University students quit after ‘toxic’ antisemitism in Edinburgh

‘Toxic’ atmosphere over middle-east leads students to curtail their degrees


Diplomat Ishmael Khaldi, centre in blue shirt, at his disrupted Edinburgh University address last February

Diplomat Ishmael Khaldi, centre in blue shirt, at his disrupted Edinburgh University address last February

Anti-Israel incidents at Scottish universities have contributed to Jewish students quitting their courses in despair, it was claimed this week.

Attacks have created a “toxic atmosphere” in which Jewish students no longer feel comfortable, a delegation of community representatives told senior Edinburgh University officials.

Among those who felt the need to leave was a former Edinburgh Jewish Society chair who dropped out of his course to study abroad, partly because of the fall-out from an incident in which Ishmael Khaldi, the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s most senior Muslim diplomat, was mobbed as he spoke at the university in February last year.

That incident also allegedly affected a Jewish postgraduate student so severely that she was forced to seek an extension for her dissertation before cancelling an option to continue studying in Scotland. She also left for a different course elsewhere in Europe.

In the most recent incident at Edinburgh, in October, an address by Israeli ambassador Daniel Taub was disrupted by chanting students waving Palestinian flags.

The JC understands that the stress of responding to anti-Israel attacks and campaigns has divided the university’s JSoc, with some members so apprehensive about the issue that a separate group has now been formed solely to handle matters relating to Israel.

One source said JSoc had been “decimated by these events” with Jewish students left “arguing with each other” and “scared” to defend Israel on campus.

The claims emerged after representatives of the Jewish community met university officers last week to discuss their concerns.

Members of Scottish Jewish Student Chaplaincy and the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities told the university bosses that Jewish students had felt it necessary to “hide their Jewish identity due to the hostile atmosphere at Edinburgh” and were now seeking “secure and safe” space on campus.

SCoJeC also reported a rise in the number of enquiries from parents and potential students in the US and Europe about the safety of Jewish students at Scottish universities. In the past three years, the number of queries about campus antisemitism had risen five-fold, SCoJeC said.

The delegation claimed the university was “failing in its duty of care” to Jewish students and had given “free licence” for disruptive groups to “repeat their abusive behaviour”.

While other academic institutions had taken on board the community’s concerns, Edinburgh had shown no urgency to tackle the problem, the group claimed.

“The university needs to be aware of the international damage that is being done not only to Edinburgh’s reputation, but also to that of other Scottish universities and to the wider nation,” a community spokesman said.

An Edinburgh University spokesman said: “We welcomed the opportunity to meet those who had raised concerns about this matter. We work closely and collaboratively with students to foster good relations and we want all of our students to feel safe and supported.”

Following the Khaldi incident last year, the university attempted to restore calm by inviting JSoc members to a discussion with members of the Students for Justice in Palestine group, which operates on the campus.

Students at University College London’s students’ union are due to vote from today in a referendum on whether to “condemn the inhumane situation in Gaza”. The proposed motion calls on the university to ban products from Israeli settlements and to avoid “complicity in any way with the occupation of Palestine”.

Birmingham University’s Guild of Students confirmed it is investigating a complaint received after an anti-Israel demonstration by students last week. It is claimed a number of Guild officers took part in the rally, possibly breaching the organisation’s own rules on officer impartiality.

Last updated: 4:15pm, December 6 2012