Universities chief says it would be ‘counter-productive’ to break up encampments but vows to protect Jewish students

9 May 2024, 18:36 | Updated: 9 May 2024, 21:29

Andrew Marr speaks to Universities UK's Vivienne Stern on Gaza protests

Kieran Kelly

By Kieran Kelly

It would be ‘counter-productive’ to remove pro-Palestine encampments that have sprung up on campuses across the UK, the Chief Executive of Universities UK has told LBC.

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Vivienne Stern told LBC's Andrew Marr that there has been a clear rise in anti-Semitic incidents on campuses and across the country, but that universities have a difficult balancing act.

"The challenge universities are facing is really about balancing the need to allow and facilitate legitimate protest with the need to make sure people understand where the red lines are," Ms Stern told LBC.

It comes amid the rising number of pro-Palestine encampments that have been set up on UK campuses, including in Oxford and Cambridge, shortly after violent protests occurred in the United States.

In relation to the encampments, Ms Stern said it was their job to "keep the temperature calm" and said it would be "counter-productive" if the government told universities to forcibly remove them.

Rishi Sunak
Rishi Sunak. Picture: Getty

Meanwhile, President of the Union of Jewish Students Edward Isaacs has told LBC that the rise in anti-Semitism has been ‘very disturbing’ for Jewish students on university campuses.

Mr Isaacs met with the Prime Minister, the Education Secretary and university vice-chancellors in Downing Street on Thursday morning to discuss how to protect Jewish communities on campus.

Speaking to LBC’s Iain Dale, Mr Isaacs said the anti-Semitism has dramatically increased on campuses over the last seven months.

He said: “For the last seven months, Jewish students have been experiencing what can only be described as a crisis on campus in terms of we have seen the worst anti-Semitism on campus that we have seen in a generation.

“Jewish students have received death threats, Jewish students have been physically assaulted, Jewish student property has been damaged and it’s deeply concerning to us, ultimately students Jewish students just want to go about their lives like any other student.

“But very simply, this has been a year like no other for them and it’s incredibly disturbing for us”.

Iain Dale joined by UJS President Edward Isaacs

In today's meeting, Vice Chancellors have told the Prime Minister that hard-left activists are feared to be infiltrating pro-Palestine protests on university campuses across the country.

Rishi Sunak heard how top leaders are worried that many of the occupying protests sweeping across Britain are being hijacked by non-students.

Protestors in makeshift camps are urging their universities to cut ties with Israel amid the ongoing war in the Middle East - accusing them of being complicit in Genocide of the people of Gaza.

Read More: Fears hard-left activists are infiltrating universities as PM tells bosses to take 'responsibility' to protect Jewish students

Read More: Chaos on campus: Police raid UCLA and Columbia universities as 'horrific violence' breaks out at Gaza protest in LA

Hundreds of students in the US have been arrested as police attempted to clear the protesters.

Some institutions in the UK have been forced to start checking IDs of those coming on to make sure they are genuine students.

The PM hosted a string of Vice Chancellors at Downing Street this morning to grill them on what more they can do to keep Jewish students safe.

He told them: "Together, we will keep Jewish students safe on our campuses.”

He urged university leaders to take "personal responsibility" for looking after all their students, and urged them to adopt a "zero tolerance approach" to anti-Jew hate.

Representative from the University of Jewish Students warned that levels of anti-Semitism were the worst they'd seen in a generation - with reported incidents on campus up 200 per cent.

Pro-Palestine protest camp at SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies, part of the University of London)
Pro-Palestine protest camp at SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies, part of the University of London). Picture: Alamy
London, UK. 9th May 2024. Pro-Palestine protest camp at SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies, part of the University of London)
London, UK. 9th May 2024. Pro-Palestine protest camp at SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies, part of the University of London). Picture: Alamy

Reacting to today's meeting, a spokesperson for Campaign Against Antisemitism said: “Over the last couple of weeks, we have seen anti-Israel thugs swarm university campuses with calls for intifada, the eradication of the State of Israel, and references to Hamas as ‘freedom fighters’.

“The growing number of encampments comes against a backdrop of escalating antisemitism, with Jewish students facing verbal abuse, receiving death threats and enduring physical violence.

“The hostile environment for Jews that has been created on British campuses challenges the very foundations of academia. Bastions of inclusivity and diversity operating in pursuit of truth are becoming cesspits of racist hate and intimidation.

“We thank the Prime Minister for making it clear that antisemitism has no place in our universities. It is up to vice-chancellors to show that they agree. If they do not, we will do everything that we can to hold them and their institutions to account.”

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