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Former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams urges government to combat campus antisemitism

    Lord Williams
    Lord Williams

    Former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has called on the government to act over the rise of antisemitism at British universities.

    Lord Williams, who is now master of Magdalene College, Cambridge, revealed that he had written to Jo Johnson, the universities ministers, because of what he called the “muted” official response to Jew-hatred on campuses.

    His move follows allegations of antisemitism among members of Oxford University Labour Club and incidents at York and in London.

    According to the Sunday Times, Lord Williams has been in contact with a Jewish student at York University, who had been the victim of antisemitic abuse.

    In a letter to Zachary Confino, a law undergraduate, the former archbishop disclosed that he written to the government after being “very shocked” by a series of incidents.

    He told Mr Confino: “It is truly appalling stuff but sadly seems not to be that unusual at the moment.”

    “It’s ironic that just as we are waking up to all sorts of ways in which ‘hate speech’ works we should lose sight of one of the most ancient and poisonous forms of it, in the shape of anti-semitic rhetoric.”

    He added: “Anyone concerned (as I am) about Islamophobia here and elsewhere needs to be scrupulously alert to the risk of scapegoating and demonising other religious communities, especially Jews; and anyone with even the least bit of historical sense ought to hear the echoes of past bigotry and violence towards Jewish people in Europe.”

    Lord Williams also said he was “dispirited” by the failure of Christian chaplains at York to support Mr Confino. “You’d expect a more simply empathetic engagement,” he wrote.

    His comments came as police announced they were investigating claims of antisemitism at the university.

    York Jewish students this week met university officials and the student union to discuss their concerns. The meetings were arranged after the students complained that their fears about antisemitism were being ignored.

    Last month, Palestinian supporters at York performed Seven Jewish Children – a play by Caryl Churchill widely described as antisemitic – as part of Israel Apartheid Week, an annual nationwide campus campaign against Israel.

    In his letter to Mr Confino, Lord Williams said that “no degree of opposition” to the policies of a government “can possibly justify the appalling language I have seen used about Jews in general”.

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