SPECIAL BRIEFING DAY 217: Prime Minister meets with Vice-Chancellors to tackle antisemitism on campus

By May 10 2024, 18:47 Latest News No Comments

Note to reader: We wanted to give you a trigger warning on what you may read below. We have chosen, as with every one of these briefings, to not share horrific images, however we want to alert you as sensitively as we can to the reports coming out of Israel and Gaza.

Photo credit: 10 Downing Street

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak meets with Vice-Chancellors to tackle antisemitism on campus

“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”, said Prime Minister Rishi Sunak ahead of his meeting with the Union of Jewish Students (UJS) yesterday.

The Prime Minister, alongside Education Secretary Gillian Keegan, Communities Secretary Michael Gove, and Security Minister Tom Tugendhat met with university vice-chancellors as well as UJS, University Jewish Chaplaincy, and Community Security Trust to discuss ways to help Jewish students feel safer on campus and to tackle antisemitism.

“Universities should be places of rigorous debate but also bastions of tolerance and respect for every member of their community”, the Prime Minister said.
Education Secretary Gillian Keegan stated that she has “made it absolutely clear that universities must crack down on antisemitism and ensure that protests do not unduly disrupt university life”. Speaking in advance of the meeting, she said that “I am looking forward to welcoming vice chancellors to No10 today to make sure together we have clear steps in place to protect Jewish students on campus”.

In a video released after the meeting featuring Education Secretary Gillian Keegan and Security Minister Tom Tugendhat, Tugendhat underscored that they called “University Vice Chancellors into Number 10 to ensure that they understand how seriously the Government takes the issue of antisemitism in higher education”, adding that the Government “will not tolerate antisemitism”.

“We will not stand by whilst Jewish students are harassed and intimidated in education”, echoed the Education Secretary.

“Antisemitism is unacceptable, and it will not be tolerated in our universities, or across our society”. Outlining how the Government is tackling antisemitism, Keegan noted that she has “written to all university Vice Chancellors to outline how they must take swift, robust and active disciplinary action against students found being antisemitic”, how the Government is investing £7 million “to help tackle antisemitism in our education system”, and that she “will shortly be issuing guidance to universities so they are under no illusion of the high standard they should be held to were responding to issues of antisemitism on their campuses”.

Defence Secretary Grant Shapps warns of a “network of authoritarian states” from “Moscow to Tehran”

Defence Secretary Grant Shapps criticised Iran for “nourish[ing] and manipulat[ing] its proxy militia and groups around the Middle East” in order to destabilise the region, in a Statement to the House of Commons on Tuesday.

The Defence Secretary highlighted how Iran’s “Hamas terrorist allies brought mass murder to Israelis on 7 October, and they have brought pain to the Palestinians—both before and since—with the Hamas approach to running that area”. He also mentioned the Iran-backed Houthis who “continue to hold global trade hostage in the Red Sea”.

Referencing Iran’s unprecedented attack against “a democratic near-neighbour” Israel on 13-14 April, he underscored that “from Moscow to Tehran and from Beijing to Pyongyang, a network of authoritarian states is pressuring allies and our interests”, warning that “working together, they are more connected than they have ever been before”.

During the Statement, Rt. Hon. Sir Julian Lewis MP highlighted Hamas’ recent missile strike on the Kerem Shalom humanitarian crossing, asserting that it exemplifies Hamas’ tactic of using “maximum cruelty”. He concluded that “the Hamas strategists clearly know what they are doing. It is horrible—devilish— but there is a cruel logic to it”, and urged Israel to avoid Iran’s “desperate attempts to halt [Israel’s] growing collaboration with Saudi Arabia and the UAE”.

Conservative MPs and Lords support Israel and raise plight of hostages in Parliament

A number of Conservative parliamentarians have reiterated the importance of supporting Israel in its war on Hamas in Parliament this week and the plight of Israeli hostages still held in Gaza.

CFI Vice Chair Rt. Hon. Theresa Villiers MP expressed concern during an Urgent Question that Hamas “have apparently said to mediators that they do not have 33 living hostages who fall into the categories of women, children, elderly and sick”. Describing it as “an appalling body blow for the relatives of those held captive”, she stressed “Israel’s right to take military action to get those people home”.

CFI Vice Chair Andrew Percy MP said that “every red line of international law had been breached by the monstrous Palestinian terrorists who raped countless women, murdered 1,200 people and took hundreds of innocent people hostage”. “Within hours, people in this country, and some pro-Palestinian activists, were on the streets cheering what happened that day. Since then, we have seen the dehumanisation of Jews through the dehumanisation of Israel. ‘The Protocols of the Elders of Zion’ has been dusted off and every antisemitic trope has been trotted out. Some people in this House, whom we would have expected to be allies when it comes to gender-based violence, have had little or nothing to say about the horrors of that day”, the Brigg and Goole MP continued before highlighting that “now, we hear calls for Israel to be denied the right to defend itself, while arms continue to flow to Hamas from Iran and North Korea”. He emphasised that “there is nothing kind or compassionate about that message”.

CFI Parliamentary Officer Bob Blackman OBE MP also raised the urgent situation facing hostages – “the 130-plus hostages have now been held for 214 days, in barbaric conditions, subject to rape and torture, and denied medical access from the International Red Cross”. He said that “the sad reality is that Israel put a deal on the table that could have led to there being a ceasefire right now… yet Hamas refuse to accept it”. He added: “Hamas have it in their power to accept the position of a ceasefire, so that the violence and war can come to an end naturally as a result?”

Former Home Secretary Rt. Hon. Suella Braverman KC MP told the House of Commons that she had met “survivors of the Nova festival massacre and people who had fought singlehandedly for hours in Israel on 7 October against brutal Hamas terrorists”. “We all want peace, and we all want to see the end of civilian fatalities, but sometimes countries must fight for peace. Israel has a right to defend herself and a duty to protect her people from the brutal terrorist cult of Hamas”, Braverman emphasised.

Former Attorney General Rt. Hon. Sir Michael Ellis KC MP urged more pressure to be put on Hamas “to do what they should do—what any civilised human being would call for—which is to release the hostages and stop attacking aid points”. He said too many are “silent about that, with every focus on Israel and none on Hamas”.

On a separate point of order, Sir Michael restated Sir Robert Chote, the chair of the UK Statistics Authority, in underlining “the uncertainties and bias relating to the casualty statistics produced by the Hamas-run Gaza Ministry of Health”. Sir Michael added that “many academic statisticians have also pointed out that the Hamas figures are metronomically linear and obviously fabricated”.

Tom Hunt MP cautioned that Hamas may gain an “increased foothold in Gaza”, putting them in a position to “inflict more evil and misery, like that we saw on 7 October”. He warned that “some of the proposed ceasefire agreements seem to involve releasing hundreds of Hamas terrorists and do not involve all of the hostages being released”. He urged for the plans to “intensify for a Hamas-free Gaza, so that innocent people in Gaza can look forward with hope to a future of peace”.

In the House of Lords, Lord Leigh of Hurley outlined that “one of their biggest problems was distributing aid because it was being taken by Hamas before it could be distributed”.

“The quickest way to get aid in is to get the hostages out, the quickest way to get the hostages out is to have a sustainable ceasefire, and the quickest way to have a sustainable ceasefire is for Hamas to agree to the generous terms which Egypt has proposed and which Israel has already agreed to”, Lord Wolfson of Tredegar remarked.

Former Conservative Party leader urges proscription of IRGC

Rt Hon Sir Iain Duncan Smith called for the proscription of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), rebutting the perceived excuses given to avoid the ban.

Speaking in a Westminster Hall Debate on countering Iran’s hostile activities, the former Conservative Party Leader stated that IRGC proscription “is long overdue”, underscoring its “behaviour, activities and foul funding of the most awful terrorist organisations we have ever seen, which absolutely devastate their own economies”.

He asked the room to “imagine how much the money that has been given to Hamas by various entities, including Iran, could have benefited the people in Gaza needing hospital treatment, roads and proper sewerage by now had it not been used for weapons, tunnel building and attacks on others”. He declared that this “is what we need to stop, and proscription is exactly how we have to do it”.

Sir Iain dismissed claims that it is important for diplomatic channels to be open with Iran, stressing that “it is important for dialogue, but dialogue with the deaf changes nothing, so that is not dialogue”.

“We need to deal with policy that affects us and act for our citizens, rather than worrying about the Americans wanting to have a backchannel. Please, let us not hear any more about backchannels”, he added.

He insisted that “it is genuinely time for the UK to give a lead on [IRGC proscription] because many other countries in Europe would follow”, which will in turn “have a huge effect on Iran and shockwaves would run right back to China as well”.

MPs and Peers bear witness in Parliament

MPs and Peers beared witness in Parliament this week via a virtual reality experience presented by ISRAEL-is, hosted by the Israel All Party Parliamentary Group in co-ordination with CFI. ISRAEL-is’ flagship programme ‘Survived to Tell’, amplifies five witness testimonies of 7th October featuring survivors Ofir Engel, Millet Ben Haim and Mazal Tazazo, Bedouin police officer Remo Salman Al Huzail who saved countless lives at the Nova Festival, and IDF reservist Nimrod Palmach who helped liberate Kibbutzim on the Gaza envelope.

Millet, Mazal, Remo and Nimrod joined the Parliamentarians, answering further questions on their wellbeing and stories.

CFI Parliamentary Officer Nicola Richards MP chaired the event, sharing her regret with survivors on what they endured. She noted that “Israel is still a nation coming to terms with what’s happened”, and that she is in disbelief that Hamas’ attack was against people her age at a music festival.

Richards underscored that “to meet people who put their lives on the line to save people is extraordinary”, vowing that her “mission is to make young people around the world pay attention to what’s happened, with a message that we should all care, likewise with the violence against women”.

Former Home Secretary Rt Hon Suella Braverman KC MP also spoke sharing “the great amount of humility and respect” she has for the survivors. She noted the “heroism, bravery, leadership, and resilience” of them all.

“We owe you our allegiance and our alliance”, Braverman declared, adding that “we salute your fight, and we support you here as your allies”.

Israel “must continue this fight against Hamas, against evil. You must win this fight”, she professed.

Conservative Party Vice Chairman: “Israel has a right to defend itself”

Conservative Party Vice Chairman Mohamed Ali declared that “Israel has a right to defend itself, and we need to get rid of this cancer that is Hamas”.

Speaking to the Jerusalem Post, he underscored that “the Israeli state has a legitimate right to exist, and when you threaten that, I think Britain will stand with you and defend you”.

“It’s clear to me that our two nations share a strong relationship, and that’s going to continue regardless of what’s going on in the Middle East at the moment”, he added. Highlighting the UK and Israel’s shared values and contributions in the world, he also expressed that he “think[s] these attacks [on 13-14 April] from the Iranians will draw us closer together”.

On his personal relationship with the state of Israel, he vowed that Israel will “have a strong Muslim friend in the House of Commons that will speak up for the State of Israel”, if he is elected.

Ali also offered to “lend a hand” when “the community starts coming back to the kibbutzim seeking to rebuild”.

Ali recently visited Israel on a CFI delegation earlier this year in a show of support to the country.

Photo credit: IDF

Hamas launches rockets at Kerem Shalom humanitarian crossing killing four

14 mortar shells were launched from Rafah towards the Kerem Shalom crossing by Hamas on Sunday, killing four soldiers and injuring 10.

The launches were carried out approximately 350 metres from a civilian shelter, using Gazans as human shields.

Following the attacks, Israel closed the Kerem Shalom crossing, still facilitating aid via other routes. Kerem Shalom reopened on Wednesday.

Hamas has since launched three further rounds of rockets at Kerem Shalom, as well as towards the U.S.-initiated floating pier.

Preparations underway for Rafah operation after Hamas fabricates ceasefire deal

Hamas announced on Monday that they had accepted a ceasefire deal; “a ruse intended to make Israel look like the side refusing a deal”, according to an Israeli official.

The fabricated deal, concealed from Israel, did not meet Israel’s “essential requirements”.

Israel had put forward a proposal 10 days prior, described as “extraordinarily generous” by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Israel said they would delay an IDF operation targeting Hamas in Rafah if Hamas responded positively to the proposal.

Following Hamas’ disregard of Israel’s proposal, Israel has said they have “no choice” but to conduct operations in Rafah, a Hamas stronghold.

In a statement released by the Prime Minister’s Office on 6 May, it was disclosed that the War Cabinet “unanimously decided Israel will continue its operation in Rafah, in order to apply military pressure on Hamas so as to advance the release of our hostages and achieve the other objectives of the war”.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that “Israel was and still is ready to make a truce in the fighting to free our hostages. This is what we did when we released 124 hostages, and returned to fight – and this is what we are ready to do today”.

“We are not ready to accept a situation in which the Hamas battalions come out of their bunkers, take control of Gaza again, rebuild their military infrastructure, and return to threatening the citizens of Israel in the surrounding towns, in the cities of the south, in all parts of the country”, he added.

IDF Spokesperson Rear Adm Daniel Hagari said that Israel is “exhausting every possibility for negotiation to bring the hostages back to their homes as a central goal, as quickly as possible. At the same time, we are continuing to press forward”.

The IDF has urged Gazan civilians to evacuate eastern Rafah to al-Mawasi through flyers, text messages, phone calls, and broadcasts in Arabic.
The IDF has expanded the humanitarian zone in al-Mawasi, ensuring there are field hospitals, tents, and increased quantities of food and water.

On Monday evening, the IDF gained control of the Gazan side of the Rafah crossing to Egypt, with 20 Hamas gunmen killed and 3 tunnels found.

Targeted strikes against Hamas facilities in eastern Rafah have since been carried out, with the IDF preparing for a ground invasion.

As of Thursday, 50 Hamas terrorists have been killed in IDF operations, including terrorists firing from Al-Masri Tower in Rafah’s center.

Three IDF soldiers were injured yesterday by an IED trap in a tunnel in Rafah, and are receiving medical attention.

Rafah is home to at least four Hamas battalions, and Israeli intelligence suggests that the remaining hostages are hidden in tunnels under Rafah.

The Philadelphia Corridor in Rafah, which runs on the Gaza-Egypt border, has been used to smuggle weapons into the Gaza Strip and is seen as a possible site for Hamas rearmament.

Egypt this week barricaded the Egyptian side of the Rafah crossing to prevent Gazan civilians entering Egypt.

U.S. President Biden said earlier this week that the U.S. would not supply weapons to Israel if they went ahead with their Rafah operation.

UK Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron has said that the UK would not follow suit in suspending arms sales to Israel although it “would not support a major operation in Rafah”.

Commander of Hamas’ Naval Force killed in Gaza City

Commander of Hamas’ Naval Unit in Gaza City, Ahmed Ali, was killed in a joint operation led by the Shin Bet and IDF this week. Ali commanded a series of terror attacks against Israeli civilians, as well as initiating ambushes and terror attacks against IDF troops operating in the Gaza Strip since 7 October.

IDF drills in northern Israel as tensions continue to rise

IDF troops defending Israel’s northern border have participated in simulation drills this week as tension continues to rise with Hezbollah.

Four IDF soldiers have been killed this week from Hezbollah attacks. Today, anti-tank missiles have caused fires and building damage to Kibbutz Mashgav.

In response, Israel struck approximately 115 Hezbollah targets in southern Lebanon, killing nine terrorists.

Lag B’Omer celebrations at Mount Meron, taking place during the last weekend of May, have been cancelled.

Mount Meron, located eight kilometres from the Israel-Lebanon border has been attacked multiple times since 7th October.

Usually, the mountain is visited by thousands of observant Jews during Lag B’Omer festivities but the IDF has instructed the police to keep worshippers afar.

85-year-old former hostage released from hospital

Former hostage, Alma Avraham, was discharged from hospital following 164 days of rehabilitation.

The 85-year-old was released from Hamas captivity after 51 days, as part of the temporary ceasefire/hostage deal in November. She was returned to Israel in a life-threatening condition.

Alma’s son told News channels that “the people here saved my mother. She came here in life-threatening condition, returned to walking, to talk, returned to the clarity of thought, to be a grandmother and a mother. We have no words”.

Tel Aviv Pride cancelled

In the first time in 25 years (bar Covid) Tel Aviv pride has been cancelled.

The Pride festival, ranked as number one in the Middle East and eighth worldwide, usually enjoys over 150,000 attendees.

Tel Aviv’s Mayor Ron Huldai announced on Wednesday that this year’s festivities will not take place stating that “this isn’t the time for celebrations”.

Writing on X, he noted that “132 of our sons and daughters are still hostages in Gaza, the bereavement circles keep widening, and every day we are in one of the most difficult periods of the State of Israel”.

“We feel the pain of the entire country, and at the same time, we do not stop for a moment the fight for equality and freedom – for everyone and everything. See you at the Pride Parade in June 2025”, he added.

Part of the budget allocated for the parade, will instead go the Pride Centre in Tel Aviv-Jaffa which is a social hub for the LGTBTQ+ community as well as a facility offering services such as counselling.

There will also be a rally to signify “pride, hope and freedom”.

The Pride Parade in Jerusalem is still set to take place on 30 May.

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