Sunak to Urge University Leaders to Protect Jewish Students on Campus

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak of Britain will tell university leaders on Thursday to do more to combat antisemitism on college campuses, in a sign of rising dissatisfaction within government about the recent growth of encampments set up by students protesting the war in Gaza.

Vice chancellors from some of Britain’s prominent universities have been invited to Downing Street to discuss “escalating antisemitic abuse toward Jewish students in the U.K.,” Mr. Sunak’s office said in a statement issued in advance of the meeting.

Britain has so far not seen the sort of unrest witnessed on American campuses. But small-scale, largely peaceful protest encampments have sprung up recently around several universities, including Oxford, Cambridge, Newcastle, Leeds and Manchester.

“Universities should be places of rigorous debate but also bastions of tolerance and respect for every member of their community,” Mr. Sunak said in the statement released by his office ahead of the meeting. “A vocal minority on our campuses are disrupting the lives and studies of their fellow students and, in some cases, propagating outright harassment and antisemitic abuse. That has to stop.”

The prime minister’s office did not mention specific encampments in its statement, but it cited the concerns of the Union of Jewish Students, which says it represents 9,000 Jewish students across Britain and Ireland. The organization said recently that “while students have a right to protest, these encampments create a hostile and toxic atmosphere on campus for Jewish students.”

Downing Street also cited data from a charity that aims to protect British Jews from antisemitism, the Community Security Trust, which in 2023 recorded 182 college-related antisemitic incidents, triple the number recorded in 2022. Tell Mama, a government-funded group that monitors Islamophobic incidents and supports victims, said it has also noted a recent rise in anti-Muslim incidents on campuses.

While British police so far have not intervened significantly to break up student protests, they have been on the front line during large-scale pro-Gaza demonstrations, particularly in London.

Last year, Mr. Sunak and the former home secretary, Suella Braverman, urged the police to ban one march, which ultimately went ahead. Ms. Braverman was then fired after she described the tens of thousands of people who attended regular Saturday protests in London in support of Palestinians as “hate marchers,” “Islamists” and “mobs,” despite the fact that the demonstrations had mostly been peaceful.

On Thursday, the government plans to make it clear that universities must take immediate disciplinary action if any student is found to be inciting racial hatred or violence, and must contact the police if they believe a criminal act has been committed, Downing Street said.

The talks will also aim to help shape new official guidance on combating antisemitism on campus. The government says that the Office for Students, a regulator for higher education, might also be given the power to impose penalties if there were clear evidence that universities were failing to take sufficient or appropriate action to tackle harassment, including antisemitic abuse.

Gavriel Sacks, co-president of the Cambridge University Jewish Society, said in a phone interview that the group had stepped up its support for students by offering mental health events and movie nights.

Mr. Sacks, 20, said that anxiety at Cambridge had increased among some Jewish students in recent months, and especially so in the past week, after the establishment of an encampment on Monday.

But the encampment and the protests themselves had been “mostly peaceful,” he said, and though people had reasons to be anxious, he said he still felt safe and secure on campus.

“We don’t want to overplay it or make people more anxious,” he said.

Mr. Sacks said that he had been told about a few antisemitic comments made to identifiably Jewish people at rallies. Two Jewish students who were on their way to morning prayers on Tuesday were called “pigs,” he said.

“We do believe it represents the minority,” he said of the antisemitic rhetoric. Still, he said, there were concerns.

Groups representing Jewish students at Cambridge and other campuses have also been among those supporting pro-Palestinian encampments, however. The SOAS Jewish Society at SOAS University of London, for example, said on social media that it stood “shoulder to shoulder” with classmates who set up an encampment on Monday.

“We will not stand by as the media cynically employs fake concern for Jewish safety to demonize our cause,” the group said.

Professor Deborah Prentice, the vice chancellor of Cambridge, said in a statement that the university was “fully committed to freedom of speech within the law, and the right to protest.” She added that the university’s priority remained “the safety of our staff and students. We will not tolerate antisemitism, Islamophobia, or any other form of racial or religious hatred in our community.”

Source link

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top