Cambridge college apologises over 'serious mistakes' in antisemitism investigation

Following an independent report, Christ's College now accepts that two Jewish students were abused


Christ’s College Cambridge has expressed “sincere regret” to two Jewish students over “serious mistakes” in its inquiry into a complaint about antisemitism.

The college originally rejected the students' claim that they had been the victims of antisemitic abuse, but has now admitted that “racist and antisemitic conduct occurred”.

Professor Jane Stapleton, Master of Christ’s, has “sincerely apologised on behalf of the college” to Shlomo Roiter-Jesner and the other, unidentified, student who made the complaint.

While returning from a Friday night meal on October 28 last year, the two students were physically and verbally assaulted by a gang of male students from Christ’s College. They were pushed and subjected to abusive comments, including “dirty Jews, you don't belong here” and “Jews get out of here”.

But Mr Roiter-Jesner and his friend denounced the subsequent investigation by Christ’s College into the incident as a “cover-up” and said that college officials had “refused to accept the fact this incident was antisemitic in nature”.

A public statement, released by the college on Thursday, described how an external report into its handling of the incident had uncovered “significant failings”.

The report found that while there was no intention to cover up the incident, the college had "failed to identify any person who was or might have been quilty of the reported antisemitism".

In addition, “correspondence to alumni and public announcements on behalf of the College from the Master inadvertently gave the seriously misleading impression that the reporting students’ account of antisemitic abuse had been rejected by the College.

“This caused considerable hurt and dismay to the reporting students and others in the Jewish community”, the report said.

The college was also criticised for not asking “the more general question of whether it was probable that the abuse had occurred” after it concluded that no individual wrongdoer could be identified.

In a further failing, “the complainants were not invited to the college to be interviewed, the college did not explain to them how the process worked and they were not told why it had not been possible to charge any student with the antisemitism alleged”.

Following the college's original investigation into the complaint, two Christ's students were disciplined for swearing and physical aggression, and the activities of two college sporting societies were restricted. However, no finding of antisemitic abuse was made.

In its statement today, the college admitted “there probably was substance” to the complaint made by the Jewish students, and “that antisemitic abuse had indeed occurred and that a group of Christ’s students, albeit unidentified, were responsible for that abuse”.

Professor Stapleton said: “The college accepts that racist and antisemitic conduct occurred and has apologised to the students who reported it. The incident also revealed significant deficiencies in college procedures and in response the college is overhauling its entire complaints, training, investigation, record-keeping and disciplinary machinery with the assistance of external legal experts. 

“We greatly regret the deficiencies in the way the complaints were originally handled and have taken further measures against the two student societies involved. The Jewish community can be reassured that if there were to be a similar incident in the future the college would address it robustly.

“A new concept of group responsibility will be recognised in college procedures to deal effectively with cases where wrongdoers fail to take responsibility.”

Mr Roiter-Jesner said: "We are satisfied that Christ's is now comfortable giving credence to our story, admitting that antisemitic conduct occurred and taking decisive steps to improve their disciplinary system.

“Particularly given the increase in reported antisemitism across the country, we hope people in Cambridge, especially students, will feel secure in speaking out against racist and antisemitic abuse in the future."

But he criticised Cambridge University Jewish Society (CUJS) for a lack of support.

In an article for the JC, Mr Roiter-Jesner said he and his fellow complainants had been "met with indifference from the JSoc".

He claimed that CUJS "proved itself, at least to us, incapable, in this case, of fulfilling what is, I feel, ultimately the first duty of any Jewish community organisation - to provide a safe space for Jews facing abuse, and a loud voice to go on the offensive when you are under fire. Both of those were missing". 

He added that the society's weekly newsletter had ran a piece doubting the serious of the attack, ironically describing the incident "as one of the most heinous episodes of Jew-hatred in English history" and suggesting that Cambridge's Jewish students were organising armed resistance.

In a statement responding to Mr Roiter-Jesner's criticisms, CUJS said: "It is clear that when the JSoc officers have been timely briefed, we have responded strongly and quickly to incidents facing the Jewish community in Cambridge.

"When asked to appear on the radio to talk about the incident at Christ’s College, JSoc external officer Daniel Ohrenstein strongly condemned the perpetrators and supported every Jewish student’s right to a safe space at university."

It added: "Since the occurrence at Christ’s College, JSoc has acted against three separate incidents, all of which have been publicised on the national scale. When an anti-Semitic article appeared on a university news website, we complained immediately and had the article removed with an apology published. When flyers advertising Holocaust denial appeared on university property, we liaised with the university management to ensure a proper investigation was undertaken. When a swastika was drawn on a map in the centre of town, similarly prompt action was taken.

"From these examples, and others, CUJS has proven that it has a robust and accessible policy in place to deal with incidents affecting Jewish students and we regret not being given the chance to act with regards to the incident at Christ’s College. We rely on Jewish students informing us when these events occur, and encourage them to to do so, so that we can continue to act strongly on their behalf."

Jewish organisations, including the Jewish Leadership Council, the Board of Deputies and the Community Security Trust, had originally written to the college to express their concern at the handling of the complaint. In its statement, the college confirmed that copies of the subsequent independent report had been sent to all three organisations.

Simon Johnson, chief executive of the JLC, said he was “grateful” to Professor Stapleton for “recognising the deficiencies of the college’s structures for dealing with complaints of racist abuse, commissioning an independent report and indicating her willingness to accept the recommendations.

“It is important that victims of racist abuse have confidence that their complaints will be robustly investigated and dealt with.”

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