David Lammy: onus is on universities
Universities Minister David Lammy has been quizzed by Jewish students concerned about hate speakers on campus and academic boycotts of Israel.
He was speaking to delegates at the Union of Jewish Students’ Parliamentary lobby day.
Around 100 students from 17 campuses and two schools took part in the event last week.
Many arranged individual meetings with their MPs. One group even attempted to corner opposition leader David Cameron as he walked through Parliament’s Central Lobby.
Mr Lammy said there was a need for a dedicated group of university leaders to tackle “clusters” of extremism and antisemitism.
“Over the course of this year it has been clear to me that there has been tremendous pressure on students,” he said.
“It’s important to have protocols and a set of agreed understandings of when the line is crossed.”
He said it would not be straight-forward to decide when the line was crossed and comments moved from being “hurtful” to “hateful”.
But there was some confusion when he later spoke about how the government had already sought to issue “crystal clear” guidelines.
Students also expressed disquiet when Mr Lammy apparently dodged answering a question on why the government had not proscribed the extremist group Hizb ut-Tahrir.
He would only say: “I think universities should be in no doubt as to their responsibilities about proscribed organisations in particular. Universities are working very closely with the police on these issues.”
Mr Lammy added that he could not “run the universities or tell them what to do”. He expressed the “sincere hope” that moves for an academic boycott of Israel would not “come back on the agenda”.
NUS president Wes Streeting said he hoped his organisation would launch its own guidelines on tackling extremism at its annual conference in April.
He said Jewish students faced “a real challenge in tackling hate speakers.
“Expose what they have said and ask UJS and NUS to help you. There’s no excuse for inciting hatred at all.”
Mr Streeting advised students to use aspects of the Education Act to encourage their universities to have extremists banned.
More than 40 MPs signed an Early Day Motion tabled by John Mann MP, chair of the Parliamentary Committee against Antisemitism. It noted the rise in antisemitism in Britain and applauded decisions taken to cancel events at which students could be radicalised.