The election of the new president of the National Union of Students (NUS) is to be investigated amid anti-Semitism allegations, with the universities minister questioning the validity of her victory.
Shaima Dallali was elected the next president of the NUS and is due to take office in July. However, her forthcoming role as the representative of UK students has been dogged by claims of anti-Semitism.
Groups including the Union of Jewish Students (UJS) raised concerns after her alleged historic comments made on social media resurfaced.
Last week Nadhim Zahawi, the Education Secretary, severed official ties with the NUS, saying he was “seriously concerned” by the reports. This now means that the union will no longer receive government funding and its leaders will be denied a “seat at the table” in talks with the Department for Education, the Office for Students and the Student Loans Company.
Now, a Department for Education source has told the Jewish Chronicle that Michelle Donelan, the universities minister, wrote this week to Civica Election Services, which officiated in the recent election of Ms Dallali.
The minister has asked it to conduct an investigation, because Ms Dallali failed to commit to the International Holocaust Remembrance Association (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism.
According to the source, the reason for the investigation is that number eight of the NUS’ “core rules” states that all candidates for office “must have a commitment to anti-racism … and anti-Semitism as per the IHRA definition”.
The IHRA definition is only 40 words long and says: “Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”
Social media posts unearthed
The Jewish Chronicle said that it unearthed numerous social media posts “liked” by Ms Dallali which opposed the IHRA definition and called for students at her own institution, City University, to reject it in a referendum held in March 2021. The referendum rejected the IHRA definition by a two-thirds majority.
The NUS is to set up an independent inquiry under a QC into both alleged anti-Semitism and Ms Dallali’s history.
A spokesman for the NUS said that it was “disappointed” that the universities minister “has press-released that the DfE will be disengaging with NUS rather than seeking to engage with us directly”.
The spokesman added: “Following a complaint about anti-Semitism, we launched an independent investigation. We will be appointing a QC, in consultation with the UJS.
“We have sought to undertake the investigation in a serious and proper way, and are working in collaboration with UJS at every step of the way.
“Once the QC has been appointed, we will be able to update on the process and timeline. We look forward to working with the Government constructively on this matter.”
The Jewish Chronicle contacted Ms Dallali. Asked whether she is committed to the IHRA definition now, she said only: “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.” She added: “My commitment to anti-racism has not changed.”
Asked whether it planned to conduct an investigation in response to Ms Donelan’s request, a Civica spokesman told the Jewish Chronicle that it had already been rejected. “The matter raised by the DfE was the subject of a complaint that was appealed to us in our role as chief returning officer and ruled on accordingly,” the spokesman said. “There is no further investigation in progress.”
It is understood that the department now intends to take the matter further, following the Jewish Chronicle’s disclosure that Ms Dallali opposed the IHRA definition in the City University referendum. Ms Donelan’s staff are said to be “continuing to engage with Civica” over whether the NUS rules were observed.
The Department for Education was contacted for comment.