University faces backlash after hundreds of students vote against the creation of a Jewish society

The university of Essex also confirmed it would be investigating a member of staff who had published antisemitic material on social media


The University of Essex has announced that it is “looking into the allegations” against a staff member found to have shared antisemitic messages on social media, with the institution also facing public backlash for its decision to allow students to vote on whether a Jewish society can be established on campus.

In a story published on Wednesday, the JC revealed that over 200 students had voted against allowing a JSoc to be formed on campus, while an academic at the university who had expressed opposition to it, Dr Maaruf Ali, was found to have shared antisemitic and Holocaust denial images on social media.

The Union of Jewish Students expressed "shock" at the number of students who had voted against the establishment of a JSoc, and called for "a full disciplinary investigation and the strongest possible sanction for a staff member who has engaged in racist hate speech and discrimination".

In a statement on Thursday, the university said they were “looking into the allegations as a matter of urgency in accordance with our zero tolerance policy.

“We expect staff, students and visitors to be treated, and to treat each other, with dignity and respect."

Under current rules, all official societies at the university have to first be approved through a vote by the student body. However, attempts to set up a JSoc at the university have been met with some resistance; while voting continues and some 64 percent of students have voted to support the establishment of a Jewish society, over a third of students, over 200 people, have voted against it.

In a statement on Thursday via the University of Essex Twitter account, the university said:

“All @EssexSU societies have to be ratified and get the go ahead if the majority say yes. Voting is continuing, but it looks like the majority of voters support the establishment of a Jewish Society. We recognise other issues are being raised and we will consider these carefully.”

However, the reaction to this statement, from Jews and non-Jews alike, was overwhelmingly negative.

Comedian David Baddiel said: “Can we take a second to imagine the completely correct outrage, not present in this tone at all, if a sizeable percentage of Essex students were voting against - as seems to be the case with this Jewish Society - the establishment of an LGBTQ/Muslim/REALLY ANTHING ELSE Society?”

Stella Creasey Labour MP for Walthamstow, responded to the university’s statement by saying: “Well you do that. Meantime open offer to Jewish students at Essex am happy to come and do talk on feminism, Labour, indie music or why fast and furious is the greatest. To all other societies there given @Uni_of_Essex approach take it as read am not available… #standupspeakup”

Messages from the general public were also overwhelmingly negative.

“Allowing students to ratify the creation of an Ultimate Frisbee society is fine”, one responder told the university.

“Allowing non-affected students to block the creation of a society for an ethnic minority is majority tyranny. A flat ‘ratification for all’ policy is unwise, because not all societies are the same."

Others responded in similar fashion, saying, “You really need to review how societies are established.

“It’s completely unacceptable that the creation of a Jewish Society has to be consented by a majority of non-Jewish students.  In what universe is this a fair process?”

Another Tweeter told the university: “My son was considering your Uni as a prospective student this year. The actions of your staff member have put him off. It's racist to try to shut down Jewish societies.”

Simultaneously, Labour’s prospective parliamentary candidate for Colchester, Tina McKay, was forced to apologise after telling the Essex Labour Students Society on social media on Monday that, regarding Labour antisemitism, “there have been individuals who have said that it has been used as a plot, there is evidence of what they said being true.”

In a statement on Thursday afternoon, Ms McKay said: “My particular choice of words was offensive and inappropriate – I realise that now and I thank those who pointed it out to me.

“Antisemitism is a problem in our party and wider society, and those who deny it are contributing to the problem. I am absolutely committed to fighting this evil and I look forward to listening to those in the Jewish community about how best we can do this.”

Meanwhile, the Jewish community has shown strong support for Jewish students on the University of Essex campus.

"Any Jewish students at Essex University who wish to hold a meetings as a Jewish Society should go ahead and do so", one member of the community said in a widely shared tweet.

"If you need cash, we will crowdfund for you. If you need security, we will come and literally stand with you."

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