Lords from across the political divide condemned anti-Semitism and intolerance towards Israelis on UK university campuses, following a question in the House of Lords by Conservative Lord Leigh of Hurley on the subject this week.
Lord Leigh asked the Government “what steps they are taking to counter anti-Semitism on university campuses in the United Kingdom”.
Government Whip, Baroness Evans of Bowes Park stated in response that the Universities UK had created a task force to combat harassment on campus, which is due to report their findings in autumn. She underlined: “there is no place in our society for bigotry, hatred or any form of racism, such as anti-Semitism”.
She confirmed that the task force would document anti-Semitic and anti-Israel incidents so that it could put forward recommendations for Ministers to act on: “Universities UK is planning a national conference post-the publication of those recommendations, in November, so that there can be a full discussion of the issues that it has found in the evidence it is collecting”.
Lord Leigh asked the further question: “Will her department consider the basis of the definition of anti-Semitism to be that proposed by Sir Eric Pickles and subsequently adopted by the UK College of Policing and the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance?”
He emphasised that the newly adopted definition specifies that anti-Semitism “manifests itself when double standards are applied to the state of Israel, requiring of it behaviour that is not expected or demanded of other democratic nations”.
The Conservative Lord added: “Will the Minister assure us that it cannot be right that British Jewish students in universities should be intimidated by overaggressive anti-Israel activity on their campuses?”
Baroness Evans agreed with Lord Leigh, and stated that the newly adopted definition “provides a valuable description of some of the ways contemporary anti-Semitism is manifested”.
She added: “He is also right that it has been included in operational guidance for the police since 2014. Universities may well want to consider it. One of the issues that the Universities UK task force, which I mentioned in my previous Answer, is looking at is how better training can be undertaken for university staff to help them understand the many different forms that anti-Semitism can take”.
A number of Lords from other parties echoed Lord Leigh’s concerns on anti-Semitism on campuses.
Labour Lord Anderson of Swansea stated that “the president of the National Union of Students sets a deplorable example”, and referenced the recent case of a Jewish Student at the University of York had received an apology and £1000 compensation after facing anti-Semitic bullying.
The Lord Bishop of Chelmsford also referred to the fact that “a pro-Palestinian student body forced the University of Essex in 2013 to cancel a speech from the Israeli deputy ambassador over concerns about his safety”.