On the 23rd of December, Baroness Ruth Deech, Britain’s first higher education adjudicator, claimed that some Jewish students are avoiding particular top British universities due to fears of rising anti-Semitism. In her comments, the University of Manchester was singled out.
The comments were made in an interview with The Daily Telegraph. She stated: “Amongst Jewish students, there is gradually a feeling that there are certain universities that you should avoid. Definitely SOAS, Manchester, I think, is now not so popular because of things that have happened there, Southampton, Exeter and so on.
“Many universities are in receipt of or are chasing very large donations from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states and so on, and maybe they are frightened of offending them. I don’t know why they aren’t doing anything about it. It really is a bad situation.”
The Union of Jewish Students (UJS) said in response to Baroness Deech’s comment, seemingly challenging her statement:
“UJS rejects the notion that there are ‘certain universities that you [Jewish students] should avoid’, along with several of the other comments made in the Daily Telegraph.”
They acknowledged that there was an “extremely worrying rise in anti-Semitism on UK university campuses”, and expressed gratitude to Baroness Deech for drawing attention to the issue. However they argue that the article did not “fully portray the experiences of Jewish students. It does a disservice to the thousands who are able to freely express their Jewish identities in whichever way they choose”.
The union cited that the Community Security Trust (CST) recorded 27 anti-Semitic incidents on UK campuses between January and June this year, and stated that “high-profile incidents in recent months have undeniably contributed to this”.
But they stressed that there were no universities they “would discourage Jewish students to apply to on the basis of anti-Semitism”.
While admitting there have been worrying incidents in recent months at these universities, they claim “the inflammatory language in this article is damaging and completely ignores the positive contributions that Jewish students make to their campuses every day”.
In singling out the University of Manchester, there has been speculation that Baroness Deech is referring to Manchester University Students’ Union’s recent decision to back the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement against the state of Israel.
In response to such speculation organisers of The University of Manchester’s BDS movement said that BDS “is a tactical method to pressure the Israeli government, and explicitly does not target individuals for being Jewish or Israeli.”
The group claim that their supporters include Jewish students, stating that “locally, the Manchester Jewish Action for Palestine group (in which Jewish students are involved) endorsed BDS.”
They acknowledge that during their campaign, BDS activists at the University of Manchester were accused of making Jewish students feel unsafe on campus, but state that they take “such accusations very seriously as an anti-racist campaign, and are dismayed that anybody should feel unsafe by our pro-human rights activism.”
The organisers stressed that they take concerns over racism very seriously and urge “any students who feel they have experienced racism at the hands of members/supporters of the BDS campaign to get in touch with us and/or the SU.”
The Manchester Jewish Society have also responded to Baroness Deech’s comments, stating firstly that they are “worried about the rise in anti-Semitism in university campuses”. However they argue that they “do not feel like the University of Manchester is a no-go for Jewish students”.
The society expressed concern about the potential impact of the BDS motion on Jewish students, claim they have voiced their concern to the university and are taking the necessary steps, but stress that Jewish students should come to the university, “regardless of whether its Union supports BDS or not, and help us make Manchester the great university for Jewish students that it once was”.
There has been an overall rejection of Baroness Deech’s comments of ‘no-go areas’ for Jewish Students from both Manchester Jewish societies, but both clearly stress this does not negate from their perception of a rise of anti-Semitic events on British university campuses, including Manchester’s.
A spokesman from the University of Manchester commented: “The University utterly rejects these comments. The University is a safe and welcoming campus for people of any background, in a global and diverse city and we have a zero-tolerance policy in place in order to ensure that this remains the case.”