investigation found that it had failed to protect Jewish members from antisemitism over the past decade.

The investigation published last month reported that Jewish students were bullied and ostracized in the union because of their religion and views on Israel.

According to a report by the Jewish Chronicle on Friday, Warwick Students’ Union voted to leave the National Union of Students.

“The NUS has failed to protect minorities from abuse through divisive rhetoric and lack of zero tolerance and condemnation for hate speech,” a motion put to students said, according to the report.

“Warwick SU, and any national student union it belongs to, must have zero tolerance against bigotry towards any individual, minority group and other protected characteristics, and require the same of elected individuals and guests,” it said, branding the National Union of Students as a “failing political arm.”

“The NUS’ constant failure over allegations of bigotry and their detachment from key student concerns, as shown by successive low turnout, has left the union without credibility to many students from various backgrounds and politicians from across the spectrum, endangering the success of any future lobbying by NUS UK,” the motion added.

In May 2022, the National Union of Students appointed law expert Rebecca Tuck to lead the investigation after 20 former presidents of the union raised concerns over antisemitism within the organization. The National Union of Students is a confederate association of around 600 students’ unions, representing more than seven million students.

Tuck’s report is based on interviews with 46 groups and individuals.

According to the findings, discrimination against Jewish students included “the employing of ancient antisemitic tropes, from blood libels to Rothschild conspiracies,” as well as holding Jewish members responsible for Israeli actions.

The report also said that the National Union of Students’ internal procedures to deal with complaints were either inadequate or had been ignored.

“For at least the last decade, Jewish students have not felt welcome or included in NUS spaces or elected roles. There have been numerous instances of antisemitism within NUS,” Tuck said in the report.

One anonymous student quoted in the report said she “never initially entered student politics to talk solely about Jewish issues, but my time in the movement became defined with defending Jewish students’ rights to even be in the room.”

“So much of the abuse and treatment I faced was down to the movement’s obsession with the Israel/Palestine conflict and my assumed connection to it,” the student said.

Pro-Palestinian activists and supporters burn an Israeli flag as they demonstrate in support of the Palestinian cause outside the Israeli Embassy in central London on May 22, 2021. (Justin Tallis/AFP)

The report made 11 recommendations, including regular antisemitism training for union staff and providing educational materials on antisemitism and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In a statement, the union said the report was “a detailed and shocking account of antisemitism within the student movement.”

“It is a truly difficult read for all of us but we welcome the clarity it brings to enable us to act with confidence to tackle antisemitism head on,” the union said. “Antisemitism is an attack on our shared values of equality and solidarity. We have a proud history of fighting struggles alongside Jewish students. We must tackle antisemitism in all its forms with collective responsibility.”

The Board of Deputies of British Jews said the findings showed “a litany of failures” by the union, which it said treated Jewish members “with apathy at best and hostility at worst.”

The Board of Deputies called on the union to work in tandem with the Union of Jewish Students “to ensure that this time they commit to implementing the report’s recommendations.”

The Union of Jewish Students called the report a “searing indictment” and accused the National Union of Students of “failing generations of Jewish students.”

“It confirms that Jewish students faced harassment and discrimination and that complaints of antisemitism were dismissed and disregarded,” Union of Jewish Students President Joel Rosen said. “It is vital that this report is translated into meaningful and immediate action.”

In 2022, the UK government suspended ties with the National Union of Students over allegations of antisemitism.

British Jews and authorities recorded 2,255 antisemitic incidents in the UK in 2021 — the highest total in recent years anywhere in Europe.

Ash Obel contributed to this report.

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