Universities are not 'no-go zones for Jewish students'

UJS statement:

UJS rejects the notion that there are ‘certain universities that you [Jewish students] should avoid’, along with several of the other comments made in today’s Daily Telegraph. 

Whilst it is important to note the extremely worrying rise in antisemitism on UK university campuses, and we are grateful to Baroness Deech for drawing further attention to this, the article does not fully portray the experiences of Jewish students. It does a disservice to the thousands who are able to freely express their Jewish identities in whichever way they choose.

The Community Security Trust (CST) recorded 27 antisemitic incidents on UK campuses between January and June this year. The high-profile incidents in recent months have undeniably contributed to this. However, there is no university that we would discourage Jewish students to apply to on the basis of antisemitism. The safety and welfare of Jewish students is paramount, and UJS has worked tirelessly in recent years to ensure and protect this.

Each of the universities named in the article have active and open Jewish student populations. Their successful Jewish societies regularly facilitate activities that engage both Jewish and non-Jewish students in a range of different ways. There have been worrying incidents in recent months at these universities that we have worked closely with Jewish students to address, but the inflammatory language in this article is damaging and completely ignores the positive contributions that Jewish students make to their campuses every day.

Our recent work with Universities UK has outlined a need for universities to improve their reporting and support mechanisms regarding antisemitism, and we look forward to working closely with them to improve these systems for all students who experience discrimination on their campuses.

UJS are proud to support over 8,500 Jewish students on around 60 campuses, and we will continue to work with our partners within the sector to ensure that all Jewish students have a positive and safe campus experience.

 

Oxford J-Soc statement:

The Oxford University Jewish Society would like to release the following statement in response to Baroness Deech's comments published in the Daily Telegraph (online article entitled 'Some of Britain's top universities are becoming no-go zones for Jews, Baroness Deech claims'):

The Oxford University Jewish Society is thankful to Baroness Deech for bringing the problem of anti-Semitism on campus to the public attention. The numerous incidents and the frequent inaction from universities is a serious scourge on their reputation. Whilst dismayed with what happened last year at the Oxford University Labour Club (OULC), we continue to work with the university and the OULC to ensure that Jews can feel comfortable in the OULC. 

However, despite the dark cloud of anti-Semitism which can hang over university campuses, we believe that any suggestion that the University of Oxford is a no-go zone for Jewish students is easily refuted by any of our members. We are a large, thriving and vibrant Jewish society, with regular educational, interfaith and social actions events, orthodox and progressive services and weekly Shabbat meals, which can have up to 120 students in attendance. We hope that potential applicants will talk to Jewish students at any university before deciding if it is a place for them, and will always strongly encourage Jewish students to apply to Oxford.

 

Manchester J-Soc statement:

Although we are worried about the rise in anti-semitism in university campuses, the Manchester Jewish Society disagrees with some of the points made by Baroness Deech, and we do not feel like the University of Manchester is a no-go for Jewish students. For the first time in a long time, our society's membership is actually growing, and that is a trend which we hope will continue in future years.

We are concerned about the possible impact of the BDS motion on Jewish students, but by no means do we encourage them to avoid our university. We have voiced our concern to the university and are taking the necessary steps. The University of Manchester is an institution with a world class reputation, which should not be tarnished by an incident such as this one.

We still encourage Jewish students to come to our university now more than ever, irregardless of whether its Union supports BDS or not, and help us make Manchester the great university for Jewish students that it once was.

 

SOAS J-Soc statement:

SOAS J-Soc feels compelled to comment on Baroness Deech’s interview for The Telegraph, in which she stated that ‘there is gradually a feeling’ among the Jewish community and ‘that there are certain universities that you should avoid,’ citing SOAS as a definite example. 

It is entirely fair to say that in our dealings with the Student Union and particularly hostile student societies, we are faced with a completely toxic and unwelcoming environment. Feelings of intimidation reached their peak in 2014/15, when members of the Jewish Society were even quoted in the international press as being afraid to enter our common room. 

Since the SOAS Students Union passed the referendum on BDS, tensions have calmed significantly; we now feel safe and comfortable to host a Chanukah stall outside our building. Simultaneously however, our student union have made it impossible to host an antisemitism workshop despite months of planning and notice being given to past sabbatical officers. In addition, Student Union officers continue to neglect the implementation of measures designed to secure Jewish student welfare. We are still faced with a situation in which our anti-racism officers have not produced any real, concrete initiatives to tackle and challenge antisemitism – nor have they begun to explore such crucially needed measures. 

In this context, it is entirely fair to say that in terms of its apathetic student union and its toxic political culture stemming from a few large student societies, SOAS has developed an exceptionally poor reputation among the Jewish community. 

Contrary to the article’s title, Baroness Deech did not state that SOAS is a ‘no-go zone’ or that it is impossible for Jewish students to study at our institution. In 2015, Baroness Deech even publicly stated of SOAS that ‘most Jewish students have a perfectly fine time.’ 

However, when antisemitic behaviour is unchecked by our Student Union and when Jewish students feel uncomfortable to voice certain opinions for fear of a backlash, we cannot deny that some young Jews may be dissuaded from attending SOAS. 

We stress that the university authorities have done their utmost to defend Jewish student welfare and are constantly receptive to our concerns and complaints. It is the student union and a particular political culture which have created the reputation which Baroness Deech refers to. It must also be said that the political culture Baroness Deech alludes to is not restricted to SOAS: in many ways, it is more visible and heightened in the National Union of Students or incidents at Exeter and Oxford Universities.

We hope the excesses of our student union and its allies will be combatted – and we thank Baroness Deech, a defender of Jewish student welfare, for bringing light to this issue. We look forward to working with the university to creating an even safer and welcoming environment for all Jews currently studying and wishing to study at SOAS.

About UJS

We are the voice of over 8,500 Jewish students, spanning 60 Jewish Societies (J-Socs) on campuses across the UK and Ireland. We are traditional, progressive, cultural and spiritual; we come from the left, centre and right and can be found across religious and political spectrums.

Together we create and deliver powerful campaigns; fighting prejudice, advancing inclusion, and inspiring education and action on the issues that matter to us. 

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