More than 20 former presidents of the National Union of Students, including three former cabinet ministers, have sent an unprecedented personal warning to the organisation’s trustees, urging them to address the concerns of Jewish students.
The leaked letter to the Guardian was sent to union trustees by 21 former presidents in the 1960s, including former cabinet ministers Jack Straw, Charles Clark and Jim Murphy, shadow health secretaries, Wes Streeting and Mayev Sherlock.
“This is not just a matter of protecting NUS’s reputation, but of respecting NUS’s proud anti-apartheid policy,” the letter said.
Others include Sky News presenter Trevor Phillips, Times columnist David Aronovich and former Labor MPs Lorna Fitzsimmons, Stephen Twig and Phil Ullas, as well as Shakira Martin, the first black woman to lead NUS.
New concerns were raised by Jewish students when the union invited rapper Loki to a centennial ceremony, when he said that the media had “armed” the Jewish tradition. [Ukrainian president] Zelensky “for ignoring the so-called extreme right-wing activity in Ukraine.
The students who objected said they had been told they could stay away from a safe place during his performance, although NUS declined advice to separate them. Loki withdrew from the event amidst controversy.
The Jewish Students’ Union (UJS) also complained about remarks made by the union’s president-elect Shaimaa Dallali, including a post when she was a teenager, which read: . He has since apologized for the post. Other social media posts are being investigated by the NUS board.
The letter said the NUS board had called a crisis meeting on Wednesday over the row. Conservative chairman of the Education Selection Committee, MP Robert Halfon, said he had referred NUS to the Charity Commission.
Higher Education Minister Michelle Donnelly said last week that she was also considering reporting NUS to the commission and that the government could suspend involvement with the union over the allegations. Donnelly called on student unions across the country to “consider deflation until things improve quickly.”
Responding to criticism from Halfon and Donlan, the union said: “NUS is taking anti-Semitic allegations seriously. There is no place for anti-Semitism in the student movement. We have apologized profusely for the concerns and anxieties of recent weeks and are working to resolve any errors and restore trust.
“The board is meeting to inspire our strong internal processes, including considering hiring an independent external team to support it. If we see the need to take action, we will not hesitate to take it, as we have done before. “
The letter, which was leaked to current NUS president Lorisa Kennedy as well as trustees, said the allegations needed to be taken more seriously.
“We, as former presidents, are personally concerned about the anti-Semitism, the safety and treatment of Jewish students at NUS events, and the seriousness of your democracy and the way NUS is responding to these concerns,” the letter said. The letter stated that “clear NUS is a serious and significant issue.”
Former presidents have said that the NUS should issue a “complete and unreserved apology” to resolve relations with the UJS and Jewish students, and launch an independent investigation into anti-Semitism in the organization, including statements and tweets from current and future officials.
“We hope that the trustees understand the gravity of the crisis facing the company, the reputational damage it has caused, and the potential existential threat to the future of the company by revoking the recognition of NUS – and understanding your responsibility to act,” the letter said.