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Friday, June 24, 2022

Leader: Oxford SU must not fail to stand against NUS antisemitism

Cherwell's Week 0 Senior Editorial Leader.

When Shaima Dallali tweeted ‘Khaybar Khaybar O Jews … Muhammad’s army will return’, the president-elect of the National Union of Students was being explicit in her views. Khaybar, a seventh-century massacre and expulsion of Jews by Muhammed’s armies, is used as a rallying cry for the extinction of Israel. A watchdog recently warned the NUS was failing to protect Jewish students. Instead of equivocating, Oxford’s Student Union should be explicit in rejecting its parent organisation.

Only a few years ago, the NUS had promised extensive reform after a previous President, Malia Bouattia, made repeated antisemitic statements, including when she called Birmingham University “a Zionist outpost in British Higher Education”. Instead of reforming, the NUS seems to have drifted even closer to extremism.

In 2018, Shaima Dallali called Yusuf al-Qaradawi the “moral compass for the Muslim community at large”. Al-Qaradawi has said that he would “shoot Allah’s enemies, the Jews”, and called upon God to “count their numbers, and kill them, down to the very last one.”

When confronted with a rise in violence against Jewish students throughout last year, the NUS released a statement announcing that they were “deeply concerned to hear of a spike in antisemitism on campuses as a result of Israeli forces’ violent attacks on Palestinians” — a statement so wrong that one wonders why they bothered writing one at all. Conflating Israeli policy with Jewish Britons, it strongly implies they are responsible for their persecution. 

In the past few months, the NUS invited (and then disinvited) Lowkey, a rapper with a history of support for antisemitism, to its conference.

With a recent history like this, one imagines that the SU would be unequivocal in its condemnation of the organisation. Instead, yesterday’s SU statement to Cherwell ended with “Despite all this, we’d also like to draw attention to the fact that we are disappointed in the way genuine student concerns about antisemitism have been co-opted by the Government and media to further the culture war and silence those who are advocating for Palestinian rights.”

Any sentence in a supposed anti-racist statement that begins ‘Despite all this…’ is questionable. It seems hard to believe that racist beliefs held towards any other ethnicity would receive this ‘both sides’ treatment.

Or to paraphrase Oxford’s Jsoc; similar remarks directed towards those of other races or faiths would likely be met with resignation, rather than an investigation.

Now, the crisis seems to be coming to a head. Last week, the Commons Education Select Committee, referred the NUS to the Charities Watchdog  “in regards to their treatment of Jewish students and the Jewish community’s concerns regarding antisemitism.” An emergency letter to the NUS board was undersigned by twenty former NUS presidents, including three former cabinet ministers and Wes Streeting, the Shadow Health Secretary. 

This should be a clear moment for the Oxford SU to reconsider its relationship with the organisation. The previous antisemitism crisis led to a sustained campaign amongst many universities to disaffiliate themselves. After campaigning by NUS, Oxford ended up staying. Recent events have shown that the attempts at reform have been futile. The Oxford SU should make clear it wants nothing to do with the NUS — or risk enabling the worst kinds of hate. 

The Oxford SU’s full statement reads:

“Antisemitism has no place on any university campus or in the wider student movement. Oxford SU does not tolerate antisemitism in any form and we are supportive of calls to listen to Jewish students and groups. We very much welcome reports that the National Union of Students will be investigated in an attempt to root this out.  

“Locally in Oxford, students are able to pass Student Council motions informing the way our NUS delegates and Sabbatical Officers interact with NUS or referendum to disaffiliate from NUS should they wish to do so.  

“Despite all this, we’d also like to draw attention to the fact that we are disappointed in the way genuine student concerns about antisemitism have been co-opted by the Government and media to further the culture war and silence those who are advocating for Palestinian rights.”

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