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DfE suspends NUS engagement over antisemitism allegations

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The Government will temporarily disengage with the National Union of Students (NUS) following recent antisemitism allegations.

The NUS will be removed from all Department for Education groups and replaced with alternative student representation, such as from the Office for Student’s student panel or from individual student unions, to ensure all students’ views are reflected fairly in conversations about higher education. The Department for Education is asking arm’s length bodies, including the Office for Students, to take similar action.

  • Higher and Further Education Minister takes action in response to a series of antisemitism allegations against the National Union of Students (NUS)
  • Package of measures includes removing the NUS from government stakeholder groups and confirmation the union will receive no government funding
  • NUS steps to set up an enquiry are welcomed, but re-engagement will depend on effective actions as a result

The Department for Education has also confirmed that the NUS will not receive any government funding. The Minister for Higher and Further Education, Michelle Donelan, has also written to Civica, the electoral body that had oversight of the NUS election for the NUS President asking for more information on how the electoral process was carried out.

The allegations of antisemitism, which have been well-documented and span several years, have prompted a feeling of insecurity amongst Jewish students across the country and a worry systemic antisemitism within the organisation is not being properly addressed.

Although the NUS has shown a willingness to respond to concerns expressed by ministers, including beginning to kickstart a process of independent investigations, this will need to lead to substantive action. This decision to disengage from the NUS will be kept under review as the organisation demonstrates it has suitably addressed these issues.

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said:

“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.”

Higher and Further Education Minister Michelle Donelan said:

“I am horrified by the thought of Jewish students feeling ostracised by an organisation which should be a voice for their community and an advocate of equality for all students.

“Although this was a decision that the Department did not take lightly, we have been clear that antisemitism must be stamped out of the sector and are treating these allegations with the utmost seriousness.

“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.”

Chair of the Education Select Committee and MP for Harlow, Rt Hon Robert Halfon said:

“I strongly welcome the actions taken by Michelle Donelan and Nadhim Zahawi. I have raised my concerns surrounding the controversies of the NUS and the allegations of antisemitism in the Education Committee and have written to the Charity Commission myself just a few weeks ago. What has gone on has clearly upset many Jewish students and should not have happened in the first place. The Government, acting as they have, has made it very clear that antisemitism of any kind will not, and should not, be tolerated.”

This action follows a series of interventions from the department to tackle antisemitism on campus. Earlier this year, Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi and Minister Donelan hosted an antisemitism summit which brought together vice chancellors, university representatives and Jewish rights groups to discuss measures and commitments that can be taken to ensure Jewish students and staff feel safe in higher education.

This builds on the drive to encourage more higher education providers to sign up to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism and, in 2021, more than triple the number of universities have done this – up to 95 from 28 in 2020. 

Background to the Government decision to suspend ties with the NUS

The incidents that we have been concerned about that have led to this action include the unacceptable response of the NUS to the understandable concerns about the invitation to the rapper, Lowkey, to the 2022 NUS conference. The rapper has a history of making comments that have widely been seen as antisemitic. It was alleged that current NUS President Larissa Kennedy suggested that Jewish students segregate themselves into a quiet area designed for neuro-divergent students which was utterly unacceptable.

We are also deeply concerned about the social media comments made by the now president-elect, Shaima Dallali, which have included a tweet in support of Hamas, a proscribed terrorist organisation.

This is not the first time that NUS has been embroiled in antisemitism controversies. There was an enquiry in 2005, and in 2017 a number of student unions disaffiliated from NUS following the election of Malia Bouattia as NUS President. Bouattia had previously described the University of Birmingham as ‘something of an outpost of Zionism’. The NUS has commissioned separate investigations into allegations of antisemitism in 2005 and 2017.

The Union for Jewish Students (UJS) have written to NUS, asking that they fully comply with IHRA, and that they launch independent investigations into the most recent controversies. We would need to be confident that the NUS’ investigations are thorough and lead to tangible action.

We are working closely with the Union of Jewish Students and other Jewish groups to ensure there is a consensus that the NUS are fully able to represent all students including Jewish students. When this happens we will consider reengaging with the union.

International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) 

The IHRA is a leading international organisation focused on eradicating antisemitism in public life and educating about the holocaust.

Their definition of antisemitism is as follows:

“Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

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