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UK: NUS accused of creating 'hostile' environment for Jewish students

Report says complaints of antisemitism had been perceived as politically motivated and overlooked by the union, contributing to more hostility
Rebecca Tuck's report was commissioned after the election of Shaima Dallali, who was dismissed by the NUS over antisemitism claims (Screengrab)
Rebecca Tuck's report was commissioned after the election of Shaima Dallali, who was dismissed by the NUS over antisemitism claims (Screengrab)

A long-awaited investigation has claimed that the UK's National Union of Students has created an "unwelcome" and hostile environment for Jewish students.

The independently commissioned investigation, authored by lawyer Rebecca Tuck, said the NUS breached its policies and failed to confront antisemitism within its structures. 

Key allegations levied by Tuck's report include Jewish students being "subject to harassment", and their complaints of antisemitism not taken seriously by the union. 

Her findings, based on interviews with 46 groups and individuals, also criticised how the union dealt with complaints over the invitation of pro-Palestine rapper Lowkey to the union's annual conference in 2022. 

The report fell short of sanctioning the union but gave 11 recommendations, including providing educational material about the Israel-Palestine issue and further engagement with the Union of Jewish Students.

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Tuck also recommended a facilitator be present to oversee debates surrounding the non-violent Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which is a regular discussion within the NUS. 

NUS apologises

Within her report, Tuck said complaints of antisemitism had been viewed as politically motivated and made in "bad faith to try and avert pro-Palestinian or anti-Israel policy advocacy".

"This has resulted in antisemitism as well as hostility towards Jews, which has not been challenged sufficiently or robustly or proactively by NUS," Tuck said in her report. 

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Tuck also dedicated sections of the report towards contentions surrounding the definition of antisemitism and Zionism and their use within NUS spaces. 

Commenting on the findings, NUS chief executive Kat Stark apologised to Jewish students and vowed to implement the recommendations made by Tuck in her report.

"What we'd like to say to Jewish students right now - past, present, future - is we're really sorry about the antisemitism that you faced, and the moments where you felt unwelcome," said Stark.

"I want Jewish students everywhere to know that you are welcome in colleges, in universities. You are welcome in NUS."

But the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Britain's largest Pro-Palestine group, raised concerns over the "disproportionate involvement of the Union of Jewish Students (UJS), who were given significant authority in the framing of the investigation and the appointment of the Independent Investigator.

"The report's main focus is antisemitism in the context of discourse about Palestinian rights. It calls for such discourse to be nuanced," a spokesperson from PSC said in a statement.

"There can be nothing nuanced in enabling Palestinians to articulate the facts about what they are being subjected to by the Israeli state's forcible transfer, home demolitions, arbitrary detention and torture, and armed violence, including the assassination of human rights defenders."

The NUS commissioned Tuck in May 2022 to investigate allegations of antisemitism and broader culture within the union towards Jewish students.

NUS also said it worked closely with the Union of Jewish Students during the investigation. 

Sacking of Muslim head of NUS

The investigation came after the NUS elected Shaima Dallali, a Black Muslim woman of Tunisian descent, to lead the national student body in March 2022. 

After her election, Dallali was investigated following complaints of antisemitism and homophobia relating to several tweets dating back to 2012.

Dallali apologised for the tweets and welcomed the investigation into her actions.

But during the investigation, Dallali was suspended and not allowed to take up her post. The NUS later dismissed Dallali from her position, making her the first president to be fired in the NUS's 100-year history.

A statement by her lawyers, Carter-Ruck, in November announced that Dallali is considering legal action against the decision. 

The statement added that Dallali rejects the findings of the disciplinary panel as well as the allegations about her that were investigated in the context of those investigations.

"She considers the process to have constituted – and that it continues to constitute – discriminatory treatment of her as a black Muslim woman and her beliefs concerning the plight of the Palestinian people," the statement said.  

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