Fears over ‘segregation’ of Jews at Glasgow university

As controversial medic becomes rector, Jewish students told they can use alternative representation system


Doctor Ghassan Abu-Sittah speaking at a press conference in London (left) and weeping over the grave of PFLP founder Maher Al-Yamani (Photo: Sky News/PFLP)

Jewish students at the University of Glasgow have spoken of their distress after a British-Palestinian doctor who has praised terrorists was voted in as rector.

In response to the election of Ghassan Abu-Sittah, the university suggested that Jewish students could use alternative representatives, prompting allegations of “segregation”.

The doctor, who has been lavishly fêted by the British media for his work as a surgeon in Gaza, was elected to the position last week with the support of 80 per cent of voting students.

He has praised members of a proscribed terror group who flew into Israel on gliders and murdered six soldiers. He also sat beside a notorious plane hijacker at a memorial and delivered a tearful eulogy to the founder of a terror group that was later involved in the October 7 atrocities, the JC has previously revealed.

The University of Glasgow distanced itself from the election of Abu-Sittah, saying that Jewish students concerned about the new rector should turn to other officials to represent their interests.

Former Attorney General Sir Michael Ellis told the JC: “Glasgow University now reportedly want to offer alternative representation to Jewish students. Surely this is tantamount to segregation?

“It is impossible to imagine any other ethnic or religious group being separated off from fellow students in this way. How can it possibly be defended?

“The explosion of anti-Jewish racism at university campuses across the UK since Hamas’s October 7 pogrom should have acted as a wake up call to society.”

The co-president of Glasgow University’s Jewish Society, Anat Kraskin, told the JC that Jewish students had been left “worried” and “scared” by the appointment, especially as it was supported by 80 per cent of students who voted.

Neither the vice-chancellor nor any other staff member had contacted the Jewish Society following his election, she added, to offer reassurance or outline alternative arrangements.

“The thing is, as a rector, you represent all students, and Jewish students are students,” she said.

In his manifesto, Abu-Sittah said that he would call for the replacement of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (Ihra) definition of antisemitism with the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism – which has been accused of seeking to separate anti-Zionism from antisemitism – to “protect freedom of speech” over Palestine.

Kraskin said: “He’s not Jewish and he wants to tell the Jewish students what antisemitism is. We are very clear about Ihra – we want Ihra, this is our only way to defend ourselves against hate speech.

“He’s saying, ‘this is not antisemitism, I will tell you what antisemitism is’. We feel that he used the Jewish community; it’s a political tool, his entire campaign is about the conflict, he didn’t offer anything for students.”

The position of rector, which has often been held by an activist symbolising a political cause, is an independent figure chosen by students to represent them and defend their interests.

Jewish students, Kraskin said, would not feel comfortable raising concerns with Abu-Sittah.

Writing to UK Lawyers for Israel last week, Glasgow’s Vice-Chancellor Sir Anton Muscatelli said the university would contact Jewish and Israeli students to reassure them that they were safe on campus and to let them know that they could contact the Students Representative Council instead of Abu-Sittah if they preferred.

He added: “We absolutely recognise the concerns of Jewish students, and we are in regular contact with the University’s Jewish Society as well as with leaders of the Jewish community in Scotland. “Since the election, there has been further dialogue with community leaders, and we have contacted the Society to provide support and reassurance about student safety.”

Kraskin said: “He does represent the university. A rector is a face you see all over campus.

“[The university] should also reassure the Jewish Society that we won’t change Ihra, he doesn’t represent our views. Meet with us about it. We are a minority, we do not feel safe.”

Writing on social media following his election, Abu-Sittah has claimed that he has been subjected to an “organised campaign of defamation” following his election.

He wrote: “For the Zionists the aim of this campaign is to distract from the essence of what is happening: Israel has wantonly killed over 15,000 children.” In a 2019 post to X/Twitter, Abu Sittah wrote: “You have all our loyalty in memory of the two heroes, the martyrs Miloud Ben Lumah and Khaled Aker. They landed in gliders into our occupied territories and killed 30 Zionist soldiers in an hour. Glory to the martyrs.”

The post appears to refer to a 1987 attack by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) dubbed the “night of the gliders”.

The JC has previously revealed that in 2018 Abu-Sittah hailed Ahmad Jarrar, who masterminded the murder of father-of-six Rabbi Raziel Shevach in a drive-by shooting near Nablus, as one of Palestine’s “dearest and best sons” and a “hero”.

He wrote: “The martyrdom of the resistance member Ahmed Nasr Jarrar, the hero of the Nablus operation, at the hands of the Zionist occupation army… like the hundreds of resistance fighters who were martyred at the hands of this satanic alliance, represents a pivotal moment.”

In 2019, he was pictured sitting next to the notorious hijacker Leila Khaled at a memorial for a founder of the PFLP, Maher Al-Yamani.

Khaled, 79, was arrested after her failed attempt to seize an El Al plane. Further pictures show Dr Abu Sittah delivering a speech at a lectern covered in a Palestinian flag and a large photograph of the terror leader Al-Yamani.

In 2020, a year after Al-Yamani’s death, Dr Abu Sitta delivered an emotional speech at his graveside in Beirut which was captured on camera and exposed by the JC in December.

Clutching his heart and swaying with emotion as tears rolled down his face, the doctor lauded the terrorist chief, hailing his success at striking fear into the hearts of Israelis. “This is the most ferocious campaign in the West Bank,” he said. “This campaign and this atrocity, it makes us our confidence increase… Despite his absence, he still scares the enemy.”

Abu-Sittah previously told the JC: “While I may in the past have used emotive language at the funeral of a friend or following an extra-judicial killing, I vehemently oppose terrorism, and civilian casualties on all sides. As a surgeon, my vocation is preserving life and I repeat my calls for a sustainable ceasefire and lasting peace.”

His lawyers said that the doctor did not know that Jarrar had been involved in the killing of a rabbi and that he would never condone murder.

He was similarly not aware that Al-Yamani was accused of involvement in terrorism, they added.

They added that Dr Abu Sittah “abhors” anti-Jewish racism and only opposes the IHRA definition because of its “chilling effect on legitimate criticism of Israel’s actions”.

Following his election as rector, Sittah said: “I am grateful to the more than 4,000 students who put their faith in me. I intend to be a rector for all students at Glasgow.

“While I may in the past have used emotive language in the context of a brutal war in my home country, I vehemently oppose terrorism, and civilian casualties on all sides. As a surgeon my vocation is preserving life and I repeat my calls for a sustainable ceasefire and lasting peace.”

His lawyers added, in relation to the 2019 Night of the Gliders tweet, that “Our client does not recognise this post or recall having posted it”.

They also said it refers to a military exercise, the PFLP-GC was not proscribed at the time of the attack, and there is no link between this attack and October 7. A Glasgow University spokesperson said: “The University recognises the concerns of Jewish students. Senior managers reached out to both JSoC and SCoJeC the day after the election result to provide support and reassurance about student safety.”

In a statement in response to this article, Sittah reiterated his revulsion for antisemitism, adding: “The IHRA definition is widely criticised, including from within the Jewish community. As I made clear in my campaign, Jewish students will be central to the task of revisiting it. I will be a rector for all of Glasgow's students.”

The spokesman added that there was also a formal complaints system students can use, as well as “student support officers in every college of the University, a team of professional safeguarding officers and an online reporting system which students can use in name or anonymously”.

“Rectors throughout our history have been free to express their thoughts and represent those of students, but they do not represent those of the University,” the spokesman for the university said.

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