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Oxford Vice-Chancellor attends Downing Street meeting to ‘protect Jewish students’

On Thursday 9th May, university leaders, including Oxford University’s Vice-Chancellor, Irene Tracey, met with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Education Secretary Gillian Keegan, where leaders were advised to take further measures to tackle antisemitism on campus. 

The meeting was a response to the erection of pro-Palestine encampments across UK universities over the past two weeks, including at Oxford last Monday.

In a statement ahead of the meeting, Sunak, while acknowledging that universities should be “places of rigorous debate” as well as “bastions of tolerance”, described the encampments as “disrupting the lives and studies of their fellow students and, in some cases, propagating outright harassment and antisemitic abuse.”

The Union for Jewish Students (UJS), who the Oxford Jewish Society (JSoc) are affiliated with, were also in attendance at Thursday’s meeting. UJS representatives demanded that Vice-Chancellors should collaborate with JSoc leaders, condemn antisemitism, and provide antisemitism awareness training. UJS also urged  Vice-Chancellors to collaborate with police forces in the case of criminal activity.

While Oxford JSoc have not released a public statement on the encampment, the Oxford Israel Society – which was set up last October – has issued a statement condemning the encampment. Jewish Students for Justice also issued a statement, standing in “total solidarity” with the encampment and its demands.

Since Thursday’s roundtable, the Oxford Action for Palestine (OA4P) encampment was attacked by six men on Saturday 11th May. In a statement released by OA4P on their instagram account, it was noted that the men “particularly targeted Jewish students trying to deescalate the situation, using unacceptable antisemitic language.” 

The OA4P statement also singled out “Sunak, University administrators, and irresponsible media, who all spent the week weaponising antisemitism to demonise campus protestors.”

In response to the incident targeting the encampment on Saturday evening, a University spokesperson told Cherwell: “The University is concerned by the incident on Saturday evening. Our key priority throughout this protest has been the safety and welfare of the whole University community, as well as visitors to our buildings and the public.

“We are maintaining an increased security presence around the encampment to ensure the safety and welfare of everybody, while also providing regular protection across the rest of the University. We are in close contact with Thames Valley Police and are grateful to them for their swift response on Saturday evening.”

Sunak is continuing to speak on the current situation in UK campuses and in a speech on Monday 13th May he stated: “People are abusing our liberal democratic values of freedom of speech, the right to protest, to intimidate, threaten and assault others, to sing antisemitic chants on our streets and our university campuses, and to weaponize the evils of antisemitism or anti-Muslim hatred, in a divisive ideological attempt to set Britain against Britain.”

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