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Baroness Deech attacks Oxford vice-chancellor for inaction over antisemitism

Peer questions whether Louise Richardson is worth £350,000 a year salary after university’s failure to punish students involved in campus Labour club affair

    Baroness Deech has attacked the vice-chancellor of Oxford for the university’s ongoing failure to discipline those responsible for the antisemitism at the campus Labour club, first revealed 18 months ago.

     “I deplore the fact that Oxford has still not punished those students who were responsible for the really dreadful events of nearly two years ago in the student Labour society”, she said.

    “The vice chancellor of Oxford [Louise Richardson] was speaking up the other day saying that she’s worth her salary - £350,000 – even though I’ve tackled her several times on this and they’ve done nothing about it”.

    Baroness Deech, who is the former principal of St Anne’s college, Oxford, made her comments on Tuesday evening at an event organised by the Board of Deputies, on antisemitism at British universities.

    The peer, who is also the former Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education, responsible for dealing with student complaints against universities, said that some campuses “have become battlegrounds for the Middle East – Israel vs Palestine”.

    “There are at least 10 times more Muslim students on campus as there are Jewish. And it’s not just Muslim students, it’s your left-wing and extreme right-wing.

    “A lot of people find their identity in life, their ID, their banner of belonging to the ‘good folk’, by attacking Israel, sometimes not even knowing what they’re doing.”

    She said she felt that “there is a failure of Holocaust education, which is compulsory in state schools, if so many young people can go through Holocaust education and then get to campus a year or two later and start talking about wiping Israel off the map and so on. Have they learned nothing?

    “I personally wouldn’t want to spend £50 million on yet another Holocaust memorial in the centre of London, if we still have that particular situation. One more Holocaust memorial won’t do it. What we need is education and brave young people like the three I have here.”

    On the panel with Baroness Deech were Joel Salmon, parliamentary officer for the Board of Deputies, Josh Holt, the president of the Union of Jewish Students (UJS) and Izzy Lenga, a vice-president of the National Union of Students.

    Mr Salmon took pains to stress that in general, life “is pretty good” for Jews in the UK, but discussed some of the difficulties Jewish students had faced on campus – and the disappointing reaction from some universities.

    “It was only after Jonathan Arkush, the Board of Deputies President, literally had to yell at the principal of UCL on the phone after there were some really intimidating anti-Israel protests at UCL, that they agreed to a full investigation and reformed their rules for events”, he said.

    Mr Holt continued on a similar subject, saying that following some of the “terrible events” that had been seen at some UK institutions, “we have completely transformed the way in which universities react to the issue of antisemitism, and we are currently transforming the way they react to the Israel-Palestine debate on campus”. 

    “I think testimony to the incredible success that has been seen, is the fact that whilst unfortunately antisemitic figures of incidents across the UK are up, if you look at the numbers on campus, that has declined, he said.

    “That shows that obviously some things on campus are going better, and I think that it’s now safe to say that we are beyond the tide of the instances that we saw last year.”

    Ms Lenga, who has been a leading voice for Jewish students on the national stage, said that while “the issue of [student] antisemitism wasn’t new to any of us – it didn’t start and end with a specific leadership of NUS – last year was really difficult, and the leadership of NUS didn’t make it any easier.”

    Malia Bouattia was elected president of the NUS, despite Jewish student concern over comments she had made about the University of Birmingham being a “Zionist outpost” and referring to “Zionist-led media outlets controlling the global south”.

    Ms Bouattia was defeated in her bid for re-election earlier this year.

    “Students were fed up with what’s happening. They’re fed up in general with Jewish students being targeted,” Ms Lenga said.

    “A lot of the rhetoric around the conference was ‘Jewish students are being ignored’. Awareness of the problem “was the work of [allies in the] NUS, and work of UJS and Jewish students”.

    Baroness Deech summed up, saying she was  “personally more frightened by left-wing antisemitism than right-wing.

    “Because on the right they know what they’re doing and they’re mostly regarded as dangerous… whereas the left-wing will completely deny and they’re sliding out from under [accusations of antisemitism] and I think that’s much more pernicious. And also they’re much closer to the centre to the power.”

    A spokesperson for the university of Oxford said:

    “The University does not tolerate any harassment on grounds of religious belief. When allegations of such harassment are made, they are always investigated thoroughly and equitably. Where offences are found to be committed, they will be considered grounds for serious disciplinary action.

    “Following the allegations made last year,  the Jewish Society and the Labour Club met in March as part of an ongoing programme of dialogue about the issue. The meeting was a success and the two clubs have agreed to hold more such joint events in the future.

    “The University has also, in the past year, contacted Jewish students to make sure they are aware of the support available and how to report any incidents of harassment. The University also contacted harassment advisers, counsellors and welfare contacts across Oxford to make them aware of concerns raised by the Jewish Society and how best to support any students affected. We believe Oxford offers a welcoming environment where Jewish students - and students of all faiths - can thrive and be successful in their studies.”

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