Jewish students ‘faced hostile culture’ in National Union of Students

Jewish students have faced a “hostile” culture within the National Union of Students (NUS) – with the union failing to sufficiently challenge antisemitism, an independent investigation has found.

On occasion, Jews have been subjected to harassment – as defined by the Equality Act 2010 – and breaches of the union’s own policies, according to the report by Rebecca Tuck KC.

The NUS, which commissioned the investigation, acknowledged its findings are “shocking” and said it is committed to tackling antisemitism across “the breadth and depth” of the union.

The report found there was a “poor relationship” between the NUS and some Jewish students, stemming from views about the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

It cited numerous instances in which Jews suffered antisemitism because of assumptions that they were Zionists and about what that might mean.

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

Examples of antisemitism on campuses in recent years include Jewish freshers having swastikas drawn on them during white T-shirt parties and stickers reading “Hitler was right” being placed in student common rooms.

But the investigation also lists incidents reported to have occurred within NUS spaces, such as:

A meeting in which the words “the final solution” – a term given by the Nazis to their plan for the genocide of all Jews – were used. The individual who used the term refused to reword their comment or apologise despite being confronted about its connotations.

When Coca-Cola sponsored a 2015 NUS conference, some “pro-Palestinian” students objected because of a distribution centre in the West Bank, the report says. An elected officer is said to have been messaged by another officer: “Enjoy the sweet taste of a dead baby’s blood in that Coke you’re loving”, which invoked the notoriously antisemitic myth of the blood libel – that Jews use the blood of young children to make Matzah bread at Passover.

A Jewish student being told by a high-ranking elected student representative at a 2012 NUS conference that “UJS (Union of Jewish Students) is funded by Mossad, and that as a result I naturally am too”.

The only official NUS statement of solidarity made in support of Jewish students in recent years, which was not expressly called for by the UJS, was to condemn extreme right-wing antisemitism, according to the report.

But the investigation also highlights reports from Jewish students of a more insidious form of antisemitism whereby they are treated as pariahs because of their perceived connection to issues relating to Israel and Palestinians.

It comes after the union’s former president, Shaima Dallali, was sacked following an investigation into allegations of antisemitism.

Ms Dallali rejected the findings of the disciplinary panel and said the process constituted “discriminatory treatment of her as a black Muslim woman and her beliefs concerning the plight of the Palestinian people”.

The report did not recommend sanctions or further disciplinary investigation, instead setting out 11 recommendations for the union to consider.

These include the introduction of regular antisemitism training for NUS staff and officers and the production of educational materials on antisemitism and the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

But it also noted that recommendations from “numerous” previous investigations have been implemented inconsistently, with the union’s own policies – particularly its Code of Conduct and social media rules – being flouted on a number of occasions.

“It is apparent from this report – and indeed from other reports over the last 17 years – that the culture within NUS and at NUS events has been perceived by many Jewish students, for good reason, as hostile,” Ms Tuck concluded.

President of the UJS, Joel Rosen, said: “This landmark report sets out in granular detail how NUS has failed generations of Jewish students.

“It is a searing indictment of anti-Jewish racism at the heart of student politics. It confirms that Jewish students faced harassment and discrimination and that complaints of antisemitism were dismissed and disregarded.

“It is vital that this report is translated into meaningful and immediate action. All 11 recommendations in the report should be implemented. We now need to see a fundamental change within NUS’s culture and Jewish students will judge them on their actions.”

To view this content, you'll need to update your privacy settings.
Please click here to do so.

The NUS said: “The report is 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.

“There is no place for antisemitism within NUS and we are committed to ensuring that Jewish students feel safe and welcome in every corner of our movement. ”

It added its priority would be to “take forward” the recommendations of the review and be transparent in reporting its progress.

Dr Sara Husseini, director of the British Palestinian Committee, issued a statement expressing concerns about the report.

In it, she said: “Even though the report repeatedly references issues pertaining to Palestine-Israel, Palestinian voices and concern for students of Palestinian origin are strikingly absent.

“The report sends a dangerous message that it is impossible to tackle antisemitism without compromising the ability of Palestinians to express their experience of Israeli oppression.”

But Gideon Falter, chief executive of Campaign Against Antisemitism, said Ms Tuck’s report was “exceptionally important” in “vindicating the experiences of Jewish students”.

He added that it marked the third major review of the NUS’ relations with Jewish students in the past two decades, indicating the longevity of the problem.

“Whatever their merits, those reports failed to overcome the personnel and institutional problems that have plagued NUS, with Jewish students bearing the impact,” Mr Falter said.

CST, a charity that helps British Jews with problems relating to antisemitism, said: “It is disturbing, but sadly not surprising, that (Ms Tuck) has found that Jewish students have been denied an equal role in their own national union and their complaints about antisemitism have been consistently treated as being made in bad faith.

“It is a shocking indictment of NUS that an organisation that is supposed to uphold the highest standards of anti-racism and equality has ended up creating what Tuck called a ‘hostile environment’ for Jewish students.”