Chief Rabbi fires warning to university vice-chancellors

Ian Johnston 8 May 2016

Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis has called on university vice-chancellors to take a tougher stance on anti-Semitism, and to combat the "vilification’ of Jewish students. At universities, students face ‘a wall of anti-Zionism, which they feel and know to be Jew hatred."

In an interview with The Sunday Times, he stated “What troubles me is that the Zionist-bashing on campus has gone unchallenged. To vice-chancellors I would say: see what is happening under your noses, what is happening to the reputations of your universities. Freedom of speech needs to take place in a healthy and appropriate context. I cannot imagine that any vice-chancellor should be proud of the fact that vilification of a people has been taking place on their campus.”

Fears over anti-Semitism in British universities have intensified following the election of Malia Bouattia as president of NUS. In the past, the former Birmingham University Blacks Officer has described her university as "a Zionist outpost in higher education: because it has "the largest J-Soc in the country." Although she claims not to hold anti-Semitic views, Mirvis said "it is astonishing to see figures on the hard Left of the British political spectrum presuming to define the relationship between Judaism and Zionism despite themselves being neither Jews nor Zionists."

Following the most recent CUSU Council Meeting on Monday, students will be able to choose if they wish CUSU to remain affiliated to NUS. Calls for a referendum were led by the Cambridge J-Soc, who registered their concerns over Bouattia’s election. A motion for a referendum was backed by 85% of J-Soc members, with 65% voting that they would support disaffiliation. Cambridge’s referendum will follow similar campaigns in Oxford, York and Manchester.

Mirvis is the chief rabbi for the main Orthodox Jewish community in the UK. His warning comes amid intense debate over anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. Ken Livingstone, the former Mayor of London, was suspended from the party for anti-Semitic comments relating to the Holocaust. At student level, the Oxford University Labour Club’s decision to support Israel Apartheid Week led to accusations of anti-Semitism. Co-chair Alex Chalmers later resigned, claiming that a large proportion of members ‘have some kind of problem with Jews.’

Mirvis called for vice chancellors to consider Judaism and Zionism as intrinsically linked: "One can no more separate Zionism from Judaism that separate the city of London from Britain." Jeremy Corbyn has stated that the Labour Part "will not tolerate anti-Semitism in any form." Under the rabbi’s definition, those who seek to vilify Zionism are engaging in a form of anti-Semitism. He called for decisive action from all political parties and university officials in order to deal with this ‘challenging issue.’