Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) is deeply concerned at the outcome of the investigation by Rebecca Tuck KC into antisemitism within the National Union of Students (NUS). The report released today follows the unprecedented decision in November 2022 to dismiss its elected President, Shaima Dallali, a decision PSC condemned.
From the outset of the investigation, we raised fundamental concerns about the terms of reference of the investigation and the failure to acknowledge how the conflation of antisemitism with legitimate critique of Israeli oppression has been used to silence Palestinians and those who support their rights. We have also raised concerns about the disproportionate involvement of the Union of Jewish Students (UJS), which was given significant authority in the framing of the investigation and the appointment of the independent investigator.
Whilst we recognise the need for the NUS to consult with a body representing many Jewish students in addressing concerns about antisemitism, the degree of prioritisation of a single interested party violates due process, in particular because it was clear that some allegations of antisemitism being investigated were clearly cases of legitimate protest of the Israeli state.
The report also fails to take into account the role the UJS has played in the conflation of antisemitism and legitimate critique of Israel’s oppression of the Palestinian people, including its active promotion of resources which suggest that it is inherently antisemitic to advocate for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against companies involved in violations of Palestinian rights, or to describe Israel as a state practising the crime of apartheid, despite this being the view of Amnesty International, B’Tselem and Palestinian civil society.
These concerns have been proven justified by the content of the report, which the NUS committed to accepting in full before it was even written. Whilst the report does touch on incidents of antisemitism such as the deplorable “white t-shirt parties” held on campuses, which should be rightly investigated and condemned, the report’s primary and explicit focus is on finding antisemitism in the campaign for Palestinian rights. It reinforces, both in its main body and its recommendations, the conflation of antisemitism and legitimate advocacy for Palestinian rights.
A key recommendation is that students should be “facilitated to engage in more nuanced debate” when discussing Palestinian rights. There can be nothing nuanced in enabling Palestinians to articulate the facts about what they are being subjected to by the Israeli state – forcible transfer, home demolitions, arbitrary detention and torture, and armed violence, including the assassination of human rights defenders. It is grotesque to suggest that debates about Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, a set of non-violent tactics to end complicity in these abuses, should be facilitated to ensure that nuance is maintained, that “both sides of the argument” are heard, and that students who identify with Israel are protected from discomfort. Must we ensure everyone hears “both sides” of colonisation? Will this mean the NUS start imposing facilitation on debates about showing solidarity with Ukrainians? On showing solidarity with Black people struggling against racism?
Astonishingly, in a multi-page section on different interpretations of Zionism, not a single Palestinian perspective is cited. Throughout the report, there is no mention of Palestinian students, or the impact this report will have on their engagement with the NUS and student activism.
In the summer of 2022, accusations of antisemitism in the NUS began to dominate media headlines, fuelled by Government threats to cease engagement with the NUS and to cut its funding. At this point the NUS made explicit to PSC that it regarded these threats as potentially existential. It has asserted that it will not allow those threats to divert it from its decolonisation work, of which support for the liberation of the Palestinian people is an integral part. If it is to make good on these commitments and live up to its broader obligations to be an anti-racist institution, then it must take these urgent steps:
- Of paramount importance, it needs to make clear its understanding that being consistently anti-racist means opposing antisemitism robustly but also opposing the conflation of antisemitism with advocacy for Palestinian rights.
- The NUS must reaffirm publicly that consistent anti-racism means standing opposed to all structures of racist oppression, including the system of apartheid imposed by Israel upon the Palestinian people.
- The NUS must abandon any process, including training and guidance for students on Palestine, that suggests the rights of the Palestinian people and the facts of Palestinian history are a matter for debate.
We will continue to hold the NUS to these challenges. We also call upon all students who are committed to anti-racist work and who support the Palestinian struggle for liberation to demonstrate their refusal to be silenced by joining the Student Day of Action, called for 17th February.