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Exclusive: Anti-semitic abuse involving YUSU officer exposed after 12 month ‘cover up’

The Union of Jewish students say they are ‘appalled’ by the alleged anti-semitic comments

The Tab can exclusively reveal the existence of alleged anti-semitic comments made by a former elected YUSU official in June 2017, amid claims by some students that YUSU attempted to cover up the incident.

The Tab understands the anti-semitic incident involved comments made about a Jewish university staff member.

While we cannot currently reveal the details of the alleged incident or the identity of the individual alleged to be at the centre of it, two Jewish societies have confirmed they have been made aware of the situation.

Student journalists, who attempted to publish this story eight months ago, have accused YUSU of attempting to "cover up" the incident.

The Tab has uncovered email correspondence between YUSU and student journalists, describing the alleged incident as "rumour" and "hearsay", as well as unofficial correspondence between a YUSU staff member and student journalists warning them to be careful using their official YUSU email.

When asked about the alleged incident, YUSU told The Tab: "The Union is unable to comment on HR matters relating to individual members of staff."

YUSU stopped York Vision from printing the story eight months ago, calling the article 'hearsay' and 'rumour'

Campus newspaper York Vision originally attempted to publish full details of the incident in October 2017, including naming the individual involved.

York University Students' Union, YUSU, who publish York Vision and have to see every news story before it is printed, called the article "hearsay" when it was brought to them by student journalists.

The email reads in full: "Thanks for your response but this still does not change the fact that you have insufficient evidence to run with the article. This really reads to me like it is hearsay and as discussed previously our concern is as much about you as the journalist, as it is about YUSU as the potential publisher."

YUSU CEO Ben Vulliamy went further and described the incident as a "rumour we won't be engaging in". This was despite two Jewish organisations telling The Tab they had been made aware of the alleged incident.

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One student, another ex-YUSU officer, told The Tab this past year's sabbatical team were apparently only told about the alleged incident after York Vision attempted to publish the story, with the sabbs apparently being "annoyed at being kept out of the loop".

As the student journalists began making enquiries about the incident, a full-time YUSU staff member took the extraordinary step to send them a personal Facebook message. He warned them to "be careful what you email about this story, YUSU own the [York Vision's] email account".

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Jewish student societies have condemned the alleged incident, calling it 'appalling' and 'distressing'

Josh Holt, President of the Union of Jewish Students, told The Tab he was, "appalled at the antisemitic comments that were allegedly made by an elected YUSU officer in June 2017 and they have absolutely no place in university life," before adding, "UJS were made aware in November 2017 by YUSU of this incident where an investigation took place and the individual left following this."

York Jewish Society (Jsoc) also told The Tab: “We first became aware of alleged anti-Semitic comments being made in February of this year. We were distressed to hear of this incident and the inadequate response by our Student Union."

When asked about the alleged incident, a YUSU spokesperson told The Tab: “YUSU met with members of JSoc recently to talk to them about the Union’s protocols for complaint handling in relation to staffing or student matters.

“The Union works hard to promote a respectful and inclusive environment. We take our duty of care to students and staff seriously and are committed to conducting our business with integrity and honesty. We welcome students from diverse backgrounds, faiths and nationalities. The Union is clear that there is no place for abuse or discrimination on our campus. Part of this is ensuring that incidents relating to any type of harassment or misconduct are handled seriously.

However, York JSoc were only informed about the incident in October 2017, four months after the incident is alleged to have taken place.

York JSoc told said: "As the organisation [YUSU] that we trust to represent and look after Jewish students, to learn of this lack of action from them is frustrating and disappointing.

"Our trust in the representative ability of the union is severely damaged. We have had a rather disappointing and unsatisfactory meeting with YUSU.

"Following this, we demand to know what action will be taken to both increase the transparency of our union and ensure that such incidents will not take place again in future."

YUSU insist they have clear accountability systems and a transparent framework for dealing with complaints

YUSU continued in their statement:“Union procedures include clear accountability systems for students to hold officers to account. Similarly, a clear and transparent framework for members of staff to raise any concerns, problems or complaints during the course of their employment is set out in the Union’s grievance policy. Any allegations of misconduct would be taken seriously and investigated robustly. All investigations would comply with ACAS good practice and legal requirements relating to privacy and data protection."

The Tab has been told a name, believed to be the former elected YUSU official at the centre of this alleged anti-semitic incident. When asked for comment on whether this individual was involved, YUSU said: "The Union is unable to comment on HR matters relating to individual members of staff.

"In October 2017 members of YUSU management met with Vision journalists at their request and explained the legal restrictions regarding disclosure of HR matters."

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This comment from YUSU comes eight months after York Vision originally attempted to publish the story. Speaking to The Tab on the condition of anonymity, a student journalist working on the story for York Vision at that time said when they started asking questions about the incident they were brought into a meeting with YUSU management, and alleges that the response to all of their questions about the incident were met with a "no comment".

Student journalists claim YUSU attempted to 'cover up' the story

The student journalist has described the whole issue as a "cover up", which was intended as an "attempt to save YUSU's reputation at the expense of transparency and democracy".

In full, the anonymous York Vision writer told The Tab: "Once we told YUSU about the story and started asking questions we got called into a meeting with YUSU management.

"When we sat down it was clear the meeting wasn’t about clarifying the story – we were given detailed reasons why YUSU wouldn’t let us publish the article, given a ‘no comment’ response on all our questions, and told in no uncertain terms that we couldn’t print or talk about this piece.

"This cover up was clearly an attempt to save YUSU’s representation at the expense of transparency and democracy”. A close source also tells The Tab that this year's YUSU sabbatical team, which took over at the beginning of this academic year, are said to have been left in the dark about the situation until campus newspaper York Vision attempted to print the story.

Huw James, the News Editor of York Vision at that time, told The Tab: “From day one of this investigation it was apparent that the SU cared more about its staff than the larger university community.

"To this day we still do not know if [the individual] received any form of discipline for perpetuating the very culture of racism that [they] publicly condemned.

"This incident was worsened by the culture of complacency in our Students' Union, the opaque and unaccountable nature of our staff.

"Whilst SU Officers have been nothing but supportive, YUSU staff members, who have for too long controlled our Students' Union from behind the scenes, were clearly more concerned with finding our sources than tackling the racism that our sources blew the whistle on.”

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After this incident in June 2017, further anti-semitic events have taken place on campus this academic year

Reports of anti-semitism on university campuses have been growing nationally and the University of York has been no exception. Earlier this year, the University of York Hockey club’s graffiti social saw many students emblazoned with anti-semitic iconography and statements as well as others disparaging ethnic minorities.

York also made national headlines after it was the first university in the country to make a public apology and pay compensation to a Jewish graduate who suffered anti-semitic abuse.

The individual at the centre of this incident has been reached for comment.

If you have any information concerning this story that you think we should know about, please contact us confidentially by emailing [email protected]

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