Rishi Sunak demands university leaders protect Jewish students

Government wants a zero-tolerance approach to anti-Semitic abuse on campuses

A student encampment at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London. EPA
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University leaders have been urged by the UK government to protect Jewish students, with zero tolerance for anti-Semitic behaviour.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak made the demand on Wednesday amid a rise in pro-Palestine protests at universities around the UK.

The protests have often been sympathetic to the plight of Palestinians and some demand universities abandon links to Israel.

Universities should be places of rigorous debate but also bastions of tolerance and respect for every member of their community,” Mr Sunak said.

“A vocal minority on our campuses are disrupting the lives and studies of their fellow students and, in some cases, propagating outright harassment and anti-Semitic abuse. That has to stop.”

The Prime Minister and Education Secretary Gillian Keegan will meet university leaders on Thursday and call for a zero-tolerance approach to anti-Semitic abuse on campus.

University vice chancellors will be at 10 Downing Street to address the problem and disruptions to students’ learning.

Ministers will make clear that universities must take immediate disciplinary action if any student is found to be inciting racial hatred or violence – and contact the police where they believe a criminal act has been committed.

The Union of Jewish Students has criticised the “toxic environment” faced by Jewish students and the Communities Security Trust reported a 203 per cent in university-related anti-Semitic incidents between 2022 and 2023.

Ms Keegan said: “I have made it absolutely clear that universities must crack down on anti-Semitism and ensure that protests do not unduly disrupt university life.

“I am looking forward to welcoming vice chancellors to No 10 to make sure together we have clear steps in place to protect Jewish students on campus.”

In the Autumn Statement, £7 million of extra support was announced to tackle anti-Semitic abuse in education settings.

The government has promised a £500,000 funding increase for the University Jewish Chaplaincy Service to provide welfare services to Jewish students.

It helps students deal with incidences of anti-Semitism and intimidation and currently supports more than 8,500 students at more than 100 universities.

The meeting will also help to develop government guidance on combating anti-Semitism on campus.

The Education Secretary wrote to vice chancellors on Sunday setting out government expectations for supporting Jewish students.

Representatives from the Union of Jewish Students will also attend the round-table meeting to share their experiences.

Updated: May 08, 2024, 9:30 PM