Kick out students involved in anti-Semitic incidents, says Government tsar

A Jewish student centre was sprayed with graffiti saying 'Free Palestine'
A Jewish student centre was sprayed with graffiti saying 'Free Palestine'

Students involved in anti-Semitic incidents at two major UK universities should be kicked out because their conduct is so “dangerous”, a government tsar has said.

Lord Mann, the Government’s independent adviser on anti-Semitism, said that any students involved in intimidating Jewish classmates and staff at the universities of Birmingham and Leeds had “forfeit their right to stay”.

Earlier this month, Jewish students at the University of Birmingham spoke of their fear after activists held up a banner at a rally which said “Zionists off our campus” and allegedly chanted “Death to Zionists”.

A Jewish chaplain at Leeds University was meanwhile forced into hiding with his family after he was targeted with death threats over his role as an Israel Defence Force reservist.

In another incident at the university, a Jewish student centre was sprayed with graffiti saying “Free Palestine”.

Lord Mann, a former Labour MP who was appointed the Government’s independent adviser on anti-Semitism in 2019, told The Telegraph that he had arranged urgent meetings with both institutions because the cases were “two of the most serious incidents I’ve seen in universities ever”.

“In both cases they’re trying to exclude people from the university because they’re Jewish,” he said. “In one case [Leeds] a chaplain, and in the second case [Birmingham] Jewish students and academics across the board. This takes things to a different level.”

He said the involvement of “mass groups” in both cases was also an aggravating factor. “That’s why it’s in my view more extreme and more dangerous, because this becomes mob rule.”

Echoes of the 1930s

Lord Mann said that attempts to exclude Jewish students and academics had echoes of the 1930s.

“This has happened across the world and it’s never ended well, and of course it’s happened to the Jewish community before and that didn’t end well,” he said. “Comparisons to the past can be crass, but compared to the last 30, 40 years, these examples are more extreme and more dangerous and need a robust and effective response.”

In the case of Leeds, Lord Mann said he had heard that non-students coming onto the campus could have been involved in the incidents.

However, he said that in both instances any students participating should face the strongest possible punishment from university authorities.

“Those who are participants within the university forfeit their right to stay in that university, that is my opinion, my advice for what should happen,” he said. “It… crosses the line.”

He went on: “This goes against everything a university is about.

“This is challenging the existence of the university as an entity. It is that serious… this is significantly more dangerous than I’ve seen before in the public realm.”

He warned that if the two universities failed to act the consequences would be “severe”.

“If they are either not prepared or more likely not capable of getting on top of this problem, they will see their Jewish student population evaporate very, very quickly,” he said. “Students will vote with their feet and it would be terrible for the cities of Leeds and Birmingham to lose the incredible contribution of having so many Jewish students there.”

He added: “This isn’t about free speech – this is about targeting Jewish students and staff because they are Jewish, and we are not having that in this country.”

Strongest possible action

A spokesman for Leeds University said that Lord Mann had held a “very constructive” call with senior leaders on Friday. The spokesman said: “The university continues to assist West Yorkshire Police as they try to bring those behind last week’s appalling anti-Semitic incidents to justice.

“We would take the strongest possible action against any student or member of staff found to be responsible for anti-Semitism, and remain appalled that our Jewish student community has been targeted – just as we condemn the anti-Semitic abuse and threats directed towards Rabbi Deutsch and his family. Ensuring that all members of our university community feel safe remains our number one priority.”

Birmingham University said: “We take the concerns about the event on campus on February 7 very seriously and have been working quickly to investigate the circumstances and take action.

“This has included working closely with West Midlands Police. The police have now confirmed that they are investigating two racially aggravated public order offences and are carrying out further enquiries. We will be assisting the police with this investigation.

“We take allegations of harassment or discrimination very seriously and will also be investigating such allegations in accordance with our policies and procedures.”