UK student union failed to protect Jewish students from antisemitism - investigation

The NUS has a bad track record of failing to protect Jewish students from antisemitism and hate crimes within its organization for over a decade.

  Campaigners from the Campaign Against Antisemitism demonstrate and listen to speakers outside the Labour Party headquarters on April 8, 2018 in London, England.  (photo credit: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
Campaigners from the Campaign Against Antisemitism demonstrate and listen to speakers outside the Labour Party headquarters on April 8, 2018 in London, England.
(photo credit: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

The UK's National Union of Students has failed over the past decade to protect Jewish students from antisemitism and hate crimes within its organization, according to an independent report that looked into multiple examples.

According to the report, Jewish students would raise complaints about these issues but very rarely would anything happen.

"For at least a decade, Jewish students have not felt welcome or included in NUS spaces or elected roles," the independent investigator, Rebecca Tuck KC, wrote. "There have been numerous instances of antisemitism within NUS. It invariably falls to Jewish students to raise complaints about these issues, and when they do, frequently, the complaints have not experienced the process as inclusive and fair."

The independent investigation found multiple examples of Jewish students being targeted on campus with antisemitism and hate-crime attacks. Some of the examples Tuck gave included swastikas spray painted on Jewish students' lockers, stickers and posters saying "Hitler was right," or "Kanye was right."

Tuck gave a list of recommendations for the organization to use as a way to either prevent antisemitism as much as possible or at least know how to treat the symptoms.

Black Lives Matter rally in London, June 6, 2020 (credit: FLICKR/SOCIALIST APPEAL)Black Lives Matter rally in London, June 6, 2020 (credit: FLICKR/SOCIALIST APPEAL)

What were the recommendations listed?

The first recommendation is an advisory panel. Tuck explains that by having someone as chairman for one or two years, there will always be changes in the politics within the organization. "NUS UK and NUS Charity Boards should jointly appoint an advisory panel to serve for a minimum period of five years to monitor implementation of these recommendations," she said. "It should meet at least three times per annum in the first two years."

The second recommendation she listed was record keeping. "The NUS data protection policy requires the retention of data relating to employees for 18 months after their employment ends," she said. "NUS should review this period and decide on the most appropriate period for data retention, so that records are available for any necessary subsequent investigation, as well as ensuring data is available should NUS face litigation."

"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."

National Union of Students (NUS)

Tuck also said that the NUS should have a "due diligence process for election candidates," meaning, "whether candidates genuinely have a 'commitment' to anti-racism, including to tackling antisemitism and Islamophobia as required by their Core Election Rules." She also mentioned that the "process should be put into place as a priority so that it is active ahead of the next officer elections."

The next was the Election and Code of Conduct Complaints. "A review should be undertaken of the complaints process, which has been consistently interpreted by the Returning officers as only considering the electoral period," Tuck explains. "The is inadequate and has led to parallel complaints under the Code of Conduct." 

So what should be done about this situation? Tuck explains further, saying, "This review must require consideration should be given to how NUS will consider any matters which come to light during an election period and which were undiscovered through the due diligence process."

In 2019, the NUS Conference made it mandatory for antisemitism training for any elected officers and it was provided by the Union of Jewish Students. "This should continue," Tuck said. "[It should] be undertaken at least once every two years and incorporate all NUS staff as well as officers."

She explained that all NUS staff should learn and understand anything related to the Israel-Palestine conflict. "Given the overwhelming evidence that antisemitism is being endured by Jewish students which arises (at least initially) from campaigning and comment concerning Israel-Palestine, I have reached the conclusion that NUS needs to lead the way in creating change."

With that, she discusses the importance of the Israel-Palestine conflict, saying that a lot of antisemitism is geared toward Zionism and that the NUS should recognize anti-Zionism as antisemitism.

Tuck added that the Anti-Racist, Anti-Fascist (ARAF) Committee should make its comeback to the NUS. "This should allow students to join in solidarity against racism and fascism and to engage in campaigning which unites rather than divides them."

She also recommends surveys for Jewish students as a way to measure how effective the NUS was for them throughout the year.

"NUS does not have an external speaker policy or any process which it adopts before inviting speakers," Tuck explains that the NUS should have conference speakers and guests to discuss antisemitism on campus.

She also said that there should be another review for the NUS to see the effectiveness of the new arrangements that were made in 2019 when the NUS was reconstructed.

Responses to the report

The NUS said in a press release that they have a plan of action for tackling antisemitism.

"The KC's report is a detailed and shocking account of antisemitism within the student movement," they said. "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.

"Antisemitism is an attack on our shared values of equality and solidarity. We have a proud history of fighting struggles alongside Jewish students.

"We must tackle antisemitism in all its forms with collective responsibility and in doing so restore our collective. We are stronger united," they said.

"This landmark report sets out in granular detail how NUS has failed generations of Jewish students," the President of the Union of Jewish Students Joel Rosen said in a statement.

"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 eleven recommendations in the report should be implemented. We now need to see a fundamental change within NUS' culture and Jewish students will judge them on their actions."