May 18, 2024

Westside People

Complete News World

UK universities say campus protests may require action

UK universities say campus protests may require action

Image source, Getty Images

Comment on the photo, More than 100 people protested in Cambridge against the war on Gaza this week

The head of Universities UK has said that universities “may need to take action” if protests against the war between Israel and Gaza interfere with campus life.

Professor Sally Mapstone said there should not be an assumption that universities will evacuate protest camps but that all students should be able to sit their exams and graduate.

Leaders of 17 universities met the Prime Minister earlier to discuss the protests and steps they should take to tackle anti-Semitism.

The Jewish Students Union said it wanted the meeting to be followed by “decisive action.”

Police were called to Newcastle University on Wednesday, after escalating protests prevented some students from accessing counseling services.

Protesters told BBC News that the camps were “completely peaceful”.

University of St Andrews principal and vice-chancellor Dame Sally said universities were taking the recent rise in anti-Semitism on campus “very seriously” and “concrete actions” were agreed at the meeting to ensure universities knew how to draw “important lines”.

She said: “There is acceptable behavior when people protest… and unacceptable behavior because it is against the law.” “Some of this can be difficult.”

But she added: “When there is clear evidence that camps interfere with the good work of the university and with the rights of students and staff to go about their business — to take exams, to submit their degrees, to graduate — universities may need to take action.”

“Toxic atmosphere”

Edward Isaac, head of the Jewish Students Union, told the BBC that the government had provided “reassurances” to Jewish students during the meeting and offered to help universities in efforts to tackle anti-Semitism.

But, he added, “although the commitments were important, what comes next will be really important for Jewish students.”

He said the vice chancellors needed to take “decisive action,” including using the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-Semitism. The definition describes it, in part, as “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews.”

Mr Isaac added that there must be “clear communication” with Jewish communities – and “red lines must be drawn” when it comes to the protests, which the Syndicate of Jewish Journalists has previously warned are creating a “hostile and toxic atmosphere for Jewish students”.

Financial relations

The camps that have sprung up on about 15 UK campuses in recent days and weeks are much smaller than those in the United States.

Student activists are calling on their universities to withdraw their investments from Israel in response to its military operation in the Gaza Strip.

Divestment means selling shares in Israeli companies or dropping financial ties.

More than 34,780 people have been killed in Gaza since then, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry in the Strip.

“liberated space”

“Of course we oppose anti-Semitism and we oppose all forms of oppression,” Essie, who was protesting outside the University of Leeds, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

Students at Lancaster University, the latest to see the tents emerge, described their camp as a “liberated space”, with group events and meals.

“Anyone is welcome to join us,” the students said in a statement.

Protests escalated at Newcastle University on Wednesday, with a demonstration blocking access to the King’s Gate building.

“Support genocide”

Student Gemma, who did not participate in the protests and asked that her surname be withheld, told the BBC that protesters blocked the entrance to the building, which houses student support services such as counselling, financial assistance and visas, leaving students unable to attend appointments.

“I feel strongly that local college students should not be affected by this protest,” she said.

“It is often difficult for students to build up the courage to reach a goal [counselling] The session comes first, so putting up barriers to these services saddens me.”

Gemma added that she “also faced shouts over loudspeakers about us all enabling or supporting genocide.”

Newcastle University said some services had been moved online and students would be contacted to rebook missed appointments.

“We continue to work with police and security to ensure the safety and security of our campus,” she said in a statement.

“Protect students”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak warned on Wednesday that the protests were disrupting learning at universities and, in some cases, “spreading outright harassment and anti-Semitic abuse”.

Ahead of the meeting, Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said the meeting aimed to support university vice-chancellors to defend freedom of expression as well as protect students.

“It’s not easy – we understand that,” she told Al-Youm newspaper.

Universities UK, which represents more than 140 universities, has published guidance for universities on tackling anti-Semitism in 2021.

Last year, the National Union of Students apologized to Jewish students after an independent investigation found it had failed to adequately challenge anti-Semitism and hostility towards Jews, in its own structures.

The university said it would implement the report’s recommendations.

In a joint statement with Dlali, the university said it “accepts that pro-Palestinian and anti-Zionist beliefs may be protected beliefs, as are pro-Zionist beliefs.”

Correction 9 May 2024: An earlier version of this story said Newcastle University Vice-Chancellor Professor Chris Day was among those who met the Prime Minister and Education Secretary in Downing Street on Thursday. The university later told BBC News that Professor Day did not attend the meeting – and that line has been removed from the story.

keep in touch

Are you affected by the issues this story addresses?