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O’Neill returns to Oxford

Twitter controversy blocks election hopes for Oxford's Sean O’Neill

Sean O’Neill returned to Oxford from NUS conference on Wednesday this week, missing the last day of the event amid controversy about historic comments on Twitter.

O’Neill was running for the Block of 15, a group of individually-elected members of the NUS’ National Executive Committee.

But on Wednesday, Oxford University Students Union (OUSU) released a statement on their website, stating that O’Neill would “no longer be participating in NUS National Conference.”

The statement read: “An investigation is currently being held by the NUS which will have the full cooperation of OUSU.

“As an institution, we remain committed to upholding the rights and wellbeing of all our students and will continually offer support to our members.”

It remains unclear whether the suspension of O’Neill’s participation was his decision or that of OUSU or the NUS. It follows a series of historic tweets containing anti-Semitic insults used by O’Neill were published in an article on Monday by the Independent.

O’Neill has apologised for the tweets, and said that they were intended as a “distateful joke”. Writing on Facebook, O’Neill said the comments “have been quoted out of their wider context.”

He said: “I was absolutely horrified to see this tweet. It flies in the face of my commitment to anti-fascism and anti-sexism.”

“It was five years ago, and I have no recollection of writing it. I can only assume it was an incredibly distasteful inside joke, or a reference to something someone else said the night before.

“I wholly, unreservedly apologise for having ever associated myself with these truly vile hashtags. I am ashamed, and reach out to all groups affected to say sorry.”

The emergence of the tweets provoked criticism from the Oxford University Jewish Society (JSoc), who described them as “shocking and grotesque” in a statement, and called for O’Neill’s resignation.

The JSoc statement said: “It is unacceptable that after a year of revelations of anti-semitism in student politics, some students still think this sort of behaviour is consistent with acting as an elected student representative.”

The controversy follows a string of anti-Semitism accusations which have surrounded the outgoing NUS president, Malia Bouattia.

She was previously accused of “outright racism” by the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, after having described Birmingham University as a “zionist outpost” before the beginning of her presidency.

O’Neill had been running for election to the Block of 15, along with Aliya Yule, another Oxford NUS Delegate. Both supported Bouattia’s re-election as president.

Yule and O’Neill stood on a platform promising “to keep pushing NUS in the direction of free education, welfare, and liberation.”

They had both been elected as NUS delegates in the OUSU elections in Feb-
ruary, on the slate Count on Us.

Sean O’Neill did not respond to Cherwell’s request for comment on his suspension.

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