Published On: Wed, May 8th, 2024
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University bosses told they must ‘crack down’ on antisemitic abuse as protests spread | Politics | News

Ministers will order university chiefs to “crack down” on antisemitic abuse on campuses and ensure protests do not disrupt students’ lives.

Any students inciting racial hatred or violence must be disciplined immediately, education leaders will be told.

Police should also be contacted in any suspected criminal offence.

Pro-Palestine encampments have been set up by students at more than a dozen universities across the UK against the war in Gaza, including Cambridge and Oxford.

Vice-chancellors from some of the leading universities in the UK will meet at Number 10 on Thursday to discuss action to address the rise in antisemitic abuse on campuses and disruption to students’ learning.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: “Universities should be places of rigorous debate but also bastions of tolerance and respect for every member of their community.

“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.”

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan added: “”I have made it absolutely clear that universities must crack down on antisemitic abuse and ensure that protests do not unduly disrupt university life.”

Mr Sunak, Ms Keegan, Communities Secretary Michael Gove and Security Minister Tom Tugendhat will call for a zero-tolerance approach to antisemitic abuse at universities.

A number of student protests have been held across the UK over the Israel-Hamas conflict.

On Wednesday, an Edinburgh University student taking part in a hunger strike in protest against the war in Gaza said it was a “last resort” after other methods of protest failed.

The student is one of five people currently on hunger strike in the city, with more members of the university’s Justice for Palestine Society due to join in the coming days.

Edinburgh University principal and vice-chancellor, Professor Sir Peter Mathieson, urged the students on hunger strike not to risk their health.

The Union of Jewish Students (UJS) has criticised encampment protests for creating a “hostile and toxic atmosphere” on campus for Jewish students.

On Tuesday, Edward Isaacs, president of the UJS, said “university inaction” against hateful language from protests “only serves to alienate Jewish students from campus”.

Representatives from the UJS and Jewish charity the Community Security Trust (CST) will also attend the meeting on Thursday to share experiences.

It is hoped the meeting with vice-chancellors will help to inform upcoming government guidance on combating antisemitism on campus.

In 2023, 182 university-related antisemitic incidents were recorded by the CST compared with 60 incidents in 2022 – a rise of 203%.

A spokesman for the UJS said: “Government and university leaders must acknowledge the surge in antisemitic incidents since October 7, UJS’s increased support efforts, and the resilience of Jewish students.

“Universities must act decisively to combat hate on campus. UJS stands ready to work with all stakeholders to tackle this urgent issue.”

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