1 February 2011
On Wednesday (2 February) approximately 100 Jewish Students head to Parliament to speak to their home and campus MPs about the state of antisemitism and in particular, concerns about hate speech on British University Campuses. The students will ask their MPs to write to the Higher Education Minister, requesting he take action on hate speech, write to their local Universities and sign the Early Day Motion that will be tabled by a cross-party group of MPs from the All-Party Parliamentary Group against Antisemitism.
Following the Lobby, students will quiz a panel of Higher Education spokespeople including; Shadow Universities Minister Gareth Thomas MP and Higher Education Minister, Rt Hon David Willetts MP.
Only last month, during a Westminster Hall debate on antisemitism, MPs were vociferous in their opposition to hate speech on campus. The case of Abdel Bari Atwan, who spoke at LSE, was highlighted in the debate. At that LSE event, the atmosphere was so hostile that audience members shouted “Nazi’s” at Jewish students. As John Mann put it: “That is not tolerance, and it is not free speech”.
Whilst there is a historic and appropriate pride in free speech amongst Universities and their Student Unions, hate speech is contrary to good campus relations and community cohesion. Only through Government action, will an end be found to the seemingly endless quarrel over whether it is Universities or Student Unions that bear the responsibility to act. Therefore, the Union of Jewish Students and All-Party Parliamentary Group are calling for the Government to make clear their position on speakers of concern on campus. This could incorporate a legal position, enhanced guidance for Vice-Chancellors and a BIS review and update of freedom of speech guidance. In particular examples of best practice such as speaker request forms, signed behaviour agreements and event monitoring employed by Universities such as Manchester and Birmingham could be highlighted.
John Mann MP said about the event: “Universities should be safe spaces for all. Free speech is precious; we cannot let it be abused by those that seek to curtail the freedoms of other.” He continued “I know the Jewish Students present will be good champions for their cause and an articulate voice calling for change. Hopefully following this the Government and the Higher Education Sector will work quickly to find a solution to this long standing problem.”
Alex Dweck, Chair of the Union of Jewish Students said: “The last few weeks have been extremely difficult for Jewish students but we are not willing to give up our long-standing battle against hate speech. Rights come with responsibilities – it is time for the HE sector and Government to face up to theirs. We wont be intimidated and harassed on our own campuses. The lobby day will give Jewish students an opportunity to make their voices heard at the highest levels.”
The particular concerns being expressed by students follow the Governments third response to the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism.