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Shaima Dallali and Racism – Victim or Perpetrator? 

Staff writer and ‘CAMERA on Campus’ writing fellow Saul Levene examines the dismissal of the president of the National Union of Students.

Was former President of the National Union of Students (NUS), Shaima Dallali, targeted for being a black Muslim woman? Did lobby groups seize the opportunity on tenuous ground to dismiss her from the role because of her views regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Or was Shaima Dallali subject to an independent investigation because she expressed racist and antisemitic views?

If you follow any one of a host of Palestinian society Instagram accounts from across the country, one would inevitably be drawn to the former view. Dallali initially supported an independent investigation into antisemitism, claiming that it was “the right thing to do. I know quite a few Jewish students feel alienated”. Yet after she was suspended in August, she implicitly accused the NUS of “enabling oppression and Islamophobia”, and bad treatment of “women of colour and/or Muslim women.”

Dallali is attempting to shift the narrative, denying responsibility for her antisemitic remarks and claiming that the decision to remove her as president was due to bigotry, prejudice and racism. In reality the enquiry was addressing her own bigoted, prejudiced and racist actions. Back in April, a number of Palestinian societies released a statement announcing unequivocal support for her as a victim of a ‘smear campaign’ led by the Union of Jewish Students (UJS) and a “select few” former NUS presidents. The NUS has a host of issues with antisemitism, as a recent inquiry has shown.

How Dallali was able to be elected despite her remarks should strike everyone as indicative of a cultural blind spot. Complaints of antisemitism to the NUS have consistently been undermined with Jewish students ‘brushed aside’. Critics should think twice before implying that Dallali’s dismissal is another overreaction from a Zionist lobby rather than an appropriate response to the concerns of Jewish students through the UJS.

Let us imagine that another student ethnic or cultural group had a central body whose complaints of prejudice were echoed by the government. Let’s imagine that the British Council of Muslims were accusing the NUS of Islamophobia, or even that a President-elect of another racial group made remarks that Muslim students from across the country found offensive. Would critics dare to accuse the British Council of Muslims of not representing real Muslims? Would they, instead of seeing Islamophobia, prejudice and racism as a real problem, accuse the British Council of Muslims of racism towards the President-elect for pointing out a problem?

I imagine that this wouldn’t be the case. However, when it comes to claims of racism against Jews, it is perfectly acceptable to claim that the groups representing Jewish students (i.e. the UJS) are ‘Israeli pressure groups’, as Manchester Metropolitan Palestinian Society has done. This falls into the classic antisemitic trope that Jews and their unions are somehow furthering a foreign agenda, rather than looking out for the welfare of the domestic Jewish community.

This narrative is not only taken up by Palestinian Societies. Queen Mary’s Student Union has disaffiliated from the National Union of Students over Dallali’s removal. What this shows is that a University Student Union disagrees with efforts to tackle antisemitism and likely believes that such an inquiry is purely indicative of prejudice towards Shaima Dallali.

This shows that racism against Jews is not taken seriously. This is the case put forward by David Baddiel in book and TV Documentary ‘Jews Don’t Count’, for which he was attacked online. This is completely proving the point. When Jews speak out about the prejudice they experience, it’s exceptionally easy for people to immediately dismiss the claim out of hand.

This is why the way Palestinian societies around the country have responded to Shaima Dallali’s case worries me so much. Hardly any have actually acknowledged that the opinions she’s expressed, such as positively referencing a historic massacre of Jews on her Twitter feed or labelling a cleric critical of Hamas a ‘dirty Zionist’. This is extremely troubling for British Jewish students, a community she’s also meant to represent.

To Dallali’s credit, she later apologised for her Tweets. Yet her ongoing messages of resistance to the NUS’ decision and the response from Palestine Societies across the country has hardly taken this into account at all. From some extreme voices, the accusation is that this is a “state-orchestrated witch-hunt of political opponents.

If Dallali was a white woman, or a white man, who expressed these opinions, would it change anything? Her comments were antisemitic, or at least rather troubling if we are to give her the benefit of the doubt. The inquiry was fully justified. To paint this case as if this has anything to do with her gender, race or religion or an attempt to silence “those who stand up for Palestine”, without reference or condemnation of the antisemitism she has expressed, is wholly acting in bad-faith. This is an attempt to use the language of inclusion to hijack and deflect attention from Dallali’s actions. By doing so, it’s coming close to the oldest of antisemitic tropes – that Jews control the government and its institutions, that they use this power to undermine those who they dislike. The classic stab-in-the-back myth.

It also signals that racism against Jews just doesn’t matter, or is weaponised for ‘Jewish political goals’. Palestinian societies across the UK need to acknowledge that racism against Jews counts just as much as other ethnic, religious or cultural groups. Claiming victim status where it isn’t justified can only harm their political case and moral standing.

CAMERA on Campus‘ is a non-partisan organisation helping North American, British & Israeli students share accurate education & correct misinformation about Israel on university campuses.

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