The NUS: “Anti-semitic, out of touch, and ineffective”

Amelia Oakley 25 May 2016

The NUS has suddenly become a hot topic of conversation across tables at hall, in whispers in the library, and during the regulation revision break. But why are we suddenly talking about it? What are its problems and why do they make it imperative that we leave this organisation? 

The NUS is a remarkably complicated organisation, with multicoloured flowcharts on its website to try and help students understand what on earth is going on – so complicated that I won’t even attempt to explain it because I don’t think I even understand its inner workings. But in terms of why it's failing students, the answer is pretty clear – we can't trust the NUS to represent all students equally and fairly, and we need to get out now. Their failings are many, so here we go.

Internalised anti-semitism

The NUS has had a long history with anti-semitism. In 2005 a member of the NUS National Executive Committee and now Labour MP, Luciana Berger, resigned due to ingrained anti-semitism against her and other Jewish representatives. Among other things, she was spat on at the annual conference. 

In 2011 Malia put into action one of the NUS’s definitions of anti-semitism, claiming that Birmingham University was a “Zionist outpost in higher education”, and alluded to a “Zionist led lobby” controlling western foreign policy. 

In 2014, Malia appeared at a pro-Palestinian resistance conference where the poster featured two leaders designated terrorist organisations: Hassan Nasrallah of Hezbollah, and George Habash of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Two months after the event, the PFLP claimed responsibility for the murder of 4 Jews in Jerusalem with Habash calling it a “heroic act”, and the head of Hesbollah is quoted as having said he hopes all Jews can congregate in Israel so he doesn’t have to hunt them down individually.

Then, earlier in this year, 2016, we saw the abolition of the only secure seat for a Jewish student on the Anti-racist anti-fascist campaign in the NUS, the last remaining fixed representation for Jewish students. 

At this year's conference, delegates cheered and applauded speeches against the commemoration of Holocaust Memorial Day, because it was somehow giving privilege to one genocide over another.

Out of touch Sabbatical officers 

Many of the sabbatical officers have worked full-time for the NUS for longer than they have actually been students. As a measure of age, when Malia started university, I had just started my first year in secondary school – and I took a gap year…

The NUS is much more out of touch than just an age gap. It spends its time passing useless motions, like that to give specific support to certain Kurdish groups of freedom fighters, or to ban YikYak. But it also recommends things that are just so far removed from what the average student thinks, like the one to abolish all reps for gay men in LGBT groups in universities around the country, or spending […] on recommending to students that they don’t vote for the Liberal Democrats. 

Over-paid staff

The NUS’s Chief Executive, Simon Blake, is paid £100,000 a year, for his job running the organisation, where 69 of the 237 members of staff are paid £30,000 a year, the same as dentistry graduates; the course with the highest average graduate earnings. 

When students are struggling to live in their accommodation, and when wages have not risen in line with the cost of living, the NUS pays it’s Chief 5 times that which the average university graduate is paid. It’s far from unreasonable to say that this is a colossal waste of money, in a time when students can’t afford to pay their heating bills. 

The NUS is anti-semitic, out of touch, and ineffective, that much is blindingly obvious. But disaffiliating is vital at this particular time, as it is pretty much the only thing that will make the NUS realise that students don’t support them anymore, and that they should reform properly and start doing their job. To leave the NUS is more of a signal to them that we do not stand for anti-semitism than any open letter or Facebook campaign could ever produce. 

Is the NUS going to care that a few universities had a referendum but that things stayed the same in general? Probably not. Is the NUS going to care that the country’s best university no longer wants to be a part of it? You bet they will. 

In our age of acceptance and freedom, racism like this should have no place, especially from the union that is meant to be protecting us. We cannot change the NUS from within, we cannot trust the NUS to change itself, and this week we must leave this organisation.


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