Universities 'must protect' Jewish students amid protests, education secretary says

Freedom of speech and expression is vital to academic communities – but it must not be used to harass and intimidate, says Gillian Keegan
Anna Davis @_annadavis2 minutes ago

Education secretary Gillian Keegan has warned she will not “stand by as Jewish students suffer” amid a series of pro-Palestine protests at British universities.

Staff and students at Oxford and Cambridge have set up camps to protest against the war in Gaza, while a “Liberated Zone for Gaza” has been established at SOAS University of London and students stormed the library and occupied the first two floors at Goldsmiths University.

Ms Keegan said Jewish students must not be harassed or intimidated and also criticised leaders at Goldsmiths for giving in “to the unreasonable demands of a vocal minority of protesters.”

She said their actions are “causing deep hurt among Jewish students”, adding she will be speaking to leaders at Goldsmiths, as well as vice chancellors from other universities to “make it clear that we expect university leadership to be doing everything within their power to secure the safety and wellbeing of Jewish staff and students.”

Writing in The Daily Telegraph she said: “The sad fact is since the abhorrent Oct 7 (Hamas) attacks, there has been an unprecedented rise in incidents of antisemitic abuse and intimidation.

“This is creating a hostile and toxic atmosphere on campus, which these protests will add to, when students are beginning some of the most important exams of their lives.

“In light of this, I am making myself very clear: antisemitic abuse and intimidation must not be tolerated on university campuses and we will not stand by as Jewish students suffer.”

She added: “Freedom of speech and expression is vital to academic communities, but it must not be used to harass and intimidate, or cause significant disruption to the vital business of higher education.”

She added: “At Goldsmiths, University of London, leaders have given in to the unreasonable demands of a vocal minority of protesters. Their actions - particularly in reviewing its use of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism - are causing deep hurt among Jewish students.”

So-called “Liberated Zone” encampments were created in the early hours yesterday (Monday) in front of the Pitts Rivers Museum in Oxford and outside King’s College in Cambridge.

Encampment Erected At UCL London In Solidarity With Palestine
Palestinian flags and protest banners are displayed at an entrance to UCL London on May 6
Getty Images

The protesters are calling for the universities to cut financial ties with Israel after the country’s offensive in Gaza.

Pro-Palestine encampments have also sprung up at UK universities including Manchester, Sheffield and Newcastle over the past week, after unrest at similar sites in the US.

Rishi Sunak has reportedly summoned university leaders for a meeting in Downing Street on Thursday about anti-Semitism on campuses, which is expected to include discussion of how protests should be handled.

A spokesman for Goldsmiths, University of London said: “We are reviewing two definitions of Antisemitism and one of Islamophobia used by the College, in order to understand their impact on College life since they were adopted in June 2022. This review was always planned and was first announced when the definitions were adopted two years ago.

“We do not tolerate antisemitism or any form of hatred, and we continue to prioritise the safety and support of all our community.

“We also have a duty to uphold the right to freedom of speech for all, and we have been clear with students that any expression of views must be respectful and within the law.

“Our Warden is attending the meeting with the Secretary of State, and we look forward to contributing to this important discussion.”