Middlesex University is failing to meet its duty of care to Jewish students in a situation that has become “intolerable”, the Board of Deputies has claimed.
Board vice-president Jonathan Arkush said the university’s repeated hosting of anti-Israel events had allowed “hate speech” to flourish on its Hendon campus in north west London.
“The situation at Middlesex is a serious one. Vice-Chancellor Michael Driscoll seems sadly unaware of his responsibility for the wellbeing of Jewish students on his campus. He seems to have his head firmly stuck in the sand,” said Mr Arkush.
“What we have at Middlesex is a classic example of how hate speech can act as a destructive force on campus, causing some elements of the student body to behave in a hostile way. It’s intolerable.”
His comments follow a Free Palestine Society debate on boycott, divestment and sanctions which formed part of a “Free Gaza” week of events at the campus earlier this month.
The Board claimed the meeting had been “one of the worst examples of hate speech in recent years”. The meeting featured three speakers — Asghar Bukhari of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee UK, broadcaster and journalist Lauren Booth, and John Rees of the Stop the War Coalition.
The Union of Jewish Students had urged the university to cancel the event but it went ahead after Middlesex banned non-students from attending.
The Board last week requested an urgent meeting with the university to discuss the matter, but Professor Driscoll declined.
In a letter to the Board on Monday he wrote: “On reflection I feel these are issues that have been both raised and discussed previously with officers of the university.
“Our position on student-led events... is that the university supports the civil rights of all its students and staff, including the right to freedom of speech within the law, even if the opinions expressed may be unpopular.”
The Board said it would ask UJS and the Community Security Trust to assist in finding “a long-term resolution”.
In a statement the university said it took its duty of care to students “very seriously, and this includes allowing student societies to debate issues that matter to them”.
A year ago police investigated claims that a controversial former US Marine had incited racial hatred at an Israel Apartheid Week event at the campus.
Ken O’Keefe had screamed at audience members that Israel “must be destroyed” and claimed Mossad was “directly involved” in the September 11 terror attacks on the United States. Police later dropped the investigation after concluding no criminal offence had been committed.
Mr Arkush said that when he had previously outlined concerns about hate speech and activity which threatened Jewish students at universities across the country, other vice-chancellors “had got the point. I am confident that Vice-Chancellor Driscoll might get that point, but it may not happen overnight”.
UJS said it was working closely with Jewish students to support a referendum being held next week on the university’s “no platform” policy. The new policy would cover hate speakers and all forms of racism, including antisemitism.