Jewish student societies should not have to pay thousands of pounds for security at campus events amid antisemitism concerns, minister says

'It is unacceptable to oblige students to incur extra costs because of faith,' says Chris Skidmore 

Eleanor Busby
Education Correspondent
Friday 17 May 2019 06:15 BST
Universities are competing for students at a time when the overall number of applications is falling
Universities are competing for students at a time when the overall number of applications is falling (PA)

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It is “unacceptable” for universities to make Jewish student societies pay thousands of pounds for security at their campus events amid antisemitism concerns, the universities minister has said.

Chris Skidmore suggested that reports of such unfair practices could amount to indirect discrimination as he urged universities to do much more to stamp out antisemitism on campus.

The minister called on universities to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism to show they were “serious” about tackling the issue.

It comes after The Independent revealed that Jewish societies had been forced to organise their own security at events amid growing concerns about Holocaust denial and antisemitism on campus.

Societies have been asked to pay up to £2,000 to guard speaker events on campus, according to the Jewish Leadership Council, Union of Jewish Students and Community Security Trust.

Mr Skidmore said: “It is unacceptable to oblige certain groups of students to incur additional costs because of their race or religion, just to counteract the actions of others.”

The minister’s comments followed a meeting with students on Thursday to hear about their concerns and experiences of antisemitism on campus.

Mr Skidmore is sending a letter to all institutions this week calling on them to reject prejudiced practices and to step up and tackle antisemitism.

He added: “There is no place in our society for hatred or any form of harassment and it is frankly appalling that the battle against antisemitism still exists.

“Free speech is vital to the independence and innovation that embodies the higher education sector and it must be protected. Not only does it fuel academic thought, but it contributes to a collective feeling of tolerance and acceptance in our universities that challenge injustice.”

Government guidelines to protect lawful free speech on campus say institutions must prove they have taken “practicable” steps to ensure events are at risk of violent protest before cancelling them.

Simon Johnson, chief executive of the Jewish Leadership Council, said he welcomed the minister telling universities “that unfair charges to Jewish societies on campus for security are unacceptable”.

“These actions will ensure that there is a safe, welcoming and tolerant environment on UK campuses,” he added.

Daniel Kosky, campaigns organiser of the Union of Jewish Students, added: “We are grateful that he has acted on a number of our recommendations, including supporting the removal of prohibitive security costs for Jewish societies, and strengthening freedom of expression guidelines.

“Jewish students have long called for institutions to adopt the IHRA definition, and we now expect universities to follow the government’s call.”

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On Thursday, the government rejected a proposed definition of Islamophobia, put forward by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on British Muslims, prompting criticism from MPs.

The government had previously indicated its rejection and said the APPG’s definition had not been “broadly accepted” in the way the IHRA’s definition of antisemitism had been.

A Universities UK spokesperson said: “We recommend universities do all they can to tackle antisemitism, including considering the IHRA definition, whilst also recognising their duty to promote freedom of speech within the law.”

The organisation added that it had set up a taskforce to consider what can be done to address all forms of harassment, violence and hate crime on campus, including on the basis of religion.

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