Jewish students “avoid” certain universities, warns peer

Khushali Dodhia 2 January 2017

Universities must become more proactive when tackling anti-Semitism, several parliamentary figures have warned.

Sir Eric Pickles, the Government’s Holocaust envoy and current chairman of Conservative Friends of Israel, urged universities to “show a bit of gumption” when dealing with anti-Semitic incidents. He accused academic institutions of showing “grave cowardice” when it came to hostility faced by Jewish students on campus.

This was echoed by Universities Minister Jo Johnson, who said institutions must “act swiftly” in instances of anti-Semitism. Labour MP John Mann described anti-Israel attitudes as a “chill factor” for Jewish students at some universities.

The comments came after crossbench peer Ruth Deech warned that Jewish students are hesitant to attend certain universities, due to their perceived failure to curb anti-Semitic behaviour.

Baroness Deech told the Telegraph: “Amongst Jewish students, there is gradually a feeling that there are certain universities that you should avoid. Definitely SOAS, Manchester I think is now not so popular because of things that have happened there, Southampton, Exeter and so on.”

She suggested that institutions are slow to act because of their unwillingness to alienate potential investors.

“Many universities are in receipt of or are chasing very large donations from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states and so on, and maybe they are frightened of offending them.

“I don’t really know why they aren’t doing anything about it, it really is a bad situation.”

Baroness Deech went on to express her disappointment with Oxford University, her alma mater, which she said has failed to deal with anti-Semitic incidents despite its proctors being given a report documenting numerous instances where Jewish students were harassed.

“I find it personally very difficult, I’ve been at Oxford for 45 years or something and I owe my career to Oxford. But I can’t believe that my own university is not setting up an investigation and being proactive about this.”

The universities of Southampton, Exeter, and SOAS have denied claims of anti-Semitism. Oxford University said it was “surprised and disappointed by Baroness Deech’s remarks”.

Nicola Dandridge, CEO of Universities UK, said: “The university sector has been clear that there is no place for anti-Semitism or any other kind of unlawful discrimination at our universities.

“Universities UK look forward to continuing work with the Union of Jewish Students to ensure that every Jewish student has a safe and positive university experience.”

There has been a series of reported anti-Semitic incidents at universities over the past year, including at Cambridge, where three Jewish students reportedly faced abuse at a party held by Christ’s College drinking societies last term.