British Palestinians condemn sacking of student union president

Collage: Palestine solidarity protest; a woman in a headscarf

Shaima Dallali has been sacked as NUS president after criticizing Israel.

Shaima Dallali Twitter

Palestinian groups in the UK have condemend the National Union of Students after it fired its president Shaima Dallali, a Palestine solidarity activist.

The firing will “contribute to anti-Palestinian racism and the silencing of legitimate advocacy for Palestine,” the groups said in a statement released by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign on Wednesday.

The groups also criticized what they said was the “disproportionate involvement” in the process of the Union of Jewish Students, a pro-Israel lobby group with close ties to the Israeli government.

The groups condemned “the role the UJS has played in the conflation of anti-Semitism [with] legitimate critique of Israel’s oppression of the Palestinian people.”

They said that Dallali had been falsely attacked as anti-Semitic for posting “‘from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” on Twitter, and for participating in a protest at King’s College London against a former Israeli politician.

Dallali was also attacked for criticizing the UJS’s well documented role in making such spurious allegations, the groups said.

The investigation was partly triggered by “her calling out the UJS on social media … for its evidenced activities aiming to silence advocacy for Palestinian rights.”

“It is deeply concerning that criticism of the UJS for its overtly political pro-Israel advocacy has been reframed as evidence of hostility to all Jewish students, and thereby seen as grounds for dismissal,” the groups said.

The joint statement was released in the names of several British Palestinian and pro-Palestinian groups: the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the British Palestinian Committee, the Diaspora Alliance, the European Legal Support Centre, the Muslim Association of Britain and the Palestinian Forum in Britain.

Dallali’s dismissal came after two investigations into “anti-Semitism” in the NUS were launched at the insistence of both the Israel lobby and the UK government earlier this year.

PSC director Ben Jamal said this week that the UK government “has publicly threatened to entirely close down its relationship with the NUS if the outcome of these investigations was not to its liking.”

While the NUS claimed the investigation would be “independent,” it also admitted that it “worked closely with the Union of Jewish Students” on both the selection of the investigating lawyer and the terms of reference.

The UJS publicly claims to represent all Jewish students. But at its private dinners and galas it boasts of its close ties to the very same Israeli government and military apparatus that murders, tortures and evicts Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza on a daily basis.

In a little-watched video of an address she made to the Israeli president last year, then UJS president Nina Freedman explained that her group’s real goal was “defending Israel” and being on “the front line” of a fight against “anti-Zionism and BDS,” the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign.

She also said the UJS was “encouraging students to take an active role in defending Israel” and boasted that her group’s alumni “are currently serving in senior positions in the Israeli government, the foreign ministry, the IDF [military] and even the president’s office.”

Dallali only found out she was fired this week via the press, she said in a statement issued by her lawyers on Wednesday.

Carter-Ruck said in the statement that “Ms Dallali rejects the findings of the disciplinary panel” against her which constituted “discriminatory treatment of her as a black Muslim woman and her beliefs concerning the plight of the Palestinian people.”

The law firm said that she is “considering all available legal remedies following her summary dismissal.”

A reporter for the anti-Palestinian newspaper The Jewish Chronicle broke the news on Tuesday:

The NUS presidency is supposed to be a democratically elected position with a two-year term. The Jewish Chronicle boasted on Tuesday that it was “the first time in the 100-year history of the national student organization that a president has been suspended or fired.”

Since being elected NUS president and attacked by pro-Israel lobbyists, Dallali has been subjected to some truly horrific racist and Islamophobic harassment. “These attacks have taken a toll on my mental & physical health,” she posted in September.

Carter-Ruck said in its statement that, “The news of Ms Dallali’s dismissal had already been briefed to and published on at least two national news websites before Ms Dallali had even been informed of the decision.”

“The position was further aggravated by the publication of follow-up articles, citing an unnamed NUS source and falsely denying that this briefing or leak had occurred,” Dallali’s lawyers said.

“Independent” investigator Rebecca Tuck is not issuing her report until the end of the year and was not even due to complete her interviews until Friday, according to to the NUS.

Tuck’s “independence” has been called into question by Palestinian researcher Ibrahim Abul-Essad, who concluded in an article this summer that she was unfit to lead such an investigation.

Tuck set her Twitter page to private soon after it was announced that she would lead the investigation. But screenshots obtained by The Electronic Intifada show her tweeting how “impressed” she was with the Labour Party for allowing the Jewish Labour Movement to run “understanding anti-Semitism” training sessions.

Screenshot of several tweets

The JLM is another Israel lobby group with close ties to the Israeli embassy. For six years now, it has been running “anti-Semitism trainings” which delegitimize Palestinians and their supporters.

Sadly, Dallali has so far made the same mistake former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has been making for years now – fruitlessly trying to appease the witch hunters rather than fighting back against the smears.

In an interview with The Guardian in April, Dallali welcomed the very same investigation that would ultimately result in her dismissal.

“The investigation is the right thing to do,” she said. “I know quite a few Jewish students feel alienated. This is the first step to start bridging the gap and reaching out to Jewish students and ensuring that Jewish students feel like they have a place in NUS, so I do welcome it.”

At the time, the Israel lobby on British campuses was focusing its ire on Lowkey, a British Iraqi rapper and activist.

Contacted for comment, neither Dallali nor her lawyers responded when asked if she regretted welcoming the investigation.

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Asa Winstanley

Asa Winstanley's picture

Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London.

At The Electronic Intifada he is associate editor and co-host of our podcast.