The Independent has revealed that more officeholders and candidates running for positions on the National Union of Students (NUS) Executive Committee at the NUS National Conference in Brighton from 25th to 27th April have made antisemitic comments in the past.
Earlier this month, the NUS released its survey on The Experience of Jewish Students in 2016/17, showing that only 49% of the 485 Jewish students polled said that they would feel comfortable attending NUS events and just 40% would feel comfortable engaging in the NUS policy making process.
Ali Milani, a candidate for Vice President of Union Development, made a series of antisemitic tweets between 2012 and 2013. In one of the many antisemitic tweets, he called someone a “Jew” for being stingy, writing: “Nah u won’t mate. It’ll cost you a pound #jew.” In a tweet to Piers Morgan, Milani wrote: “u are a zionist and a corperate [sic] jackass.” In a string of tweets about Israeli-US relations and the Israel-Palestine conflict, he commented: “Israel has no right to exist.”
Sean O’Neill, another candidate running for a place on the NUS National Executive Council, posted on Twitter in 2012 using the hashtags “heilhitler” and “f**kslutskilljews” – apparently in an attempt at humour. O’Neill also previously claimed that accusations of antisemitism made against students were a smear designed to silence Palestinian activists. He asked for a statement to be read out an Oxford University Students’ Union Council meeting on 18th January 2017. The statement included: “authorities are looking into several instances of university students being falsely accused of antisemitism as a means of intimidating student campaigners for Palestinian rights at Oxford, and evidence of foreign interference in democratic processes on our campus.”
Meanwhile, another current NUS officer, LGBT+ Officer Noorulann Shahid, shared a Jewish-made, self deprecating video on Twitter in 2012 containing offensive Jewish stereotypes.
In statements to The Independent, Milani, O’Neill and Shahid have apologised. Milani said: “I have apologised unreservedly for these comments before and I do so again. They do not reflect how I see the world today. These tweets are from an incredibly long time ago – when I was 16 to 17 years old.”
O’Neill said: “I was absolutely horrified to see this tweet. It flies in the face of my commitment to anti-fascism and anti-sexism. It was five years ago, and I have no recollection of writing it. I can only assume it was an incredibly distasteful inside joke, or a reference to something someone else said the night before. I wholly, unreservedly apologise for having ever associated myself with these truly vile hashtags. I am ashamed, and reach out to all groups affected to say sorry.” O’Neill has subsequently written on Facebook that his tweet has been taken out of context.
Shahid said: “What I said was not acceptable. I sincerely and unreservedly apologise to Jewish students for the video I shared and comments I made on Twitter. I wrote the tweet a long time ago when I had a limited amount of political education and understanding, and I’d never make such comments again as I am committed to unlearning all types of offensive and oppressive language.”
Milani, O’Neill and Shahid are all part of a far-left grouping that includes Malia Bouattia, the current NUS President who is seeking re-election. The Independent also revealed that during her time as a student at University of York, Bouattia was involved in hosting a play as part of Israel Apartheid Week events in 2010 called “Seven Jewish Children” that has been widely criticised as antisemitic. Bouattia was recently condemned by the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee for “outright racism” after she referred to the University of Birmingham as a “Zionist outpost.” An internal report for NUS found that she made antisemitic comments but outrageously she faced no action whatsoever as a consequence. Last July, Bouattia drew further condemnation when she used her casting vote to strip Jewish students of their ability to elect their own representative.
Campaign Against Antisemitism calls on the newly-elected NUS leadership, following the elections this week, to ensure that all Jewish students have a safe and positive experience at university and on Milani, O’Neill, Shahid and Bouattia to take steps to ensure they are well educated in the concerns of Jewish students and the insidious nature of antisemitism. Education is the key to ridding society of antisemitism and it is up to aspiring leaders to lead by example on this front.