Rishi Sunak asks university chiefs to fight antisemitism

Universities should be places of rigorous debate but also bastions of tolerance and respect for every member of their community, says UK PM

Rishi Sunak
Rishi Sunak


British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Thursday, 9 May, urged university chiefs to address the rise in antisemitic abuse on campus and disruption of learning in reaction to the Israel-Hamas conflict.

Sunak and his ministers will meet with university vice-chancellors to ensure a zero-tolerance approach to antisemitic abuse is adopted on all campuses, Downing Street said.

The government said it wants to make it clear that debate and the open exchange of views in universities is essential but that this can never tip over into hate speech, harassment or incitement of violence.

“Universities should be places of rigorous debate but also bastions of tolerance and respect for every member of their community,” said Sunak.

“A vocal minority on our campuses are disrupting the lives and studies of their fellow students and, in some cases, propagating outright harassment and antisemitic abuse. That has to stop,” he said.

The meeting is to also help to inform planned government guidance on combatting antisemitism on campus.

Meanwhile, the Office for Students (OfS) has committed to publishing the response to its consultation on a new condition of registration, which could give OfS the power to impose sanctions where there is clear evidence that universities are failing to take sufficient or appropriate action to tackle harassment, including antisemitic abuse.

“I have made it absolutely clear that universities must crack down on antisemitism and ensure that protests do not unduly disrupt university life,” said education secretary Gillian Keegan.

In the Budget in 2023, the government announced GBP 7 million of extra support to tackle antisemitic abuse in educational settings, and GBP 500,000 of this will be dedicated to supporting the work of the University Jewish Chaplaincy, boosting support for Jewish students on campus.

The University Jewish Chaplaincy helps students deal with incidents of antisemitism and intimidation and currently supports over 8,500 students at over 100 universities in 13 regions. The Union of Jewish Students (UJS) have criticised the “toxic environment” faced by Jewish students across the country. According to the UK's Communities Security Trust, there was an increase of 203 per cent in university-related antisemitic incidents between 2022 and 2023.

Ministers want to ensure that universities take immediate disciplinary action if any student is found to be inciting racial hatred or violence – and contact the police where they believe a criminal act has been committed.

The education secretary wrote to vice chancellors on Sunday setting out government expectations in respect of the support being provided to Jewish students. Representatives from the Union of Jewish Students will also attend the roundtable on Thursday to share their experiences and perspectives during the meeting with Sunak and Keegan, who will invite vice-chancellors to share best practices and lessons learned and seek views on how the government can continue to support them in fighting anti-Jewish incidents.

It comes as a few UK university campuses have seen some encampments come up of students protesting against the Israel-Hamas conflict, following large-scale protests on US university campuses.

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