It seems organisations can incur a high cost for taking a lax approach to tackling anti-Semitism in their midst. One might have thought that the realisation of this would have caused organisations to sharpen up their act but it seems there is still some way to go.

Probably the example of organisational anti-Semitism which has received the highest level of media attention in Britain is the controversy surrounding the Labour Party. Under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, from 2015-2020, it was frequently accused of harbouring anti-Semitism.

The full cost of allowing anti-Semitism to take root in Labour may never be known, because the fallout from being found to be institutionally anti-Semitic by organisations such as the Equality and Human Rights Commission, a body created by parliament but independent of government, is hard to calculate. However, the scandal over anti-Semitism has undoutedly left the already cash-strapped party facing substantial legal bills.

Another organisation facing the consequences of failing to adequately tackle anti-Semitism in its midst is the UK’s National Union of Students (NUS). The problem has not simply been one of students who were visibly identifiable as Jewish (for example, by wearing a Star of David pendant) or facing anti-Semitic attacks. It has also involved an exclusionary atmosphere, often expressed as anti-Zionism, leading to hostility being displayed to Jewish students whether they supported Israel or not.

The NUS cannot say it was not warned. Several former presidents, not all of them Jewish, wrote to the organisation warning that its obsession with the Israel/Palestine conflict was getting out of hand. It was creating an atmosphere in which anti-Semitism was growing.

Things came to a head in 2022. The government suspended all engagement with the NUS  pending the results of an investigation into allegations of anti-Semitism.

As a result of the claims of anti-Semitism the NUS decided to dismiss its president, Shaima Dallali, from her post. She has countered that she rejects the allegations made against her and will fight the dismissal decision. The student’s union at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) has also voted to disaffiliate from the political activities of the NUS in protest at her dismissal. Its stance was ratified by QMUL’s student trustees. in December.

The NUS does finally seem to be be taking anti-Semitism more seriously. It commissioned a report into the whole anti-Semitism controversy to be undertaken by a senior barrister, Rebecca Tuck KC. It was published on 12 January to ensure its impact was not diminished by the Christmas and new year celebrations.

This still raises the question of why things were allowed to get so out of hand. Substantial time, energy and resources could have been directed to the other NUS campaigns if the problem had been tackled immediately.

Sadly the same challenges seem apparent in America. Federal probes are underway into anti-Semitism at Vermont University and other college campuses. A federal investigation is only launched when the most serious matters have to be looked into; as well as the sort of incidents featuring on British university campuses. These include allegations of teaching staff giving students lower grades if they express support for Israel in their assignments.

Conflict is of course inevitable when contradictory, strongly-held beliefs come into play. But it is hard to avoid a sense of bafflement when reading accounts of the incidents referred to above. Why didn’t a simple sense of organisational self-interest cause someone to put the breaks on (it is worth noting here that federal probes of the sort underway in America can lead to educational institutions being closed)? Was it the case that senior people in the organisations referred to above harboured sympathies with the worst of the anti-Semites? Was it complacency or a sort of chaos which did not allow people of good will to assert some sort of control?

It is also worth noting that non-Jews, as well as Jews, have paid a price for the anti-Semitic instances in many institutions. The Tuck report will no doubt repay a careful read. It also seems  clear that an investigation into the state of British and American academia is overdue (Gender critical feminists seem to be subject to the same sort of treatment as Jews, though for different reasons).

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of the Radicalism of fools project.

Photo: By slgckgc.  Available on Flickr.