We will not stand by as Jewish students are harassed on our campuses

This morning I chaired a meeting with Vice Chancellors alongside the Prime Minister


Credit: Ron Fassbender/Alamy Live News

May 09, 2024 17:22

Since Hamas’ utterly brutal terror attack on October 7 in Israel, we have seen a shocking spike in hatred towards British Jews, including in education settings.

As Education Secretary, I have been engaging since October with schools, colleges, universities and the wider Jewish community to understand what is going on and what the government can do to help.

Antisemitism will not be tolerated in British society. The right to freedom of speech does not protect or justify harassment and discrimination of Jewish individuals – or anyone else.

Peaceful protest is an essential right in a functioning democracy but, as we’ve seen with recent events in the United States, protest can sometimes spill over into antisemitism in the context of events in the Middle East. Sadly there are some who would seek to cause division and use these events as a pretext for antisemitic abuse.

Unfortunately, however, a vocal and organised minority on our campuses are disrupting the lives and studies of their fellow students and, in some cases, propagating outright harassment and antisemitic abuse.

We’re concerned about some of the scenes we’ve seen on some campuses, with students setting up encampments, barricading themselves in buildings, and disrupting university life.

The Union of Jewish Students (UJS) have criticised the “toxic environment” faced by Jewish students across the country. According to the Communities Security Trust, there was an increase of 203 per cent in university-related antisemitic incidents between 2022 and 2023.

Antisemitic abuse of any kind has to stop.

Just like when an Israeli flag was ripped from the hands of a Jewish student during a protest at Cambridge University. Or, in February, when a Jewish Chaplain at the University of Leeds was forced to take his family into hiding after receiving death threats.

This is unacceptable.

Our universities should be places of debate, free speech and learning, not places of harassment, intimidation or racial abuse.

That is why this morning, I chaired a meeting with Vice Chancellors from many of our leading universities for a constructive conversation, alongside the Prime Minister, Communities Secretary and Security Minister, as well as the UJS and the Communities Security Trust who have done brilliant work in this area.

It is our job to show leadership and de-escalate the tensions we are seeing on our campuses.

Above all, we do not want to see the horrific scenes we’ve sadly witnessed in the USA repeated here in Britain.

So I was grateful to hear the unanimous condemnation of antisemitism and the commitment to eradicating it from their campuses, and about the robust action being taken by some universities in response to antisemitic incidents.

We have made it very clear to Vice Chancellors both today and in a letter I wrote to them last weekend that it is their responsibility to ensure the safety and welfare of our students.

In the Autumn Statement, we announced £7 million to help tackle antisemitism across education. I was pleased to announce that this will include £500,000 to help the brilliant University Jewish Chaplaincy with their vital work.

We want Jewish students and staff to know that we will always protect them.

They deserve the world-class education that they were promised when they applied to go to university. They should not have to put up with the intolerance that they are far too frequently facing.

This roundtable was a promising step forward, and I welcome the strong words from university Vice Chancellors today.

As I said to them this morning, we are acting to protect Jewish students. This is a responsibility which we share with universities and we take it incredibly seriously.

Gillian Keegan MP is Secretary of State for Education

May 09, 2024 17:22

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive