University where students openly celebrated October 7 accused of ‘breeding terror’

One tutor at Exeter University’s Islamic Studies institute filmed casting doubt on the rape of Israeli women by terrorists


A Russell Group University has been accused of “breeding terrorists” after a lecturer and PhD students at its Islamic Studies centre praised Hamas and Jewish students fled from a mob. 

One tutor at Exeter University’s Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies (Iais), located on the same campus where Jewish students were forced to run to safety after being surrounded by an anti-Israel crowd, was filmed casting doubt on the rape of Israeli women by terrorists.

Another affiliate of the institute, a PhD student Zarefah Baroud, posted a photo on October 7 of an al-Qassam Brigades fighter together with a threat to deliver an “earth-shattering response” to Israel’s attempts to defend itself.

The JC has also unearthed a WhatsApp group in which a number of Exeter postgraduate students, some of whom are linked to Iais, openly celebrate the Hamas atrocities.

Naema Aldaqsha, who is taking a PhD in politics, posted her “congratulations” to terrorists on October 7 and joked about them taking “35 settlers from there to Ghazzeh to show them around”.

Ali Alsayegh, who is also taking a PhD at Iais, wrote on X/Twitter on October 7: “Today Karma strikes” and described Hamas’s “infiltration plan” as “inspirational”.

Last week, Jewish students manning an Israel stall fled Exeter University campus after being surrounded and abused by a mob of 100 students.

The students said they were left feeling “broken” by the experience, during which one girl in the crowd shouted that they had “killed” her brother.

Rojin-Sena Cantay, a third-year student at Exeter and fellow at the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis (Camera), was one of the students abused by the mob.

Voicing her concerns about the institute, she told the JC: “It really makes you think what is being taught on campus. Are these students being groomed to hate?”

One Jewish law student who wished to remain anonymous claimed to have been called a “baby killer” by an Iais undergraduate. The student alleged the institute had become “a hive of antisemitic bile and as a result, you have an entire group of radicalised students.

“I believe best case scenario we are breeding terrorist sympathisers, worst case we are breeding actual terrorists.”

Days before the mob incident, on February 29, Exeter lecturer in Middle East Politics and gender studies specialist Dr Sabiha Allouche was filmed using air quotes to describe “‘the rape’… of the Israeli soldiers” and referred to “liberal feminists” who are “very narrow in their understanding”.

Dr Allouche added: “If they’re soldiers, right, and everything is fair in love and war, should we be ok with rape but also what does it tell us, right, when do we insist about certain perpetrators and not focus enough on other perpetrators.”

Another woman, who described herself as a Palestinian feminist, referred to “alleged sexual violence against settler women on October 7” in the same clip and said, “there have been so many evidence that this didn’t happen [sic]”.

The Palestinian added: “As a feminist who worked on gender based violence all of my life, I don’t agree at any level that this would happen to any women regardless of their positionality, but at the same time I don’t accept as a Palestinian to be accused and for this to be believed immediately”.

Aldaqsha, one of the contributors to the group chat, also gushed on October 7 about “the people of Gaza” going to “cook food” in Israel.

She wrote: “WHEN WE TAKE ACTION… The people of Gazzeh have gone to cook maqloubeh [food] in what is now Israel… Congratulations to the guys from Almajdal; it’s been liberated.”

Aldaqsha, who studied at Al Aqsa University in Gaza, has also written an article on her website about her involvement in 2019’s Great Return March – the protests on Gaza’s border with Israel – and said: “I am a member of the new Palestinian generation that has begun to think collectively and revolutionarily. We are impatient. We want comprehensive and radical solutions.”

Later in the same article she wrote she wanted to “honour the sacrifice of martyrs”.

Another PhD student, Sayed Ismail A al-Behbehani, who is affiliated to Iais, wrote in the WhatsApp chat: “Full solidary with Palestinian resistance.”

Another student in the group wrote: “Should we be expecting action for iz*SOC soon?”, in an apparent suggestion of action against the university’s Israel Society.

Approached about the situation at Exeter, Minister for Skills, Apprenticeships and Higher Education Robert Halfon said: “Jewish students must feel safe and be able to express their views and practice their faith openly on campus. That is an urgent priority for me and any antisemitic abuse is totally unacceptable.

“I have contacted all Vice Chancellors – reaching out to many personally – to ask them step up and crack down on antisemitic abuse on university campuses. The Secretary of State and I are also working on plans to introduce a Quality Seal and we have announced £7 million of extra support to tackle antisemitic abuse in educational settings.

“We continuing to engage with schools, colleges and universities to ensure they have the tools they need to act swiftly to tackle any antisemitic abuse and discriminatory rhetoric.”

Iais was founded by controversial anti-Israel Professor Ilan Pappé and Dr Ghada Karmi, a Palestinian writer who has called Hamas “a quite straightforward resistance movement” who reacted on October 7 as they could not “meekly go on taking it”.

Prof Pappé has been a vocal critic of Zionism. Soon after October 7, he appeared on Al-Jazeera where he said that Hamas was “Not a terrorist movement”, adding it was “a national liberation and resistance movement”.

The professor later clarified that he understood Hamas was legally proscribed as a terror organisation in the UK, but said: “I think it is wrong as an expert”.

There is no suggestion that either Pappé or Karmi support terrorism.

At the time, Rojin-Sena Cantay, a third-year Exeter student who was part of the group of seven who were mobbed at an Israel stall earlier this week, raised her concerns about Prof Pappé with the university and they told her they would look into her claims.

Pappé has previously criticised Exeter’s Israel and Zionist society, which he accused of hosting events that spread “Zionist propaganda.”

“There are probably three students who regard themselves as Zionists in Exeter”, the Insitute’s co-founder wrote in an op-ed about the student society.

Controversial UN Special Rapporteur for Palestine Francesca Albanese joined Professor Pappé for an Iais webinar in October to discuss, “Israel’s elimination” of Palestinian people and “genocidal campaign in Gaza, including questions of occupation, self-determination, self-defence, ethnic cleansing, colonialism, and the role of third states [...] in the broader settler colonial context in Palestine.”

Speaking about the campus mob incident on March 6, Cantay alleged that after she and her fellow Jewish students had set up their stall around 2pm in the afternoon, anti-Israel students began to arrive.

“Pictures were being taken that would have been sent all over student WhatsApp groups,” Cantay alleged, and more and more protesters arrived to surround the stall.

The group felt trapped, “we didn’t know if we could leave, we were surrounded”.

On the table were several fliers that provided information on the conflict, but Cantay said that students “ripped them up and threw them in our face.”

Since the incident, Cantay said: “People have told me, ‘yes but you did something controversial, you put up the stall,’ but we respected the Palestinian protests, we’ve never made them feel uncomfortable. We respect their right to freedom of speech, but they couldn’t respect ours.”

In the wake of the incident, Cantay has decided to leave campus and went back to her family home in London last week.

A spokesperson from Camera said: “The intimidation and harassment that occurred at Exeter is the culmination of many factors, but the atmosphere of misinformation and propaganda cultivated by the faculty and staff at the university has been integral.

“One staff member stated that Hamas are ‘resistance fighters’ and refused to refer to them as terrorists. Another denied the rapes committed by Hamas. These two examples show how deep this hatred towards Israel and Jews goes – racism which fuels the targeting of Jewish and Zionist students with the aim of silencing them and denying their freedom to identify as Jewish and Zionist.”

A spokesperson for the University of Exeter said: “The university is conducting a full investigation into reported comments made during an online seminar.

“The initial evidence from the recording suggests the academic was responding to a direct question and discussing the possible views of other feminists, and not her own, and expressing the view that all perpetrators of rape, whether in war or otherwise, should be dealt with equally. Nonetheless, these are extremely serious allegations that must be investigated thoroughly. Iais is a wide-ranging and world-leading institute with the highest academic standards, within the field of Arab, Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies. It provides a comprehensive education in the culture, history, politics, economies, societies and anthropology of the region. In line with the university, it promotes a culture of debate within the law, built on the principle of tolerance of different views and beliefs. There is absolutely no place or justification for discrimination, hate or harassment of any kind… [we] ensure that our academic staff are able to undertake teaching and research without hindrance of their right to freedom of speech within the law.”

Baroud, Aldaqsha, Alsayegh, Dr Allouche, Dr Karmi and Prof Pappe were approached for comment.

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