The Union of Jewish Students’ Campaigns Director, Josh Nagli, appears to have spurned suggestions by Sir Eric Pickles and Baroness Deech that new laws are needed to fight antisemitism on campus.
In remarks to the Daily Telegraph, Baroness Deech 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.” In a separate Daily Telegraph interview, Sir Eric Pickles praised Baroness Deech’s comments and warned that he was looking at proposing laws that would force universities to act against antisemitism, saying: “I am looking at [new legislation] with a favourable eye.”
However Mr Nagli used the opportunity of an opinion piece in the Daily Telegraph to hit back at the comments, writing that: “Baroness Deech’s comments are alarmist and frankly, wrong.” Arguing that “Antisemitism is not rife”, Mr Nagli berated Baroness Deech, accusing her of “inflammatory language [that] does not reflect the experiences of Jewish students” and reproaching her because he believed that she had not “allowed Jewish students to speak for themselves”
Mr Nagli reached the opposite conclusion to Baroness Deech, asserting that: “While some do have negative experiences, the research, as well as our regular interactions with thousands of students, shows decisively that every day on almost every campus – and almost every day at the remaining handful – Jewish students safely, fully and freely express their Judaism and relationship with Israel.”
We find Mr Nagli’s upbraiding of Baroness Deech unfortunate. Baroness Deech is extremely closely linked to Jewish students through initiatives she supports and is familiar with the university system through her extensive work with universities during her career. Sir Eric Pickles is also acutely attuned to the rise of antisemitism in Britain and is in no way “alarmist”.
A litany of incidents on campuses has rightly caused concern about antisemitism on campuses. Campaign Against Antisemitism has begun a programme to recruit students following incidents at UCL, SOAS, LSE, Oxford, Cambridge, Birmingham, Coventry, Kent, Edinburgh, Glasgow and others. Recent complaints to both York and Sheffield Hallam have led to admissions of major systemic problems with antisemitism and compensation being paid. Meanwhile at a national level, the National Union of Students has elected a President whose actions have been widely condemned, including by the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee.
Despite these severe and widespread problems, there has been very little action by universities themselves and Universities UK, whose report into hatred on campuses was broadly welcomed, including by the Union of Jewish Students, but condemned by Campaign Against Antisemitism as a “recipe for continued antisemitism”.
We agree entirely with Mr Nagli that alarmism is wrong, and that Jewish students should be allowed to speak for themselves, but he goes beyond that, accusing Baroness Deech of being alarmist when she was simply raising the alarm, and accusing her of not letting students speak for themselves when in fact she dedicates a great proportion of her time to empowering students — speaking about problems students face does not stop students from speaking for themselves.
We are greatly concerned by rising antisemitism on campuses, enabled by the failure of universities to take robust action. We welcomed Baroness Deech’s questioning of donations to universities from despotic antisemitic regimes and Sir Eric Pickles’ interest in legislation to force universities to take action against antisemitism.