A motion put to Wednesday’s OUSU council to condemn Richard Brooks, the NUS Vice-President at the centre of an alleged plot to oust its President, was withdrawn after heavy criticism from Oxford Jewish Society (J-Soc).
The motion called for the resignation of Brooks, following Al Jazeera’s publication of hidden camera footage which allegedly shows Brooks admitting to efforts to unseat NUS president Mattia Bouattia.
Al Jazeera also claims that Brooks colluded with Israeli Embassy officials in his effort to remove Bouattia. Brooks referred himself last week for investigation by the NUS UK Board.
The motion, which asked OUSU to call on Brooks for a full apology, stated: “This incident takes place in a climate where student activists, NUS, and the NUS President have been systematically undermined, attacked, and harassed for expressing support for Palestinian rights.”
It said that the actions of Brooks have brought “the Union [NUS] as a whole into disrepute”.
In a statement, Oxford J-Soc described the motion as “disturbing”, stating: “It takes a conspiratorial video series and deduces further conspiracies from it.”
J-Soc claimed the motion aimed to “undermine the allegations of anti-Semitism that Bouattia has rightly faced and failed to adequately respond to. The pressure which has been placed on Bouattia by our own student union, who recently called on her to apologise or resign, and student leaders including Brooks should not be cast aside or undermined by this claim.”
The motion was later withdrawn from the council by its proposer, Sean O’Neill, who said in a statement that he intended to wait for the result of “investigations and enquiries” into Brooks’ actions by the police and other public authorities.
The Al Jazeera’s investigation claims that Brooks and Rob Young, also a NUS Vice-President, were funded by the Union of Jewish Students (UJS) to travel to Israel.
Neither declared the trip to the NUS national executive council, which may violate the body’s affiliation with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign.
Brooks has rebuffed the charges of conspiracy and receiving Israeli government support—calling them on Twitter “overextended with no proof”—while defending the right to publicly oppose Bouattia’s presidency.
“I, like every other elected officer in the NUS, politically organise,” he told Huffington Post UK last week.
Brooks, on social media last week, wrote: “I hope that a swift and thorough investigation can assure the membership that I have done nothing wrong and that the constant hounding by the press and others will end.”
“After two years of NUS I’m unfortunately not even shocked anymore by the way people conduct themselves in real life and on social media.”
Brooks denied Cherwell’s request for further comment, citing the ongoing NUS investigation.
OUSU, in a statement posted online, stated that it was “disheartened”, criticising the “toxicity” and “in-fighting” revealed by Al Jazeera’s report, though it stopped short of calling for his resignation.
“We are disappointed to see an officer supposedly responsible for supporting union development and democracy of the national body working to disable the NUS by planning to oust a democratically elected president.”
Campaign director for the Union of Jewish Students, Josh Nagli, denied accusations that his organisation conspired with the Israeli government, writing on Twitter: “The insidious suggestion that Jewish students […] conspire with or take direction from Israeli officials, is grossly offensive.”
UJS and others have accused Mattia Bouattia of anti-Semitism in the past, after she characterised Birmingham University as a “Zionist outpost for higher education” and repeatedly referenced “mainstream Zionist-led media outlets”.
She has, however, maintained that she remains committed to fight racism “in all its forms”.
A NUS spokesperson said: “NUS takes these allegations seriously, we are looking into them and, when we have all the information available, the behaviour of NUS officers will be reviewed and appropriate action taken.”