Universities have become “hotbeds of anti-Jewish incidents”, the House of Lords has been told.
Baroness Deech said of three inquiries into antisemitism this year, only the report of the Home Affairs Select Committee had set out a blueprint for understanding the problem and provided a platform from which to tackle hatred.
Speaking during a debate in the Lords yesterday on what the government is doing to combat antisemitism, particularly at universities, the peer said the report was “excellent”.
Baroness Deech, who called the debate, said MPs had “examined the mutating forms of antisemitism over the centuries and its various ideologies, of which the most novel is the toxic mix of disillusioned left-wingers looking for a cause, western guilt over colonialism, Islamist extremism, fascism and age-old religious antisemitism”.
But she highlighted weaknesses in Baroness Royall’s inquiry into allegations of antisemitism among Labour-supporting students at Oxford University, and Baroness Chakrabarti’s report into the Labour Party.
Baroness Deech, a former principal of St Anne’s College at Oxford University, said: “The weakness of such inquiries is that their remits include racism and Islamophobia, thereby sidelining antisemitism and its special characteristics, and failing to deal with the tricky issue of when hatred of Israel becomes antisemitism.”
Peers from across the political spectrum contributed during the one-hour session.
Lord Beith, veteran Liberal Democrat, shared Baroness Deech’s view. He said: “Universities have duties to their students that they must not neglect.
“University authorities must make student unions aware of their legal responsibilities under criminal law and charity law, and must be ready to enforce conditions they can act on when they own property or land that unions occupy.”
He attacked Malia Bouattia, the National Union of Students president, and said she needed to be removed from her position for calling Birmingham University “a Zionist outpost”.
Lord Alton of Liverpool raised concerns over online antisemitism aimed at Jewish politicians.
He said “far more needed to be done” by companies such as Twitter to take stronger action against hate crimes.
Lord Sacks recalled how, despite being under constant security protection throughout his time as Chief Rabbi, the only time he ever felt unsafe was on a university campus.
He said: “Only once in all those years did I feel genuinely afraid. That was when I gave a talk to students at Oxford University. Just before the start of my lecture, a whole group of rather menacing Muslim students came in and occupied the centre of the front row. It was a blatant attempt at intimidation.”
Rabbi Sacks said he was saddened to hear similar intimidation existed on campuses now, and added that Jewish students regularly told him how unsafe they felt.
“In this age of extremes, we need to be vigilant in defending academic freedom, which means zero tolerance for intimidation of any group of students,” he said.
Lord Mitchell, who now sits as a crossbencher after resigning from the Labour Party over the antisemitism crisis, described Baroness Chakrabarti’s appointment to the Lords, as “a massive stitch up”.
She was elevated to the Lords after her report into antisemitism in Labour was widely criticised.
Lord Mitchell said: “Her description of the antisemitism that even she said existed within Labour was that it was an unhappy incident.
“It is more than an unhappy incident to me; it goes to the very core of my political being.
“The noble Baroness joined the Labour Party one day, she commenced writing the report shortly afterwards, she received no payment for two months’ work, she received a peerage, she became the shadow Attorney General and she sits in the shadow Cabinet.
“You can call it whatever you like, but to me it feels like a massive stitch-up.”
Baroness Neuberger, crossbench peer and Senior Rabbi to the West London Synagogue, said the current antisemitism crisis in Labour and abuse of Jewish students on campus should be a wake-up call for the government.
“The government need to act in relation to campuses and universities, as do the political parties—notably, but not only, Labour,” she said.
Baroness Ludford, Lib Dem peer, urged the government to provide additional funding for the Community Security Trust to work with the Union of Jewish Students on campuses.