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Prime Minister urges universities to tackle ‘rise in antisemitic abuse on campus’

Professor Evelyn Welch was among the vice-chancellors at the Prime Minister's roundtable which discussed the ‘rise in antisemitism on campus.’

By Milan PereraDeputy Editor 

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak met with the vice-chancellors of leading UK universities and representatives from the Union of Jewish Students (UJS) at 10 Downing Street for a roundtable meeting on May 9 to discuss the ‘rise in antisemitism on campus.’

Vice-chancellors from some 20 Russell Group universities, including Professor Evelyn Welch, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Bristol, met Rishi Sunak to ‘discuss actions to address the rise in antisemitic abuse on campus and disruption to students’ learning.’

Rishi Sunak called on university leaders to ensure a ‘zero-tolerance approach to antisemitic abuse is adopted on all campuses.’ He was joined by the Education Secretary, Communities Secretary and Security Minister.

Edward Isaacs, President of UJS addressing the meeting/ UJS

Edward Isaacs, President of UJS and former President of the University of Bristol Jewish Society (JSoc), expressed alarm at the ‘toxic environment’ faced by Jewish students across the country.

According to the Communities Security Trust, there was an increase of 203 per cent in university-related antisemitic incidents between 2022 and 2023. There was a spike after the October 7 attack.

In a statement before the roundtable meeting, the Prime Minister 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.’

Isaacs added: ‘I am confident that vice-chancellors have heard the message loud and clear today that anti-semitism has no place on campus, and I look forward to seeing their decisive action following this meeting.’

Last Wednesday (May 1) a group of pro-Palestinian activists launched a peaceful encampment on Royal Fort Gardens at the University of Bristol, similar to those seen on US campuses few weeks ago.

One of their key demands is to divest from Israel in response to its military operation, urging the university to stop its 'complicity in genocide'.

However, Professor Evelyn Welch, said the university will not be 'taking a position or stance' on Israel-Gaza. She further added: ‘We will not tolerate any form of racism, antisemitism, Islamophobia, discrimination, incitement, bullying or harassment at our University. We will respond robustly if this occurs.’

Jewish students at the University of Bristol participated in ‘Mitzvah Table’ events led by Rabbi Mendy Singer last Friday (May 3) and yesterday (May 9) on Tyndall Avenue to respond with ‘Jewish pride, Mitzvas and positivity’ over recent events.

Speaking to Epigram, Shiri Kleinberg, a final year student who attended the ‘Mitzvah Table’ last Friday, said: 'Jewish students had been watching what was happening on US campuses closely, and the encampments reached a scary level and crossed many lines[…]

'It was therefore disappointing that as Jewish students apprehensively watched what was going on in other parts of the world, other students at the university of Bristol were also observing it and decided to replicate it here.

‘While the encampment at Bristol has mostly been peaceful and there isn’t anything inherently wrong with taking action for a cause that people feel strongly about, it has led to Jewish students like myself feeling uneasy and uncertain about what might feature.’

Following yesterday’s meeting, the Prime Minister promised a £500,000 funding boost for the University Jewish Chaplaincy (UJC) to provide welfare services to Jewish students.

Featured image: UJS

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