Jewish Society refutes claim Oxford University ‘no-go zone’ for Jewish students

Former Oxford proctor's criticism of Oxford University rejected by the University and Jewish Society

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Oxford University Jewish society has rejected claims made by Baroness Deech that the prevalence of anti-Semitism is transforming some of the UK’s leading universities into no-go zones for Jewish student.

However, they did thank the former Principal of St Anne’s College for her support regarding the University’s handling of alleged anti-Semitism in Oxford University Labour Club (OULC).

Deech, who was a former proctor at Oxford University and the independent adjudicator for higher education before retiring in 2008, told the Daily Telegraph that institutions may be failing to combat hatred against Jews because they are “afraid of offending” their potential benefactors from Gulf states.

Oxford University Jewish Society said: “We believe that the University of Oxford is far from a no-go zone for Jewish students. We have a large, growing and active Jewish society, with regular educational events, orthodox and progressive services and weekly Friday night services and dinners, which have occasionally had as many as 130 people in attendance.

“To call Oxford University a ‘no go zone for Jewish students’ would be totally untrue, given our vibrant and thriving Jewish student life on campus, and we would always encourage Jewish students to apply here.”

In the same interview Deech also accused Oxford University of “kicking out into the long grass” complaints about anti-Semitism within the Oxford University Labour Club (OULC).

Earlier this year OULC’s co-chair, Alex Chalmers, resigned in protest at members who he claimed had “some kind of problem with Jews” and sympathised with terrorist groups like Hamas.

His resignation sparked an intervention from the Universities Minister Jo Johnson who urged the proctors to investigate allegations of anti-Semitism.

Deech claimed that the University had failed to act on the issue, despite proctors having been handed a dossier containing the testimonies of several members of OULC, including allegations that members frequently used the term “zio” and other cases of anti-semitic behaviour.

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She commented: “Those students never got a proper reply. It is very disappointing, the university said they noted the Baroness Royall report [into anti-Semitism]. But they haven’t actually done anything. They have not opened an investigation into any individuals.

“I find it personally very difficult, I’ve been at Oxford for 45 years or something, and I owe my career to Oxford, but I can’t believe that my own university is not setting up an investigation and being pro-active about this.”

In May, Baroness Royall’s inquiry into anti-semitism in OULC found no evidence of “institutional anti-semitism” in the club, but reported individual incidents of cultural discrimination.

The Oxford Jewish Society welcomed Baroness Deech’s comments concerning failures of the University in dealing with allegations of anti-Semitism. In a public statement, they said: “We expected more from the university and the proctors in support of Jewish students. We too are concerned that, nearly a year afterwards, little to no action has been taken, and we thank Baroness Deech for her support in this regard.”

Oxford University said it was “surprised and disappointed” by Baroness Deech’s remarks, and insisted that it was committed to tackling harassment and discrimination in the University.

In a statement, the University said: “A representative of the University met personally with Lady Deech to brief her on the background to the issues she has raised (…) as a result of it, Lady Deech is fully aware that when people come forward to the University with a complaint that they have been a victim of anti-Semitic behaviour we will investigate it fully. Where offences are found to have been committed, they are considered grounds for severe disciplinary action.”

OULC told Cherwell: “OULC has put in place the measures recommended by Baroness Royall’s report and has conducted a review of the complaints procedure within the club. Our actions, as a student organisation, are constrained by existing university and party disciplinary procedures, which we cannot comment upon. OULC condemns all forms of racism and discrimination, and seeks to be as inclusive a club as possible.”

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In her interview with the Daily Telegraph, Baroness Deech referred specifically to SOAS, Manchester, Southampton and Exeter whilst claiming that the UK’s leading universities have become unwelcoming to Jewish students.

She said: “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.”

Spokespersons and Jewish societies from each of the universities in question have since released statements strongly denying the claims.

SOAS said it “does not permit the expression of anti-Semitic or other views that are illegal or incite racial hatred”.

Meanwhile a spokesperson for Exeter University told the MailOnline: “It is untrue to say that the University of Exeter is not a welcoming place for Jewish students. The University of Exeter is an inclusive and friendly environment where all students are welcomed from all backgrounds.

“Anti-Semitic and racist behaviour in any form is not tolerated by the University. Exeter University not only has a thriving Jewish society, but teaches Jewish studies, the history of the holocaust and has a Jewish chaplain, as part of its multi-faith team.”

In a statement, a spokesperson for Southampton University said that the University is “home to a supportive, friendly and inclusive community that welcomes staff, students, alumni, collaborators and visitors from a wide variety of backgrounds”.

OULC and SOAS have been contacted for comment.