University of Essex efforts to combat antisemitism praised after anger at attempts to block Jewish society

Institution commended for 'model response' after shock as hundreds of students voted against the formation of campus Jsoc


The Union of Jewish Students has praised a University of Essex report on campus antisemitism, after hundreds of its students voted against the creation of a Jewish society on campus, with an independent external group praising the institution’s “rapid and early action.”

The 'Review of the Experiences of Jewish Students and Staff' spoke to 85 Jewish students, alumni, staff and former staff.

While some said that they had not experienced any antisemitism on campus, others had, including one alumnus who said they experienced “one of my worst experiences of aggression and intimidation for being Jewish and defending my national affinity to Israel” at the university, and another who said they had “reported antisemitism… in my first year there and there was nothing ever done.”

The university hit the headlines in February after the JC revealed that hundreds voted against the creation of a Jewish Society.

Within 48 hours, the university had apologised, cancelled the vote and established a Jewish society on campus with immediate effect.

An academic who had supported the campaign against the formation of the Jsoc and who was found to have shared antisemitic and Holocaust denial material on social media was suspended from his role and subsequently expelled.

Daniel Kosky, UJS campaigners officer, said the events earlier this year were "extremely troubling and worrying for Jewish students at the university and nationwide".

"We commend the University of Essex for accepting the existence of a problem with antisemitism at the university, and focusing efforts on to eliminating it from their campus," he said.

"The findings of the report came across many issues faced by Jewish students nationally, including lack of faith in university complaints procedures, poor Kosher food provision, and the experience of Jewish students facing a ‘variety of forms of direct and casual antisemitism’.

He called the report's recommendations "exemplary" and "cover basic steps universities should be taking to make sure their Jewish students feel welcome on campus".

He said the university's response to the problem "should serve as a guide to others as the appropriate response to concerns raised about antisemitism".

In the review, the university said it had appointed a rabbinical couple, Rabbi Elazar and Alissa Symon, as Jewish chaplains from September 2019, and provided a fixed location and a dedicated heating unit for the Jsoc to prepare kosher food for Shabbat meals.

It has also adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism.

Other recommendations include “ensuring that all office holders of the university undertake mandatory training on antisemitism”, to explore outreach opportunities to “ensure engagement with schools in Jewish communities” and incorporate new social media guidance, so staff "are aware of the institutional expectations on them when using social media for both personal and institutional purposes.”

It appointed an independent group of prominent people in the Jewish community that took testimony from students and staff.

It comprised of Rabbi Baroness Julia Neuberger, Jewish Leadership Council chief executive Simon Johnson, the CST's Mark Gardner, and Baroness Jan Royall, who was responsible for the report on alleged antisemitism at the Oxford University Labour Club.

The independent group said they were “pleased to have been involved in what we believe to have been an exemplary process.”

They added: “The University responded rapidly to the allegations of discrimination against Jewish students caused by the vote against establishing a Jewish society.

"It quickly removed the discrimination, held events in solidarity, commissioned this Report, ensured that evidence was collected and considered, and that this report was independently scrutinised.”

They said the report represented “a model of the response that an institution such as a university should make to allegations of, or concerns about, antisemitism or any other form of discrimination.

“We urge other universities to learn from the spirit, actions and content of this investigation, whether in regard to Jewish concerns or those of any other group.”

"We would like to thank the University of Essex for the important steps they are taking to tackle antisemitism and look forward to continuing our work with them in making the University the best place it can be for Jewish students," Mr Kosky added.

House of Commons speaker John Bercow, chancellor of the University of Essex, said: "The University of Essex needed to respond decisively and effectively and that is precisely what the Vice-Chancellor and senior leadership team have done, strongly supported by staff and students.

“The report shows a real understanding of what has upset students and detracted from their Essex experience.

“The University has always taken pride in being multiracial, internationalist and a champion of equality. It is now redoubling its efforts to promote those values by following-up its immediate response with further steps to encourage a culture of respect for all faiths.”

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