Oxford University JSoc have released a statement criticising an OUSU council proposal to condemn NUS vice-president Richard Brooks, who has allegedly been filmed plotting to oust NUS president Malia Bouattia. The JSoc statement says that the motion “takes a conspiratorial video series and deduces further conspiracies from it.”
This follows the release of an Al Jazeera documentary, “The Lobby”, which alleges that the Israeli embassy in London has made efforts to create pro-Israeli groups within UK student politics. It depicts Brooks offering to help an undercover reporter to oust Bouattia, who has previously been criticised in a Commons report for anti-semitic rhetoric.
The motion will be brought to OUSU council this evening at Somerville by Seán Ó Néill, a PPE student at Hertford College. It is heavily critical of Brooks, saying that his actions bring “the Union [NUS] as a whole into disrepute”. It claims that Brooks acted unprofessionally given his position as NUS vice-president, and says that it was inappropriate for him to act against the union’s democratically decided position, which is to “endorse boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel”.
Last week, Brook published a letter he claims to have sent to the NUS UK Board asking for a review of his actions. He tweeted: “Instead of continuing to allow misinformation to spread, [I] have referred myself for investigation which I expect to clear me of all wrongdoing.”
Oxford JSoc is unequivocal in its response to the motion, saying that it is factually incorrect and “disturbing” in its attitude to Jewish students. JSoc claims that that Brooks did not do what the motion alleges, but that he was legitimately taking part in the democratic process.
Their statement says: “the central claim of the motion is unsubstantiated and plucked from thin air… Coordinating and advising students who find a leader problematic is not undemocratic; rather it is a liberty that democracy affords us… The factual errors within this motion and its attempts to undermine Jewish concerns and remove one of the few allies that Jewish students have left in our national movement are disturbing.”
“The central claim of the motion is unsubstantiated and plucked from thin air…”
Oxford JSoc also criticised the Al Jazeera documentary at the time of its release, saying that it made light of evidence that indicated anti-semitic incidents at Oxford University Labour Club. The documentary notes that there were allegations of anti-semitism at OULC, but it does not include mention of a report by Labour Peer Baroness Jan Royall, which said that it was “clear” there had been some anti-semitic incidents at the club.
Baruch Gilinsky, President of JSoc, stated: “Claims that there is no evidence to support allegations of anti-semitism in Oxford University Labour Club are another disgusting attempt to silence the victims of racist abuse… Those who dismiss the experiences of Jewish students in the face of such overwhelming evidence only empower anti-semites and racists in student communities. Al Jazeera’s reporting on Oxford is a disgrace that must be condemned.”
This controversy comes in the wake of a number of others for the NUS. In December the Runnymede Trust carried out a review of the union and concluded that “Evidence reveals considerable shortcomings, failings and naivety in the understanding of race and racism.” This followed the October relese of a report from the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, which found that Bouattia “does not appear to take sufficiently seriously the issue of antisemitism on campus”.
This perception precipitated a referendum on disaffiliation from the NUS in Oxford during April 2016, which the “Yes to NUS” campaign won by 3,409 votes to 2,430.