This week, CFI Honorary President Lord Polak CBE condemned “shameful” incidents of “violent harrassment and abuse” against Jewish students on university campuses in the UK, during a debate in the House of Lords.
In response, Government Minister Viscount Younger of Leckie said: “Let me be clear, anti-Semitism, hate crime and harassment of any kind have no place in our universities”.
He said that Universities Minister Jo Johnson “asked Universities UK (UUK) to convene a task force to look into these issues” and following its report this autumn, “the Government have asked UUK to survey progress against the harassment task force’s recommendations”.
In his speech, Lord Polak referred to the Universities UK report, which “detailed the need for better reporting of anti-Semitism and stronger support by academic institutions for Jewish students to speak out”, following a number of “shameful incidents in which pro-Israel and Jewish students have faced violent harassment and abuse on campus”.
Lord Polak recalled that in January, “an event jointly hosted by the Israel society of King’s College London and the London School of Economics was disrupted by violent demonstrators smashing a window and intimidating students”. He also referred to a more recent incident in October, in which “anti-Israel activists trapped attendees at a UCL Israel event, forcing Jewish students to be escorted off the premises by police for their own safety”.
Lord Polak underlined: “We are in 2016: it beggars belief that this is happening on our campuses”.
He asked the House: “Have we not seen this before?”
He concluded by referring to recent comments made by Universities Minister Jo Johnson, who said: “Our universities should be safe spaces for students to expand their minds, and there can be no justification for violent intimidation that curtails free speech”.
Lord Polak’s comments came during a debate on the Higher Education and Research Bill, in which he praised the “extremely important policies in the Bill”, but called on the Government to explore how a new Office for Students (OfS) might help to eradicate incidents of anti-Semitic abuse in universities.
Read the full exchange here.