The Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education (OIA) has condemned Sheffield Hallam University for failing to properly address a Jewish student’s complaint about antisemitism, and has ordered the university to pay him compensation of £3,000.
The student made a formal complaint to the university over its tolerance of anti-Israel activity that crossed the line into antisemitism and harassment, including tweets and Facebook posts by the university’s Palestine Society reportedly comparing Bethlehem to the Warsaw Ghetto and “Zionists” to Nazi criminals, and accusing Israel of harvesting the organs of Palestinian civilians. After deliberating for nearly nine months, the university comprehensively rejected the complaint, but the student took his case to the OIA.
The OIA strongly criticised the university’s handling of the complaint and found that the Palestine Society’s activity did cause him distress and inconvenience. The OIA cited the International Definition of Antisemitism which states that “using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g. claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterise Israel or Israelis” and “drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis” is antisemitic.
In a highly-significant move, the OIA reportedly described the definition as being “of particular relevance” and said the university should have engaged with the complainant’s request that it formally adopt the definition. The recognition by the OIA of the International Definition of Antisemitism in accordance with calls by Campaign Against Antisemitism, the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee, and others sets an important precedent.
The university has been ordered to pay compensation of £3,000 to the student, review its policies and work with the students’ union to ensure complaints are dealt with fairly, and raise awareness across campus of the legal framework governing freedom of speech and the university’s responsibility to ensure that staff, students and others are “protected from discrimination, harassment and victimisation.”
We commend the student for making the complaint, and solicitor David Lewis and lecturer Lesley Klaff for assisting him. The precedent set by this decision will help Jewish students who are harassed and victimised by antisemites claiming merely to be critical of Israel. If you know of anybody who has suffered from antisemitic harassment, please contact us.