An emergency motion proposed on 24th January by Avrahum Sanger, President of the Jewish Society at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), has been amended to avoid recognising Jewish students’ rights to decide what they find to be antisemitic. It has also declared Zionism to be a form of extremism to be combatted using a new counter-extremism policy.
On behalf of Jewish students at SOAS, Sanger had proposed a motion to restore kosher food which had been removed from Students’ Union facilities, reinstate the Jewish prayer area and mandate the Students’ Union to appoint an officer to protect Jewish students. The Union passed the motion, but only with amendments which swapped protection of Jewish students for protection of all students from all types of racism. The Union had one more condition: removal of a line in the motion confirming that “Jewish students should be given the right to self-determination and be able to define what constitutes hatred against their group like all other minority groups”. The Union then passed a counter-extremism policy, but during the debate it was made clear that it was to be used to prevent anyone with “Zionist ideology” from participating in campus life.
Since the publication of the Macpherson Report in 1999, Britain has recognised the need for minority groups to be able to define prejudice against them, and by denying that right to Jews, SOAS Students’ Union is discriminating and sending a message that Jews cannot be trusted to honestly decide for themselves what is and is not antisemitic. Additionally, the International Definition of Antisemitism adopted by the Government in December states that “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination (e.g. by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour)” is antisemitic. It echoes a finding of the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee Inquiry into the Rise of Antisemitism in Britain found antisemitism to be especially severe within the student movement and stated that use of “the word ‘Zionist’ (or worse, ‘Zio’) as a term of abuse has no place in a civilised society”.
Shocked by the result, Sanger has issued a statement saying: “I proposed a simple motion calling upon the Students’ Union to protect Jewish students but they responded by declaring Jewish self-determination to be extremism and a right that Jews uniquely should not have. My university is at a crisis point. It is at risk of becoming unsafe for Jews.”
SOAS has long been nicknamed the “School of Antisemitism” for its long history of victimising Jewish students. Baroness Deech recently declared it a university Jewish students “should avoid” and Campaign Against Antisemitism has lodged complaints with SOAS and the Charity Commission over an antisemitic lecture. SOAS Palestine Society recently proposed to define what Jewish students could take offence to and Jewish students have been threatened, as detailed in a hard-hitting Evening Standard exposé last week.
SOAS is a university on the brink. Campus politics have become a nest of extremism and antisemitic bigotry. Jewish students sought their Students’ Union’s protection and in response the Union voted that Jews uniquely have no right to decide what they find offensive. Additionally the Union decided Jews alone now have no right to self-determination, and that to say otherwise is ‘extremist’. Counter-extremism has been turned on its head and is being used at SOAS to block out voices of tolerance. SOAS must take responsibility and protect its Jewish students.
We are investigating a number of options. It is intolerable that in 2017, in Britain’s capital, a major university’s student body is broadcasting at full volume that Jewish students should be discriminated against.