Anti-Semitism at Leeds University │ Cormac Trigg

Last Monday, Leeds University Union voted down a motion proposing to combat anti-Semitism on campus. The Union’s rules state that 75% of a given panel must vote in favour of a motion for it to pass, causing the motion to fail with 5 of the 15 students on the panel voting against it.

The student who tabled the motion called for the Union to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism, used by the UK Government alongside the European Union, as well as calling for a campaign to increase awareness of discrimination against Jewish people through events such a Holocaust Memorial Day.

Following huge media pressure, with mentions from The Guardian and Yorkshire Evening Post, the Union rescinded the campus wide referendum that traditionally follows failed motions. Leeds University Union has released a letter stating that the definition of anti-Semitism used by the LUU complaints process already covers the IHRA definition. Surely adopting the IHRA definition would therefore not cause any harm or significant changes to policy, but instead offer increased clarity as to what constitutes anti-Semitism?

Evidently, the existing process that Leeds University Union has in place has failed to do enough, as the student raising the motion reported being ‘sniggered’ at ‘for an hour’ by the members of the panel during the meeting, which raises questions as to the true sentiments present within LUU. It is also concerning that 5 students, one third of the panel, actively voted against further measures to combat anti-Semitism.

This isn’t the first time that similar motions have been rejected by University Unions, with University College London’s Student Union voting against adopting the IHRA definition by 70%. There appears to be a worrying precedent emerging whereby Universities across the country are not properly protecting Jewish students on campus and are running the risk of normalizing anti-Semitic sentiment on campuses. The University and College Union, Brighton and Goldsmith Universities have all similarly rejected the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism.

Should we be particularly surprised that anti-Semitism is rearing its ugly head once more, when we consider the contemporary political climate? With the Labour party embroiled in allegations of anti-Semitic behaviour, Jewish MP Luciana Berger quitting the party, Chuka Umunna condemning the party as ‘nasty, bullying and racist’ and arguably worst of all, large groups of Labour MPs and membership denying that the problem of racism within the party exists at all. Is it really surprising that Universities are experiencing a resurgence of anti-Semitism now that the pro-Corbyn, hard-left, Momentum wave has hit our centres of education?

Talking to members of JSoc, the Jewish society at Leeds University, several people mentioned that they are made to ‘feel personally responsible for the Israel-Palestine conflict’ and that it is ‘exhausting having to constantly defend ourselves and our religion’. University is supposedly a platform for free expression, which is evidently not the case if students are experiencing prejudice to the point where it becomes ‘exhausting’. It is therefore commendable that Leeds University Union subsequently cancelled the referendum, although it seems apparent that the organisation took action in order to avoid publically supporting a campaign effectively in support of anti-Semitism while under increased media scrutiny. Despite this, evidence such as an article by a recent President of the National Union of Students referring to Birmingham University as a ‘Zionist outpost’ and describing the ‘largest [Jewish Society] in the country’ as a hindrance to her election shows that when it comes to anti-Semitism, student organisations and University Unions are frequently rotten to their core and LUU should be doing all it can – a lot more than it is – to oppose this trend.

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