Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks has called on university vice-chancellors to take greater action to defend Jewish students who are made to feel like “pariahs” on campuses around the UK.
He told the JC this week that vice-chancellors “must defend freedom of speech on all sides and all arguments. It must never be students of this or that faith who feel vulnerable or at risk or like pariahs on a university campus.
“We hope that university vice-chancellors will recognise the feeling of vulnerability that Jewish students have expressed at many university campuses. Part of the essence of a university is that everyone enters in an atmosphere in which they are accepted.”
Sir Jonathan’s comments followed a meeting at the House of Commons on Monday when he addressed a meeting on the government’s progress report on the response, one year on, to the Parliamentary All-Party Inquiry into Antisemitism’s 35 recommendations.
The government report highlighted antisemitism on university campuses as one of three areas “which remain of concern and require further work”. The other two were hate crimes and prosecutions, and the internet.
The Chief Rabbi praised the work of the all-party committee to the gathering of MPs, peers, communal leaders and members of other ethnic minorities. But then he went on to tell them he was shocked that there were campuses “where some Jewish students were too afraid to show any outward signs of their Jewish identity.
“I am shocked that this is happening so soon after the Holocaust. I am also shocked that it is happening despite some so-called strong action by university vice-chancellors.”
The government’s 40-page report listed 14 achievements including the establishment of an inter-departmental working group covering nine Whitehall departments that meets senior communal bodies; the Schools’ Linking Network; spreading their work to Europe; and security in schools and communal buildings.
John Mann, Labour MP for Bassetlaw and chair of the all-party group, applauded the government’s progress. He described the committee’s task as a “work in progress” and said there was still “a lot more to be done”.
He predicted there would be “further major announcements” in other key areas during the summer.
Liverpool Labour MP Louise Ellman said: “For the first time, antisemitism has been taken seriously and the government has looked at political measures to combat it.”
Community Security Trust chief executive Richard Benson said he was satisfied with the government’s progress and went on: “We welcome this report which again demonstrated the Government’s commitment to addressing and tackling antisemitism today.
“We appreciate that the internet is an especially complex environment to police, but the campus remains a growing problem that requires urgent and proper focus from all of the relevant authorities. Regarding prosecutions, we value the highly detailed report recently submitted by the Crown Prosecution Service and hope to improve witness protection and confidence in the judicial process.”
Union of Jewish Students’ campaigns director Yair Zivan said: “I am encouraged by the ongoing high level engagement between UJS and the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills but now we have to work hard to ensure that is transformed into real action over the next 12 months.
“We will be looking for specific progress on dealing with campus-based antisemitic incidents, the presence of racist speakers on campus, timetable clashes and general provision for Jewish students.”