Universities urged to clamp down on student support for Hamas

British government says it has seen evidence of student society support for militant group

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators protest during the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas. Reuters
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The UK Education Secretary has written to university vice-chancellors asking them to deal “swiftly and decisively” with any threats to Jewish students’ safety in the aftermath of the Hamas militant group’s attack on Israel and resulting Gaza blockade.

Gillian Keegan said the government had seen evidence of support for Hamas, following reports that some pro-Palestinian student organisations had backed the group.

In the letter, seen by The National, she wrote: “Following the barbaric terrorist attacks upon Israel at the weekend, we are writing to express our deep concern for the welfare of Jewish students and to ask that you act swiftly and decisively against any threats, be they implicit or explicit, to their safety and welfare.

“We have seen evidence of a number of student societies that support Palestinians sending out inflammatory messages that show support for Hamas, which is, as you know, a proscribed terrorist organisation,” Ms Keegan wrote.

Not only are such statements of “questionable legality”, she said, they are “deeply troubling and hurtful to Jewish people, given that so many have friends and family based in Israel”.

Calling on universities to use the government’s anti-terrorist “Prevent” system to deal with any suspected incidents, she urged them to keep a lookout for any invitations to speakers that “may provide a platform for illegal speech”.

The letter came after The Times revealed around a dozen academics at Oxbridge and Russell Group universities had posted statements "appearing to justify" Hamas's attacks on Israel, with some facing investigation.

Earlier this week the Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, told police this week that it was a crime to express support for Hamas, including wearing clothing or carrying articles that could “arouse reasonable suspicion that an individual Iis a member or supporter of Hamas”.

“Behaviours that are legitimate in some circumstances, for example, the waving of a Palestinian flag, may not be legitimate ... when intended to glorify acts of terrorism,” she wrote.

Meanwhile, antisemitic incidents in the UK have increased by more than 300 per cent since Hamas's attack on Israel, according to a Jewish security group.

The Community Security Trust (CST), which represents British Jews on issues of racism and policing, said it had recorded 89 incidents between October 7 and October 10 that it classed as "anti-Jewish hate" – a 324 per cent rise on the 21 antisemitic incidents recorded over the same period last year.

Security minister Tom Tugendhat said he was "very concerned" at reports of an increase in antisemitism in Britain since the assault by the Palestinian militant group started on Saturday, during which fighters killed hundreds of Israelis in their homes, on the streets and at a music festival.

CST said six of the 89 incidents recorded were assaults, three referred to damage to Jewish property and 66 were related to abusive behaviour, with 22 taking place online.

Mr Tugendhat, a senior minister, said the government took the increase in reports of antisemitism "extremely seriously" as he expressed support for the CST and the police in cracking down on the spreading of hate.

The security minister, who has Jewish ancestry and whose family members were murdered in Europe during the Holocaust, drew parallels between the ideology of Hamas and that of the Nazis in the 1930s and 1940s.

"What the Nazis were doing is exactly what Hamas is doing today. It is preaching a blood libel, preaching a hatred for Jews and preaching a hatred that extends around the world," he told Sky News' Politics Hub programme.

Greater Manchester Police (GMP) said it had made arrests when hundreds of people gathered in St Peter's Square on Wednesday evening to take part in a vigil for those killed in the Hamas strike.

The force said four people were arrested on suspicion of breaching the peace.

In a social media post that was later deleted, GMP said the arrests were "not for supporting Palestine", saying people had a "right to express their support for both Israel and Palestine".

"The force draws a clear distinction between support for Palestine and support for the proscribed terrorist organisation 'Hamas'," it said in a post on social media.

GMP later said one person had been "de-arrested following further investigation", with three remaining under arrest.

Israel-Gaza war latest - in pictures

There is still concern for the safety of British citizens in the region, with reports that 17 UK citizens are either dead or missing, including children.

The war has already claimed at least 2,300 lives on both sides.

Updated: October 12, 2023, 10:23 AM