An NUS Vice President is facing calls to resign, after being caught on tape conspiring to oppose President Malia Bouattia.
An investigation by Al Jazeera has accused Vice President Union Development Richard Brooks of colluding with Israeli embassy officials to oust the National President Malia Bouattia.
Brooks was filmed by an undercover reporter from Al Jazeera discussing his role in the opposition to Bouattia. The sting was part of an investigative documentary called ‘The Lobby’ into the influence of Israeli embassy employees and other lobbyists on British politics.
Brooks admitted that he was a key figure behind the organisation of those opposing Malia, and offered to put the reporter in contact with people opposed to Malia in any “geographical area”.
Brooks added: “I could never have an elected leader who is racist. NUS’ internal structures don’t usually allow for a Vice President to go and publicly criticise your president on national radio but you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.”
Brooks, a former president of Hull University Union, also says that he and fellow NUS Vice President Robbie Young went on trips to Israel funded by the Union of Jewish Students (UJS).
A Middle East Eye article claims that these trips had not been declared to the NUS National Executive Council (NEC), although London Student has been unable to verify this.
The footage suggests that Brooks violated the NUS boycott of Israel, which came into place in 2014 when the national executive committee voted to affiliate to the Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions movement, a campaign modelled on similar tactics to those used to oppose Apartheid in South Africa.
Michael Rubin, the Parliamentary Officer of the Labour Friends of Israel group and former chair of Labour Students is also implicated in the documentary.
Filmed outside a London pub, Rubin allegedly tells the reporter that he and the Israeli embassy employee Shai Masot “work really closely together… but a lot of it is behind the scenes”.
Both Brooks and Rubin were strong supporters of Megan Dunn during the 2016 election, which she lost to Bouattia. The video also shows Brooks admitting to holding “little secret purpose meetings where [they] would plan how to get moderate people with good politics and any number of things elected to certain places”.
In September leaders of Jewish groups, as well as Brooks, signed an open letter accusing the NUS and Malia Bouattia of anti-Semitism. Additionally, a Home Office Select Committee report published in October had said that some of Bouattia’s comments “smacked of outright racism”. These claims were strongly denied.
Bouattia, who holds strongly pro-Palestinian views, is the first woman of colour and first Muslim woman to become NUS President.
NUS Women’s Officer, Hareem Ghani, tweeted:
.@MaliaBouattia Malia received endless amounts of rape threats, deaths treats etc. and now we find out that elected officers may have been behind this. Bye.
— daal-ing (@hareemghani) January 10, 2017
A member of the NUS National Executive said: “This collusion has put Malia in danger, destabilised our movement, rubbished our democratic values and put students and officers alike in serious danger. The impact of these actions and the concerted attacks on Malia are not only hugely personally damaging but clearly push Muslim Women of Colour out of our movement.”
Brooks has responded to the allegations in a series of tweets, in which he denies that he was aware of any links to the Israeli embassy and maintains that he was engaging in legitimate political organising. He also stated that the trips to Israel were permitted and well-known.
— Richard Brooks (@Just_RichardB) January 11, 2017
Instead of continuing to allow misinformation to spread, have referred myself for investigation which I expect to clear me of all wrongdoing pic.twitter.com/ZgYT2D7yDM
— Richard Brooks (@Just_RichardB) January 12, 2017
An NUS spokesperson confirmed to London Student that the “NUS takes these allegations seriously” adding: “We are looking into them and, when we have all the information available, the behaviour of NUS officers will be reviewed and appropriate action taken”.
Robbie Young released a statement, in which he addresses trips made to Israel. “For clarity, I first visited Israel and Palestine 2 years ago with UJS and my only trip since then was this month to the World Union of Jewish Students Congress to accept an award for my work with Jewish students. A trip I was open about, that doesn’t break any of NUS’ policies, and one of which I’ll be reporting to the next NEC on my attendance.”
Josh Nagli, UJS Campaigns Director, also responded to the allegations made about UJS in the documentary. “We have a productive working relationship with the Israeli Embassy in the U.K. and warm contacts with a range of Israeli civil society organisations. We are of course neither funded nor in any way directed by the Israeli Embassy.
Our work taking student leaders to Israel and Palestine is not secret, it’s even mentioned on UJS’ Wikipedia page, and the fact that some participants choose not to broadcast their experiences reflects the toxic nature of student politics that leads to fear for those trying to engage in informed and intelligent discussion of Israel and Palestine, because of the aggression and occasional violence such as the scenes seen in London last year.”
Brooks has been approached by London Student for a statement, however no response has been received.