Baroness Deech, formerly the UK’s first ever Higher Education Adjudicator, has warned that the prevalence of anti-Semitism has made high ranking universities, including Southampton, ‘no-go zones’ for Jewish students.
A cross-bench peer in the House of Lords, the Baroness once held the highest office responsible for dealing with complaints from university students. She accused institutions of failing to combat anti-Semitic behaviour as they are ‘afraid of offending’ potential benefactors from the Gulf countries, many of whom have donated millions to UK universities in recent decades.
A spate of anti-Semitic incidents has recently been reported at high-performing universities, including a ‘violent’ demonstration against Israeli speaker Hen Mazzig at a University College London event.
In an interview with the Daily Telegraph, Baroness Deech said that some universities were now gaining a reputation for hostility towards Jewish students:
Amongst Jewish students, there is gradually a feeling that there are certain universities that you should avoid. Definitely SOAS, Manchester I think is now not so popular because of things that have happened there, Southampton, Exeter and so on.
Southampton cancelled an academic conference on the legitimacy of Israel earlier this year after critics accused it of legitimising discrimination against the Jewish religion, while students at the University of Exeter have been photographed wearing t-shirts printed with anti-Semitic slogans.
SOAS in London is currently being investigated by the Charities Commission after its Palestinian Society hosted a speaker who described the creation of Israel as ‘fascist’ and ‘racist’ and linked the ‘cult’ of Zionism with Nazism.
Once popular with Jewish students, the Students’ Union at the University of Manchester has recently adopted motions some perceive as anti-Semitic, including support for the Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) campaign against Israel.
Baroness Deech also expressed her disappointment at Oxford University’s lack of action after its proctors were handed a dossier of complaints regarding the harassment of Jewish students. The vice-chair of Oxford’s Labour Club publicly resigned earlier this year after it voted to endorse Israel Apartheid Week, accusing its members of having ‘some kind of problem’ with Jews.
A University of Southampton spokesperson told the Telegraph that the institution is a ‘supportive, friendly and inclusive community‘ which welcomes staff and students from many different backgrounds, including ‘people of all faiths and none’. They also highlighted that the university is home to the Parkes Institute, one of the world’s oldest centres studying Jewish/Non-Jewish relations.
A report published earlier this year by the Home Affairs Select Committee accused the NUS and its president Malia Bouattia of failing to act on the issue. Bouattia herself was accused of ‘outright racism’ and an ‘apparent unwillingness’ to listen to concerns raised by Jewish students.
In an interview with Wessex Scene earlier this year, Jonathan Sacerdoti, a prominent anti-Semitism awareness campaigner, said that anti-Semitism has been a problem at UK universities ‘for some time’. He criticised the disguising of anti-Semitism as a form of ‘political activism’, suggesting it gave the impression others can act against Jewish people with ‘impunity’.
Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of Universities UK, said that the university sector had been clear there was ‘no place’ for anti-Semitism or any other form of unlawful discrimination.