St Andrews University rector urged to resign over Israel 'genocide' claim

More than 1,400 students and alumni signed an open letter calling on Stella Maris to retract her remarks or resign


The rector of St Andrews University is facing calls to resign after accusing Israel of “genocidal attacks” in the Jewish state’s ongoing war with Hamas.

Stella Maris, who was elected to the role last month, made the comments in an email to students discussing the war.

In the email sent on Tuesday, Maris said a vigil had been held at the university “following weeks of genocidal attacks by the Israeli government against Gaza.”

She added: “We must continue to recognise and condemn acts that are internationally regarded as humanitarian and war crimes. These include practices such as apartheid, siege, illegal occupation and collective punishment, which have been observed in the treatment of Palestinians.

“It is also crucial to acknowledge and denounce the actions by Hamas that qualify as war crimes, notably the taking of hostages and deliberately targeting civilians, which I have and continue to do.”

The email included a link to the Electronic Intifada, a pro-Palestinian website which ran an article on Thursday, titled “The evidence Israel killed its own citizens on October 7”.

After the remarks, more than 1,400 students and alumni signed an open letter calling on her to retract her remarks or resign. The open letter said her comments would likely “embolden hatred towards Jewish students”. Maris was also accused of spreading a “certain narrative of antisemitism”.

It added: “Sadly, your words were not unifying, but divisive; not clarifying, but misleading; not hopeful, but damaging - and unfortunately will only bring division and hatred, whilst rein-­ forcing a certain narrative that drives violent antisemitism across the world.

“We are concerned that your letter does not demonstrate equal care for Palestinian and Israeli lives. What is truly unacceptable is that you do not care to mention, let alone demonstrate regard for, the two St Andrews students who were recently attacked because of their religion.”

Maris read English and philosophy at St Andrews, joining as an undergraduate in 2017. She has since filled a series of student representation roles and was elected to the rector position by university students last month for a three-year-term.

The rector is president of the university court, the university's supreme governing body. Having an elected rector is a legal requirement in Scotland under the 1858 Universities Act.

Professor Dame Sally Mapstone, vice-chancellor, said St Andrews was committed to free speech but there was "no place for antisemitism, Islamophobia, or racism of any kind".

She said: "We are utterly dismayed that the rector, on this occasion, put her right to freedom of expression ahead of her duty to represent all students, and to be concerned for their welfare."

Maris rejected accusations the email to students was antisemitic and said her use of the terms genocidal and apartheid were "supported by numerous human rights organizations".

Speaking to BBC Scotland, Maris said she would not be resigning and added: "I have received a lot of backlash and it's quite disappointing.

"I really tried to write a statement that would make everyone happy, but realised I wasn't being true to my beliefs.

"I'm glad I did it and it was the right thing to do. I've had racist comments as a result and have been accused of antisemitism, which I reject.

"I don't intend on retracting my statement or resigning.

"I denounce antisemitism in the strongest form. Reject the weaponising of antisemitism."

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