Wednesday, June 13, 2007

House of Commons Q & A on U.K. Anti-Semitism

Anti-Semitism: 12 Jun 2007: House of Commons debates (

Photo of Louise Ellman Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside, Labour)

What steps her Department is taking to tackle anti-Semitism; and if she will make a statement.

Photo of Phil Woolas Phil Woolas (Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government)

The Government of course welcomed the all-party parliamentary inquiry into anti-Semitism, and published their response in March this year. We have set up a cross-Government working group to act on the all-party group's recommendations. Jewish stakeholders and others have been invited to the first meeting, which will take place on 20 June.

Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside, Labour)

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the stance he has taken on this issue and on combating extremism, but does he agree that by singling out Israel from all other nations, including Iran, China and Sudan, the proposed boycott of Israel is likely to exacerbate the anti-Semitism identified in the all-party parliamentary report?

Phil Woolas (Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government)

As my hon. Friend knows, I strongly condemn that decision. I consider it a terrible decision. I was pleased to learn that the Minister for Higher Education and Lifelong Learning, my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Bill Rammell), had travelled to Israel to make that very point. I strongly support what he said there—as, I suspect, does the whole House, including the Opposition parties.

Bob Neill (Bromley & Chislehurst, Conservative)

May I say how much many of us welcome what the Minister has just said?

One of the key recommendations of the all-party report was that there should be a clearer definition of anti-Semitic offences so that we could do something to improve the appalling conviction rate, which is only about one in 10. What progress has been made in that regard?

Phil Woolas (Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government)

Two issues are involved. One is the work of the Crown Prosecution Service, which has taken the matter up as a result of the work of the all-party group—on which I congratulate it again—and the second is the working definition of the European Union, to which, as the hon. Gentleman knows, the United Kingdom has signed up.

Photo of Gwyneth Dunwoody Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe & Nantwich, Labour)

Is my hon. Friend aware that the passing of a resolution by the so-called academics is not the first instance of the pursuing of such a course by this particular organisation? Is it not worrying that there is an underlying and pervasive atmosphere which accepts that anti-Semitism is perfectly normal, and should we not be doing all we can to combat that in every conceivable way?

Phil Woolas (Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government)

I agree wholeheartedly, and I think it very important for Parliament, as well as Government, to issue that condemnation. I believe we can unite strongly on the issue. I know that Sally Hunt, joint general secretary of the University College Union, is very concerned about it.

On a personal note, as a former leader of the National Union of Students let me say that—again, on a cross-party basis—we have always opposed anti-Semitism, as well as the way in which some people, no doubt deliberately, confuse condemnation of Israel with anti-Semitism.


UPDATE (6-13-07 2:15 pm):


Universities: Anti-Semitism
7.28 pm

Baroness Deech asked Her Majesty’s Government what action they will take to secure implementation of their response to the report of the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Anti-Semitism concerning anti-Semitism on university campuses.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to raise this important issue. I thank your Lordships in advance for contributions to what, I am sure, will be a timely and constructive discussion, for which I wish we had more time.

I declare an interest as the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education, tasked with reviewing student complaints against all English and Welsh universities. I am content to report that we have received no cases of this nature. The legal points that I am about to make apply equally to Islamophobia and any other religious hatred on campus, all forms of which are to be deplored.

The All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Anti-Semitism was commissioned by John Mann MP, chairman of the Parliamentary Group against Anti-Semitism. Its terms of reference were,

    “To consider evidence on the nature of contemporary anti-Semitism ... To evaluate current efforts to confront it”,

and to consider further measures. The inquiry reported in September 2006 with, sadly, many chapters, but it is right for your Lordships to focus on one. The issues in it are localised and can readily be tackled if the will is there; the means are to hand. I refer to the chapter on anti-Semitism on campuses, from which I shall quote:

    “Jewish students are being intimidated or harassed”,

and they,

    “have become increasingly alarmed by virulent and unbalanced attacks on the state of Israel and the failure of student bodies and organisations to condemn anti-Semitism when it occurs”.

The report recommends that universities should record all examples of anti-Semitic incidents, that there should be support for combating the proposed

12 Jun 2007 : Column 1659

boycott of Israeli academics and that vice-chancellors should take action to tackle campus anti-Semitism, which manifests itself in attempts to delegitimise Jewish student societies and attacks on students and their halls of residence.

The Government’s response was to welcome the recommendations and to refer to the guidance that had already been given by Universities UK and the Department for Education and Skills. Yet, apart from calling on UUK to meet the committee on anti-Semitism, the response presents no substantive plan of action to meet this serious problem or to work with UUK to do so.

I shall put the issue in proportion. It is thought that there are 7,000 to 14,000 Jewish students. Black and ethnic minority students number some 131,000, and there are an estimated 90,000 Muslim students. I will give your Lordships a few examples from the many that have occurred to illustrate the serious threat against Jewish students. The home page of a Birmingham lecturer contained links to anti-Semitic material, such as the site of David Irving, the Holocaust denier, and to sites equating Israelis and Nazis. The university, to its credit, blocked it off. Andrew Wilkie, the Oxford professor, denied a student consideration for a doctoral place solely because of Israeli nationality. The university took action. Bricks were thrown through the windows of a Jewish student house in Manchester, and a poster placed on the door saying “Slaughter the Jews”.

Before anyone reacts with the frequently voiced sentiment that criticism of Israel does not equate to anti-Semitism, let me hasten to agree but point out that the antagonists of the Jewish students are failing to make that distinction. “Zionist” has become a word of opprobrium, and all Jews are so labelled. Attacks on Jews rose with the occurrence of the Lebanon war, attacks on them—in this country and elsewhere—not attacks on Israelis or Israeli buildings. Once the equation is made between Zionism and Jews, anti-Semites feel free to attack all Jewish students without distinction. Protests start as attacks on Israel and conclude with threats to all Jews. Israel “apartheid weeks” have been held at Oxford, Cambridge and SOAS. To show just how demeaning this analogy is to the real victims of apartheid, one need only mention inter alia that 20 per cent of the students at Haifa University are Arabs and 11 universities have been established in the Occupied Territories since 1967.

The National Union of Students has been staunch in defending Jewish students and in recognising that anti-Zionism can be a cloak for anti-Semitism. However, individual college student unions are not so well informed. Often, their condemnation of whatever is labelled as the far right clouds the recognition that left-wing discourse can be manipulated and used as a vehicle for anti-Jewish language and themes.

Some vice-chancellors have failed to promote good relations by failing to take responsibility for the student unions, claiming that they are autonomous, and misunderstanding their own legal responsibilities as vice-chancellors for freedom of speech. I have the impression that the freedom of speech codes required of universities by law are outdated and are insufficiently enforced to protect vulnerable students. By and large,

12 Jun 2007 : Column 1660

they have not kept up with changes in race hatred and other relevant legislation. The legal requirement of university codes of freedom of speech was introduced by the Education (No. 2) Act 1986. Universities have to take reasonable,

    “ ensure that freedom of speech within the law is secured for members, students, employees...and for visiting speakers”.

However, since 1986 a great deal of new legislation has been introduced that impacts directly on freedom of speech, giving protection from harassment and racially or religiously motivated hatred. For example, the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 places a duty on universities to promote good relations between persons of different racial groups, building on the public order bans on abusive and insulting words and behaviour. The codes need to be updated to take account of those laws, of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 and of the offence of incitement to terrorism in the Terrorism Act 2000. The student unions need to be brought into the Race Relations (Amendment) Act formally. Article 17 of the European Convention on Human Rights, set out in Schedule 1 to the Human Rights Act 1998, gives no right to do anything that is aimed at depriving others of their convention rights. So, racist speech designed to harass is not protected as a human right. All the students, including the unions, should be told of their rights and responsibilities in this area and told that they can complain to their universities. They must have that channel.

There is hope in dialogue, nowhere more so than on campus. Campuses should be a major focus of attention for the improvement of Muslim-Jewish relations, by co-operation and understanding. If the Department for Education and Skills is granting new scholarships to students from the Middle East, that is to be welcomed. However, students cannot be expected to act in a spirit of dialogue and tolerance if their lecturers do not do so. There are ongoing attempts by the University and College Union to initiate a UK-wide boycott of Israeli academics. Such a biased and unhelpful response cannot be tolerated or supported. There is no justification for punishing some of the world’s finest intellectuals and academic institutions. Disengaging from debate with Israelis could not be more inappropriate for a profession dedicated to debate and discussion.

British lecturers claim the dubious distinction of launching the first campaign for a boycott. The revived UCU has gone on with this anti-intellectualism, so damaging to the world-wide reputation of British universities. But nobody other than Israeli professors is threatened for how they think; no other nation pays the price for its Government’s decisions. No Chinese academics are boycotted or Egyptian universities for imprisoning bloggers. British academics who support the boycott vent their hatred in a way that costs them nothing, without even any promise of success in changing the policies that they object to. The boycott is contrary to the 70 year-old principle of the universality of science, and every learned academy that I know of has objected. It is not morally justifiable to hold all Israeli academics collectively responsible for the actions of their Government. This is bigotry, which has no place in our world-class British universities.

12 Jun 2007 : Column 1661

Four initiatives are required of Ministers and the UUK. First, they must ensure that the codes of freedom of speech are instituted, as required by law, at all universities and are updated to protect freedom of speech within the law and not hate or extremism. Secondly, student unions must be brought firmly within the requirements of the Race Relations (Amendment) Act, so that they promote good relations. Thirdly, the problem must be acknowledged and addressed by vice-chancellors, who should lend their support to freedom of intellectual action. The Russell group of universities immediately condemned the boycott, and I trust that your Lordships will hear confirmation that UUK has followed suit. Fourthly, the department should invite all universities to adopt a policy of non-discrimination, which should be built into funding, research and fund raising.

Academic freedom is the first target of tyrannies, and those who ignore attacks on academic pursuits are co-operating with tyranny. They must ask themselves why Jewish students and Israelis, alone in the world, are chosen as the targets. As my father sadly bore witness, as early as 1923 Vienna University was the focus of assaults on Jewish students and of curbs on Jewish professors and on the right to learn, followed by Warsaw University. Universities are like the canary in the mine when it comes to bad indications. British universities have to learn from the history of pusillanimity in the face of racism.

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, may I gently remind the noble Baroness of the time?

7.38 pm

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Deetch, has done an invaluable service by raising this issue. She has made a remarkable speech—albeit a little long.

Criticism of Israel is perfectly all right. We can criticise any country. However, it is intellectually bankrupt for some academics to pillory Israel as they have done. Inevitably, Israeli academics critical of their Government are also assailed. Yet Israel remains virtually the only country in the Middle East where freedom of speech does not fall outside the law. These anti-Israeli academics are somewhat one-sided. They make no mention of the outrageous attacks by Sudan on the innocentsof Darfur. They ignore China for the occupation of Tibet and the suppression of inconvenient adverse opinions by the government. They turn a blind eye to the slaughter of Palestinians by Palestinians—Hamas and Fatah—going on at this very moment in Gaza. They also ignore the cruelties heaped on intellectuals in Syria, Egypt, Iran, Libya and Saudi Arabia and countless other crimes against humanity.

The attitude of these academics is unfair and it cultivates extremism on both sides—a myopia which is wholly inconsistent with the standards that they supposedly support and which, in my view, is tantamount to the worst form of anti-Semitism.

7.40 pm

Baroness O'Cathain: My Lords, reading chapter 6 of the all-party inquiry into anti-Semitism, which deals with the universities, was a revelation—or,

12 Jun 2007 : Column 1662

rather, a horrid wake-up call, which elicited in me a projection of trends into a situation similar to that which pertained on the mainland of Europe in 1933. Or is it worse? Were universities in the forefront then?

Tolerance of opinions and views has always been the mark of a civilised society, and all of us will be mindful of the statement attributed to Voltaire:

    “I disapprove of what you say. but I will defend to the death your right to say it”.

In 1871, the mission statement of Newnham College, Cambridge, listed three objectives for the college—yes, they had mission statements in those days. The first was free expression and opinion, the second was education and the third was fairness. It stated:

    “No member of this college may be disadvantaged by opinion”.

Where is the long tradition of academic tolerance and encouragement of opinion now?

The Government’s response to the report is detailed but the time limits imposed on contributions to this debate allow me to raise just four questions that I wish to ask the Minister. It is important to take note of the complete government response to the whole issue of anti-Semitism and not just that relating to campuses. First, on page 12, paragraph 26, Her Majesty’s Government recommend that vice-chancellors set up a working party to make it clear that British universities will take robust action against anti-Semitism on campuses. What progress has been made? Secondly, paragraph 3 at page 4 says that only a minority of police forces have the ability to record anti-Semitic incidents. Will HMG ensure that incidents on campuses are recorded not only by the university authorities, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, but also by the police?

In the second paragraph on page 2, it is proposed that, in order to reduce anti-Semitism, schoolchildren should be made aware of the Holocaust. But, for this, the Government are proposing to spend an amount of money which would result in expenditure of 15p per schoolchild, and they suggest that two children per school be sent to see the Holocaust museums in Israel. I suggest that it may be better to have more people going to the Imperial War Museum in London or Beth Shalom in Nottinghamshire. I do not have time to say any more.

7.42 pm

The Lord Bishop of Chester: My Lords, I have recently returned from leading a pilgrimage of 200 people from my diocese to Israel and Palestine. It was primarily a spiritual pilgrimage to the holy sites, and we were able to visit two Palestinian cities: Bethlehem and Jericho. In addition, in the evening we were addressed on contemporary issues by senior members of the Israeli, Palestinian, Arab and indigenous Christian populations.

A new visitor to Israel and Palestine is struck by the contrast between the communities. Israel is a first-world country in every sense, with excellent industry, agriculture, infrastructure and amenities, including education. By contrast, the Palestinian areas appear third-world, and I suspect that this would be even more apparent in the overcrowded Gaza Strip.

12 Jun 2007 : Column 1663

The security measures which Israel has taken in recent years have made this contrast worse. One has to acknowledge the horrible nature of suicide bombings, and, in its own way, the security wall has stopped this form of terrorism in Israel. But the price has been great—not least for those from the Palestinian areas who worked or studied in Israel. A sort of de facto apartheid has emerged, with severe restrictions on movement across the security line in either direction.

I entirely share the view that boycotts will be either ineffective or counter-productive, and we are nowhere near a situation where that would be helpful. But, as things stand, young Palestinians in particular are greatly disadvantaged—even more so now than in the recent past. My question to the Minister is this: should the Government not consider facilitating a more proactive scholarship programme to enable Palestinian students to study at our universities? I refer to paragraph 24 of the Government’s response: the discussions which are encouraged there need the participation of Palestinians if they are to be truly authentic. What better way to facilitate those discussions than to involve those who are most directly affected by the situation? However, the last thing that is needed is a boycott. The situation needs greater exchange, interaction and mutual conversation by those most involved in it. In this way, indeed, there will be hope in dialogue.

7.45 pm

Lord Janner of Braunstone: My Lords, the timing of this Question is absolutely crucial, and the boycott motion of Israeli academics at the University and College Union two weeks ago is disgraceful. Having spoken to leading members of the union, I now call for a vote of the full membership of the union on this motion, because true democracy is the only path to a solution.

I regularly meet Jewish students, and they are having terrible problems. In many places, they feel isolated and vulnerable. What other society at our British universities has to post security at all its events for fear of attacks on its members, whether verbal or physical?

What must we do? We must empower universities to work with their Jewish students and their allies to combat anti-Semitism on campus. We must help them to monitor incidents and to prevent attempts to attack or delegitimise Jewish societies. Above all, we must again allow our Jewish students to feel safe to wear their faith with pride on campus and not hide it away for fear of attack. I now call on the Government to implement the recommendations of the all-party parliamentary inquiry so that Jewish students can again feel safe on campus. As chairman of the Holocaust Educational Trust, I particularly commend the Government’s recognition, in their response to the report, that Holocaust education is a powerful tool. To tackle anti-Semitism, we need to learn from the past but we must also improve education about Jewish people and about anti-Semitism in general.

There are cases on campus, as there are everywhere, where the anti-Semitic intent is clear, but the problem runs far deeper. I do not forget that my late father, a Member of this House, used to say: we

12 Jun 2007 : Column 1664

cannot always see anti-Semitism but we can usually smell it. Especially on our university campuses, its smell is, sadly, growing all the time.

7.47 pm

Lord Patten: My Lords, as a Roman Catholic, I have no particular partial interest to declare in this debate. I have three things to say. The first is that I believe that the idea of a boycott is entirely abhorrent. Exchange is always better than exclusion. The arguments put forward by those who suggest that there should be a boycott of Israeli universities are generally worthy of a mark equivalent to gamma minus given on a good afternoon during this examination season. They ignore the fact that intellectual endeavour is enforced by the hot wires which run between academic journals and academic conferences and which link people together. Engagement is always better than exclusion.

Secondly, I entirely agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, that the National Union of Students has a most important role to play in this issue. I hope that the Minister and the others involved will talk to members of the NUS and encourage them to talk to their elders and not so betters who have put forward these very anti-progressive ideas. I am reinforced in this by having visited my daughter at her university last Friday and having talked to her and a number of her friends. It is clear, to use my daughter’s words, that they believe in “boundaryless education” and that nothing should be put in the way of the free exchange of intellectual ideas.

Thirdly and lastly, I have a minor criticism of the report, to which the noble Baroness has drawn our attention, in that it refers to some vice-chancellors not having been very helpful or robust in this issue. It must be very difficult to be a vice-chancellor. It must be like trying to herd a lot of anarchic and self-willed cats through a very small hoop. But there are people who can help them—a class of people who have not been brought into the public gaze. I refer to the Medici-like, magnificently gowned and embroidered figures, the chancellors of our universities, who should be acting very much more as chairmen of the supervisory boards. They should be behind the scenes, taking vice-chancellors aside, stiffening them up and saying that, at worst, it is a matter of fund-raising and, at best, a matter of morality and freedom of education. Does the Minister feel that chancellors could do more in this respect and will he get in touch with them to urge them so to do?

7.49 pm

Baroness Cox: My Lords, I warmly congratulate my noble friend on this important debate. I, too, shall focus on the proposed academic boycott by UCU, which is deeply disturbing, regardless of whether it is eventually upheld. Any form of censorship in institutions of higher education is inherently antithetical to the fundamental principle of free of speech. The academy must be the heartland of this freedom, where all ideas and the freedom to express them must be allowed, except those which violate the law. Unpopular ideas should be challenged and fallacies exposed, not silenced.

12 Jun 2007 : Column 1665

It is ironic that the proposed boycott of Israeli universities and academics would silence many who are critical of their own Government, often on grounds similar to those which prompted the proposed boycott. The double standards of the boycott are remarkable; that Israel allows criticism and demonstrates its commitment to democracy, while many neighbouring countries, which deny free and open discussion, and allow the use of hate-filled and manifestly anti-Semitic propaganda even by small children in school, are not subject to any proposed boycott by UCU.

No comments:


adamhollandblog [AT] gmail [DOT] com