Christ’s College at the University of Cambridge has admitted “significant failings” in its investigation into the violent antisemitic assault of three Jewish students returning from Shabbat dinner by members of sporting societies in November last year.
The three Jewish students said that they were attacked by seven men when they entered the graduate union building in Mill Lane. The bar area had been rented out for a party jointly held by the Marguerites and Hippolytans sporting societies of Christ’s College.
One of the victims, Shlomo Roiter-Jesner, 25, told The Telegraph at the time: “It was a closed party so we walked out but as we did so these individuals started getting more physical and more vocal and they noticed our kippot [Jewish skullcaps]. All of a sudden they were shouting: ‘Jew, get f*** out of here’. We tried to leave but they were yelling at us.”
In an e-mail to Professor Jane Stapleton, Master of Christ’s College, sent a day after the attacks, another of the Jewish students, wrote: “We heard shouting and were literally grabbed and pulled out of the building by about seven large, intimidating males. We, and other bystanders, heard a number of vicious antisemitic slurs including ‘F***ing Jew, you don’t belong here’, ‘dirty Jew’ and to myself, ‘f*** off, darkie’. They then proceeded to try and choke my friend with his scarf, leaving him gasping for oxygen, and to push me and the third friend around, despite our attempts to de-escalate the situation. They eventually went back in after threatening to ‘smash our faces in’.”
According to The Telegraph, Professor Stapleton wrote in response that the trio had every right to take the matter to police but if they chose not to do so the College would order an immediate inquiry. The victims did not go to the police and instead left the College to investigate. The College obtained CCTV footage of the attack but it contained no audio recording.
The College told one of the victims that it disciplined two students but cleared them of antisemitism and refused to identify the perpetrators or even confirm whether they had been punished in any way.
The victims publicly accused the College of covering the matter up, sparking an outcry. The College commissioned three external legal experts, Dame Janet Smith, Sir Martin Moore-Bick and Professor Graham Zellick, to review its handling of the matter.
In a statement issued today, Professor Stapleton has accepted that “though there was no bad faith or intention to cover up, there were significant failings in how the College responded to the complaint.” The legal experts criticised the fact that the victims were made to believe that their complaints had been rejected and were not interviewed by the College, and that even though there was insufficient evidence to discipline individual students for antisemitism, the College failed to consider what general measures could be taken.
The College has now agreed to implement the recommendations of the report, including:
- Appointing an adjudication panel for serious disciplinary offences and a dean for discipline;
- Ensuring that future complainants are kept fully informed during the disciplinary process;
- Adopting a procedure for continuing to investigate incidents even where the perpetrator cannot be identified, so that general measures can be adopted and the incident can be recorded and condemned; and
- Allowing the College to impose restrictions, conditions and penalties on groups such as student societies which are complicit in wrongdoing.
In response to the incident, the College expressed disappointment that witnesses had not stepped forward and that the perpetrators had not admitted their acts, and consequently the Marguerites and Hippolytans sporting societies will been banned from holding events outside the College until October 2019 “unless those responsible admit the abuse”.
In a statement, Professor Stapleton said: “The College accepts that racist and antisemitic conduct occurred and has apologised to the students who reported it. The incident also revealed significant deficiencies in college procedures and in response the college is overhauling its entire complaints, training, investigation, record-keeping and disciplinary machinery with the assistance of external legal experts. We greatly regret the deficiencies in the way the complaints were originally handled and have taken further measures against the two student societies involved. The Jewish community can be reassured that if there were to be a similar incident in the future the college would address it robustly.”
On behalf of the victims, Shlomo Roiter-Jesner said: “We are satisfied that Christ’s is now comfortable giving credence to our story, admitting that antisemitic conduct occurred and taking decisive steps to improve their disciplinary system.”
Campaign Against Antisemitism commends the victims for standing up not only to the antisemitic thugs who attacked them, but also to their College which failed to investigate the matter appropriately.
We are pleased that the College has admitted that its handling of the incident was utterly contemptible and that it has chosen to redress this with extensive reforms.
One final question remains, however. We believe that the College should disclose how it decided to punish the two students disciplined for participating in the assault (even though they were not proven to have been the ones who engaged in antisemitic abuse) and whether Cambridgeshire Constabulary was invited by the College to investigate.