On 27th October 2016 the House of Lords held a short debate on a question from Baroness Deech, “to ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they propose to take to combat anti-Semitism, in particular in universities.” The Bishop of Winchester, Rt Revd Tim Dakin, spoke in the debate:
Despite there being Jewish societies in over 60 universities, a study in 2011 found that half of all Jewish students in the UK attend only eight universities. Safety in numbers seems to be key, as Nottingham, Leeds, Birmingham and Manchester all boast Jewish societies with over 1,000 members. None the less, we know that Jewish staff and students experience anti-Semitism in a significant number of higher education institutions today. As the recent Universities UK task force report on hate crime makes clear, anti-Semitism is a practice for which there is no place in universities, nor in the Church or society at large.
Anti-Semitism is a virus that latches onto existing beliefs—for example, in the relationship with the Christian story, with Christ’s death in Jerusalem and with the promises of God to all humanity, Jew and Gentile alike. We know that anti-Semitism has also found roots in dangerous forms of nationalism, and today it corrupts political activism as people turn criticism of Israel into an attack on all Jews as “Zionists”. While the rights of Palestinians remain an unresolved matter of social justice, I suggest that to challenge the right of Jewish self-determination and the existence of the state of Israel is, in itself, anti-Semitic.
In each case, anti-Semitism hides behind the respectability or popularity of a common belief, concealing the fact that it is not implied by any of them. Such a shift is often subtle, yet in our universities such a failure of logic should be identified and criticised in open debate. Anti-Semitism must therefore be confronted in the student union bar, the halls of residence, the common room, the public lecture and, if need be, the governing body. So I particularly welcome the proposal that Universities UK should work with appropriate student groups to produce a resource for students and lecturers on how to deal sensitively with the Israel/Palestine conflict, and how to ensure that pro-Palestinian campaigns avoid drawing on anti-Semitic rhetoric.
To combat anti-Semitism we must continue to build relationships between Jewish students, student societies and university chaplaincy teams, and encourage NUS leaders to take the issue seriously, distinguishing between anti-Semitism and racism in general and focusing on the need for collaboration and mutual support in the context of our pluralist society. If we are to maintain universities as communities of wisdom and learning, it is vital to support and protect free and open debate, both by defending individuals’ rights and by confronting practices that seek to curtail them. How will the Government play their part in ensuring that anti-Semitic practices are challenged?
Viscount Younger of Leckie (Con) (Minister) [extract]: The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester said that anti-Semitism can hide behind respectability. I could not agree with him more when he says that universities must ensure that anti-Semitism is confronted whenever and wherever it arises on our university campuses.