Universities have shown “grave cowardice”over dealing with anti-Semitism, the Government’s Holocaust envoy has said, as he warns that inaction could lead to new legislation.
Sir Eric Pickles,
who is the UK’s special envoy on post-Holocaust issues and a former Conservative Party chairman, said that universities have long “turned a blind eye” to the issue of hostility towards Jews on campus, adding that they must start to “show a bit of gumption”.
His comments came as Jo Johnson, the universities minister, urged academic institutions to “act swiftly” to investigate claims of anti-Semitism and other hate crimes.
Earlier this week, Baroness Ruth Deech told The Telegraph that some universities have become no-go areas for Jewish students because anti-Semitism is so rife.
She said that many institutions may be failing to combat hatred against Jews because they were “afraid of offending” potential benefactors from Gulf states.
Sir Eric praised Lady Deech for showing “enormous courage” in speaking out on the topic, which he said he has long been concerned about.
“I was certainly worried when I was Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and I have felt worried ever since,” he said.
“I have felt for some time that universities have at best been inactive about anti-Semitism and have turned a blind eye to it. They have shown grave cowardice.
“The classic definition of dealing with racism and anti-Semitism is those who stand by and do nothing.”
He said that the inertia of universities on the issue has led him to consider that new legislation may be necessary to protect Jewish students on campus. “I am looking at it [new legislation] with a favourable eye,” he said.
Sir Eric is due to meet with Lady Deech and Lord Stuart Polak next month to discuss proposing an amendment to the Higher Education bill at its next hearing in the House of Lords.
Other MPs expressed their concern about the safety of Jewish students on campuses across the country and urged political leadership to take a stronger stance.
Mr Johnson told The Telegraph that universities have a “clear responsibility” under the 2010 Equality Act “to ensure they protect their staff and students and act swiftly to investigate and address hate crime, including antisemitic related incidents reported to them.”
He added: “There is no place in our society for any form of harassment or discrimination”.
John Mann, a Labour MP and chairman of the all party parliamentary group into anti-semitism said that anti-Israel sentiment on campus is a “chill factor” for Jewish students in some universities.
“It is quite extraordinary in today’s world that Jewish students receive hassle and worse. The unpublished Labour report on Oxford University details anti Semitism of a ferocity [not seen] in decades,” he said.
Earlier this year the co-chairman of the Oxford Labour Club resigned in protest at its members’ “problem with Jews” and sympathy with terrorist groups such as Hamas.
Lady Deech has said she was also dismayed by the inaction of Oxford University after complaints about anti-Semitism, despite the proctors being handed a dossier which detailed a catalogue of incidents where Jewish students were harassed.
Andrew Bridgen, a Conservative MP, said that some university campuses have become hostile places for Jews because it has become “trendy” on the Left to be anti-Semitic. “This is all coming from the Labour party’s legitimization [of anti-Semitism],” he said.
“Until the Labour Party addresses the anti-Semitism issue, it’s not going to get sorted. Young people tend to be more left leaning and it appears to be trendy on the left to be anti-Semitism. “The Labour Party appears to be passively if not actively encouraging it through the hierarchy and that boils down to the student activities.”
Lady Deech’s comments this week followed a series of incidents where Jewish students claim they were verbally abused of physically attacked.
In October, police were called to University College London to quell a “violent” anti-Israel protest which left Jewish students barricaded in a room, after being told their safety could not be guaranteed if they left alone.
It echoed events at King’s College London in January where a student mob threw chairs and smashed windows at an event held by the Israel society.