asked Her Majesty’s Government what action they will take to secure implementation of their response to the report of the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Anti-Semitism concerning anti-Semitism on university campuses.
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to raise this important issue. I thank your Lordships in advance for contributions to what, I am sure, will be a timely and constructive discussion, for which I wish we had more time.
I declare an interest as the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education, tasked with reviewing student complaints against all English and Welsh universities. I am content to report that we have received no cases of this nature. The legal points that I am about to make apply equally to Islamophobia and any other religious hatred on campus, all forms of which are to be deplored.
The All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Anti-Semitism was commissioned by John Mann MP, chairman of the Parliamentary Group against Anti-Semitism. Its terms of reference were,
“To consider evidence on the nature of contemporary anti-Semitism … To evaluate current efforts to confront it”,
and to consider further measures. The inquiry reported in September 2006 with, sadly, many chapters, but it is right for your Lordships to focus on one. The issues in it are localised and can readily be tackled if the will is there; the means are to hand. I refer to the chapter on anti-Semitism on campuses, from which I shall quote:
“Jewish students are being intimidated or harassed”,
“have become increasingly alarmed by virulent and unbalanced attacks on the state of Israel and the failure of student bodies and organisations to condemn anti-Semitism when it occurs”.
The report recommends that universities should record all examples of anti-Semitic incidents, that there should be support for combating the proposed boycott of Israeli academics and that vice-chancellors should take action to tackle campus anti-Semitism, which manifests itself in attempts to delegitimise Jewish student societies and attacks on students and their halls of residence.
The Government’s response was to welcome the recommendations and to refer to the guidance that had already been given by Universities UK and the Department for Education and Skills. Yet, apart from calling on UUK to meet the committee on anti-Semitism, the response presents no substantive plan of action to meet this serious problem or to work with UUK to do so.
I shall put the issue in proportion. It is thought that there are 7,000 to 14,000 Jewish students. Black and ethnic minority students number some 131,000, and there are an estimated 90,000 Muslim students. I will give your Lordships a few examples from the many that have occurred to illustrate the serious threat against Jewish students. The home page of a Birmingham lecturer contained links to anti-Semitic material, such as the site of David Irving, the Holocaust denier, and to sites equating Israelis and Nazis. The university, to its credit, blocked it off. Andrew Wilkie, the Oxford professor, denied a student consideration for a doctoral place solely because of Israeli nationality. The university took action. Bricks were thrown through the windows of a Jewish student house in Manchester, and a poster placed on the door saying “Slaughter the Jews”.
Before anyone reacts with the frequently voiced sentiment that criticism of Israel does not equate to anti-Semitism, let me hasten to agree but point out that the antagonists of the Jewish students are failing to make that distinction. “Zionist” has become a word of opprobrium, and all Jews are so labelled. Attacks on Jews rose with the occurrence of the Lebanon war, attacks on them—in this country and elsewhere—not attacks on Israelis or Israeli buildings. Once the equation is made between Zionism and Jews, anti-Semites feel free to attack all Jewish students without distinction. Protests start as attacks on Israel and conclude with threats to all Jews. Israel “apartheid weeks” have been held at Oxford, Cambridge and SOAS. To show just how demeaning this analogy is to the real victims of apartheid, one need only mention inter alia that 20 per cent of the students at Haifa University are Arabs and 11 universities have been established in the Occupied Territories since 1967.
The National Union of Students has been staunch in defending Jewish students and in recognising that anti-Zionism can be a cloak for anti-Semitism. However, individual college student unions are not so well informed. Often, their condemnation of whatever is labelled as the far right clouds the recognition that left-wing discourse can be manipulated and used as a vehicle for anti-Jewish language and themes.
Some vice-chancellors have failed to promote good relations by failing to take responsibility for the student unions, claiming that they are autonomous, and misunderstanding their own legal responsibilities as vice-chancellors for freedom of speech. I have the impression that the freedom of speech codes required of universities by law are outdated and are insufficiently enforced to protect vulnerable students. By and large, they have not kept up with changes in race hatred and other relevant legislation. The legal requirement of university codes of freedom of speech was introduced by the Education (No. 2) Act 1986. Universities have to take reasonable,
“steps…to ensure that freedom of speech within the law is secured for members, students, employees…and for visiting speakers”.
However, since 1986 a great deal of new legislation has been introduced that impacts directly on freedom of speech, giving protection from harassment and racially or religiously motivated hatred. For example, the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 places a duty on universities to promote good relations between persons of different racial groups, building on the public order bans on abusive and insulting words and behaviour. The codes need to be updated to take account of those laws, of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 and of the offence of incitement to terrorism in the Terrorism Act 2000. The student unions need to be brought into the Race Relations (Amendment) Act formally. Article 17 of the European Convention on Human Rights, set out in Schedule 1 to the Human Rights Act 1998, gives no right to do anything that is aimed at depriving others of their convention rights. So, racist speech designed to harass is not protected as a human right. All the students, including the unions, should be told of their rights and responsibilities in this area and told that they can complain to their universities. They must have that channel.
There is hope in dialogue, nowhere more so than on campus. Campuses should be a major focus of attention for the improvement of Muslim-Jewish relations, by co-operation and understanding. If the Department for Education and Skills is granting new scholarships to students from the Middle East, that is to be welcomed. However, students cannot be expected to act in a spirit of dialogue and tolerance if their lecturers do not do so. There are ongoing attempts by the University and College Union to initiate a UK-wide boycott of Israeli academics. Such a biased and unhelpful response cannot be tolerated or supported. There is no justification for punishing some of the world’s finest intellectuals and academic institutions. Disengaging from debate with Israelis could not be more inappropriate for a profession dedicated to debate and discussion.
British lecturers claim the dubious distinction of launching the first campaign for a boycott. The revived UCU has gone on with this anti-intellectualism, so damaging to the world-wide reputation of British universities. But nobody other than Israeli professors is threatened for how they think; no other nation pays the price for its Government’s decisions. No Chinese academics are boycotted or Egyptian universities for imprisoning bloggers. British academics who support the boycott vent their hatred in a way that costs them nothing, without even any promise of success in changing the policies that they object to. The boycott is contrary to the 70 year-old principle of the universality of science, and every learned academy that I know of has objected. It is not morally justifiable to hold all Israeli academics collectively responsible for the actions of their Government. This is bigotry, which has no place in our world-class British universities.
Four initiatives are required of Ministers and the UUK. First, they must ensure that the codes of freedom of speech are instituted, as required by law, at all universities and are updated to protect freedom of speech within the law and not hate or extremism. Secondly, student unions must be brought firmly within the requirements of the Race Relations (Amendment) Act, so that they promote good relations. Thirdly, the problem must be acknowledged and addressed by vice-chancellors, who should lend their support to freedom of intellectual action. The Russell group of universities immediately condemned the boycott, and I trust that your Lordships will hear confirmation that UUK has followed suit. Fourthly, the department should invite all universities to adopt a policy of non-discrimination, which should be built into funding, research and fund raising.
Academic freedom is the first target of tyrannies, and those who ignore attacks on academic pursuits are co-operating with tyranny. They must ask themselves why Jewish students and Israelis, alone in the world, are chosen as the targets. As my father sadly bore witness, as early as 1923 Vienna University was the focus of assaults on Jewish students and of curbs on Jewish professors and on the right to learn, followed by Warsaw University. Universities are like the canary in the mine when it comes to bad indications. British universities have to learn from the history of pusillanimity in the face of racism.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Deetch, has done an invaluable service by raising this issue. She has made a remarkable speech—albeit a little long.
Criticism of Israel is perfectly all right. We can criticise any country. However, it is intellectually bankrupt for some academics to pillory Israel as they have done. Inevitably, Israeli academics critical of their Government are also assailed. Yet Israel remains virtually the only country in the Middle East where freedom of speech does not fall outside the law. These anti-Israeli academics are somewhat one-sided. They make no mention of the outrageous attacks by Sudan on the innocents of Darfur. They ignore China for the occupation of Tibet and the suppression of inconvenient adverse opinions by the Government. They turn a blind eye to the slaughter of Palestinians by Palestinians—Hamas and Fatah—going on at this very moment in Gaza. They also ignore the cruelties heaped on intellectuals in Syria, Egypt, Iran, Libya and Saudi Arabia and countless other crimes against humanity.
The attitude of these academics is unfair and it cultivates extremism on both sides—a myopia which is wholly inconsistent with the standards that they supposedly support and which, in my view, is tantamount to the worst form of anti-Semitism.
My Lords, reading chapter 6 of the all-party inquiry into anti-Semitism, which deals with the universities, was a revelation—or, rather, a horrid wake-up call, which elicited in me a projection of trends into a situation similar to that which pertained on the mainland of Europe in 1933. Or is it worse? Were universities in the forefront then?
Tolerance of opinions and views has always been the mark of a civilised society, and all of us will be mindful of the statement attributed to Voltaire:
“I disapprove of what you say. but I will defend to the death your right to say it”.
In 1871, the mission statement of Newnham College, Cambridge, listed three objectives for the college—yes, they had mission statements in those days. The first was free expression and opinion, the second was education and the third was fairness. It stated:
“No member of this college may be disadvantaged by opinion”.
Where is the long tradition of academic tolerance and encouragement of opinion now?
The Government’s response to the report is detailed but the time limits imposed on contributions to this debate allow me to raise just four questions that I wish to ask the Minister. It is important to take note of the complete government response to the whole issue of anti-Semitism and not just that relating to campuses. First, on page 12, paragraph 26, Her Majesty’s Government recommend that vice-chancellors set up a working party to make it clear that British universities will take robust action against anti-Semitism on campuses. What progress has been made? Secondly, paragraph 3 at page 4 says that only a minority of police forces have the ability to record anti-Semitic incidents. Will HMG ensure that incidents on campuses are recorded not only by the university authorities, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, but also by the police?
In the second paragraph on page 2, it is proposed that, in order to reduce anti-Semitism, schoolchildren should be made aware of the Holocaust. But, for this, the Government are proposing to spend an amount of money which would result in expenditure of 15p per schoolchild, and they suggest that two children per school be sent to see the Holocaust museums in Israel. I suggest that it may be better to have more people going to the Imperial War Museum in London or Beth Shalom in Nottinghamshire. I do not have time to say any more.
My Lords, I have recently returned from leading a pilgrimage of 200 people from my diocese to Israel and Palestine. It was primarily a spiritual pilgrimage to the holy sites, and we were able to visit two Palestinian cities: Bethlehem and Jericho. In addition, in the evening we were addressed on contemporary issues by senior members of the Israeli, Palestinian, Arab and indigenous Christian populations.
A new visitor to Israel and Palestine is struck by the contrast between the communities. Israel is a first-world country in every sense, with excellent industry, agriculture, infrastructure and amenities, including education. By contrast, the Palestinian areas appear third-world, and I suspect that this would be even more apparent in the overcrowded Gaza Strip.
The security measures which Israel has taken in recent years have made this contrast worse. One has to acknowledge the horrible nature of suicide bombings, and, in its own way, the security wall has stopped this form of terrorism in Israel. But the price has been great—not least for those from the Palestinian areas who worked or studied in Israel. A sort of de facto apartheid has emerged, with severe restrictions on movement across the security line in either direction.
I entirely share the view that boycotts will be either ineffective or counter-productive, and we are nowhere near a situation where that would be helpful. But, as things stand, young Palestinians in particular are greatly disadvantaged—even more so now than in the recent past. My question to the Minister is this: should the Government not consider facilitating a more proactive scholarship programme to enable Palestinian students to study at our universities? I refer to paragraph 24 of the Government’s response: the discussions which are encouraged there need the participation of Palestinians if they are to be truly authentic. What better way to facilitate those discussions than to involve those who are most directly affected by the situation? However, the last thing that is needed is a boycott. The situation needs greater exchange, interaction and mutual conversation by those most involved in it. In this way, indeed, there will be hope in dialogue.
My Lords, the timing of this Question is absolutely crucial, and the boycott motion of Israeli academics at the University and College Union two weeks ago is disgraceful. Having spoken to leading members of the union, I now call for a vote of the full membership of the union on this motion, because true democracy is the only path to a solution.
I regularly meet Jewish students, and they are having terrible problems. In many places, they feel isolated and vulnerable. What other society at our British universities has to post security at all its events for fear of attacks on its members, whether verbal or physical?
What must we do? We must empower universities to work with their Jewish students and their allies to combat anti-Semitism on campus. We must help them to monitor incidents and to prevent attempts to attack or delegitimise Jewish societies. Above all, we must again allow our Jewish students to feel safe to wear their faith with pride on campus and not hide it away for fear of attack. I now call on the Government to implement the recommendations of the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry so that Jewish students can again feel safe on campus. As chairman of the Holocaust Educational Trust, I particularly commend the Government’s recognition, in their response to the report, that Holocaust education is a powerful tool. To tackle anti-Semitism, we need to learn from the past but we must also improve education about Jewish people and about anti-Semitism in general.
There are cases on campus, as there are everywhere, where the anti-Semitic intent is clear, but the problem runs far deeper. I do not forget that my late father, a Member of this House, used to say: we cannot always see anti-Semitism but we can usually smell it. Especially on our university campuses, its smell is, sadly, growing all the time.
My Lords, as a Roman Catholic, I have no particular partial interest to declare in this debate. I have three things to say. The first is that I believe that the idea of a boycott is entirely abhorrent. Exchange is always better than exclusion. The arguments put forward by those who suggest that there should be a boycott of Israeli universities are generally worthy of a mark equivalent to gamma minus given on a good afternoon during this examination season. They ignore the fact that intellectual endeavour is enforced by the hot wires which run between academic journals and academic conferences and which link people together. Engagement is always better than exclusion.
Secondly, I entirely agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, that the National Union of Students has a most important role to play in this issue. I hope that the Minister and the others involved will talk to members of the NUS and encourage them to talk to their elders and not so betters who have put forward these very anti-progressive ideas. I am reinforced in this by having visited my daughter at her university last Friday and having talked to her and a number of her friends. It is clear, to use my daughter’s words, that they believe in “boundaryless education” and that nothing should be put in the way of the free exchange of intellectual ideas.
Thirdly and lastly, I have a minor criticism of the report, to which the noble Baroness has drawn our attention, in that it refers to some vice-chancellors not having been very helpful or robust in this issue. It must be very difficult to be a vice-chancellor. It must be like trying to herd a lot of anarchic and self-willed cats through a very small hoop. But there are people who can help them—a class of people who have not been brought into the public gaze. I refer to the Medici-like, magnificently gowned and embroidered figures, the chancellors of our universities, who should be acting very much more as chairmen of the supervisory boards. They should be behind the scenes, taking vice-chancellors aside, stiffening them up and saying that, at worst, it is a matter of fund-raising and, at best, a matter of morality and freedom of education. Does the Minister feel that chancellors could do more in this respect and will he get in touch with them to urge them so to do?
My Lords, I warmly congratulate my noble friend on this important debate. I, too, shall focus on the proposed academic boycott by UCU, which is deeply disturbing, regardless of whether it is eventually upheld. Any form of censorship in institutions of higher education is inherently antithetical to the fundamental principle of free of speech. The academy must be the heartland of this freedom, where all ideas and the freedom to express them must be allowed, except those which violate the law. Unpopular ideas should be challenged and fallacies exposed, not silenced.
It is ironic that the proposed boycott of Israeli universities and academics would silence many who are critical of their own Government, often on grounds similar to those which prompted the proposed boycott. The double standards of the boycott are remarkable; that Israel allows criticism and demonstrates its commitment to democracy, while many neighbouring countries, which deny free and open discussion, and allow the use of hate-filled and manifestly anti-Semitic propaganda even by small children in school, are not subject to any proposed boycott by UCU.
As my noble friend reminded us, the Education Reform Act 1988 enshrines the fundamental legal requirement for academic institutions to protect freedom of speech. Under the law the police have an obligation to assist the authorities in the protection of this freedom. Will Her Majesty’s Government take all necessary steps to ensure that the academies and the police are fully aware of these obligations and fulfil them regarding this proposed boycott of Israel and on any other issues which might generate the appalling threat of censorship and denial of academic freedom in our land?
My Lords, I am pleased to be able to contribute to the debate. I declare an interest as chief executive of Universities UK. No form of extremism or intolerance has any place in our universities. Universities are places where free debate and interchange of ideas takes place, but that must be within a climate of tolerance and mutual respect. Universities condemn any form of harassment and intimidation.
Safety and security on campus are of paramount concern. Universities UK’s Promoting Good Campus Relations: Dealing with Hate Crimes and Intolerance was produced to give legal and practical advice on how to deal with hate crimes and intolerance on campus. Our Equality Challenge Unit is producing an update on that guidance, which has a specific focus on religious-related hate crimes, addressing, as we said we would, the sorts of issues raised by the all-party inquiry. That will be published in July. In addition, a regular programme of information and events keeps universities up to date on practical processes and legislation for the protection of all staff and students.
I stress “all staff and students” because when it comes to hate crimes and intolerance, universities do not distinguish between races or religions. Hate crimes and intolerance are simply unacceptable. It is good to see from the all-party report that this is not the experience of most Jewish students. The report provides examples where universities have reacted firmly to stamp on anti-Jewish activities on campuses. Universities have tightened both their procedures and reporting on these incidents, working with the police as appropriate.
I cannot conclude without addressing the proposed UCU boycott. Universities UK has made it clear that vice-chancellors would oppose any boycott of Israeli academic institutions. It would be absolutely contrary to the principles of academic freedom.
At the same time, academics have the right to question government policies, including those of the Israeli or other Governments, when they have legitimate concerns about those policies. Academic freedom must continue to cover both. I hope the Minister will reaffirm that. I am sure that a more detailed discussion between members of the all-party group and university representatives would be helpful.
My Lords, when the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, raised the possibility of my taking part in the debate, I told her frankly that, having read the report, all I could think of saying was that I was appalled. Any discrimination, hostility or harassment of any student or academic on the basis of ethnicity, nationality, creed or race is wholly unacceptable and should not be tolerated. So also is any discrimination against any university, wherever it may be, for the policies of the Government of the country where it is domiciled.
Perhaps I may follow in his absence what the noble Lord, Lord Patten, said; this is a matter where vice-chancellors, on whose behalf the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, has spoken very encouragingly to all of us, need the support and resolution not only of chancellors but of governing bodies. If governing bodies do anything, they should stand up and make their voice and presence felt on an issue like this. I hope very much that the noble Baroness will encourage that through her channels.
I look forward to what the Minister has to say. This is a cancer. We must see it and respond to it as such.
My Lords, I am speaking in this debate out of sadness—and of course with brevity—at the increasing ethnic and religious polarisation on our university and college campuses that others have described. Of course students will always self-select, but something different is happening. What is different is the radicalism of some of the polarised groups today. It makes life uncomfortable for all students, hinders their educational experience and leads to the anti-Semitism that others have described.
In a way, the Prime Minister recognised that last week when he earmarked an additional £1 million to improve and update the teaching of Islamic studies—in his words—to focus on relevant issues. Of course I welcome that, but I ask the Minister whether this updating of Islamic studies will help to reduce this polarisation and anti-Semitism. What will certainly not help is the recent college lecturers’ union’s conference call on its branches to discuss a boycott of Israeli universities. As others have said, it is a vote against absolutely everything educational institutions try to do.
Of course freedom of speech and robust debate are to be welcomed on college campuses, but the reported incidents of hate, racism and anti-Semitism are most certainly not. The answer is not to clamp down but to encourage more discussion and debate. Modern anti-Semitism has nothing to do with what Jews actually believe; it is about what they are perceived to stand for. The Institute for Jewish Policy Research, a think tank of which I have the honour to be president, is playing its part with a series of multi-ethnic seminars, where the robust debate and shared problems reduce polarisation and misperceptions. It helps students to learn to live with each other with modesty and respect—a model that could usefully be adopted on campuses.
My Lords, having only recently retired after nine years of chairing the board of governors of the Ben-Gurion University of Beer Sheva, I can bear witness to the friendly and effective co-operation between Israeli, Arab and, particularly, Bedouin students. Nowhere is political debate more open, and self-criticism, often in the form of revisionist history, more lively than in Israel’s universities.
Therefore, the argument that the boycott of Israel’s academic community is not an anti-Semitic gesture but only a vote of censure against the policies of the state of Israel is difficult to sustain. Why do those who are demonising and de-legitimising Israel fail to address similar protests to the embassies of Syria, Saudi Arabia or those of the many patently anti-democratic regimes in Africa? The shrill, at times unmistakeably hysterical, tones of these anti-Israel protests betoken prejudice and irrationality; indeed, they are the stuff that racist propaganda is made of. Some of the literature that I see only too often is not many steps away from the spirit of the burning of the books at German universities of the 1930s.
In the New York Herald Tribune earlier this week, the distinguished columnist Thomas Friedman, reporting on a visit to the campus of the Ben-Gurion University, describes with generous, almost wondrous, admiration the young scientists and computer engineers working on a vast variety of new models of life enhancement. Second only to the Silicon Valley, Israel’s innovators in the field of high tech are truly torch bearers of progress. Rather than stunt those people’s progress, those clamouring for action should urge their Palestinian friends in the West Bank and Gaza to end the fratricidal strife, and to sit down at the conference table and at last talk peace. Were this to be the case, I assure your Lordships that that call would not be unreciprocated.
My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of Weizmann UK. The Weizmann Institute of Science is located in Israel and is concerned with the development of basic science. It is one of the foremost institutes of its type in the world. I was there last week. The topic of the proposed UCU boycott was hot news, as noble Lords would expect.
The institute is nationally blind. Scientists come there from all over the world; some are Muslim, including Israeli Arabs and Palestinians. All that matters is the science. One professor said to me:
“Don’t they realise that the nucleus of the Peace Now movement is located on campuses just like this? Do not they see we are fighting first-hand the same cause as they are and that they claim to espouse from the comforts of their armchairs? I am the one who battles with the authorities to get my Palestinian students here. I deal with the roadblocks and the identity checks. What do they do?”.
The proposed boycott is bad for science. It counters the very concept of science, which is about absolute truth and academic freedom. The boycott is also bad for the Palestinians and their desire for nationhood. All that it does is alienate their friends and supporters in Israel and give comfort to their enemies. They have chosen the wrong target.
The proposed boycott is bad for Britain. Boycotts beget boycotts. Two can play at that game, perhaps even three. Israeli academics can equally boycott the UK. If that were to happen—heaven forbid—academics in both countries would be the losers. I now hear rumblings that, if British universities boycott Israeli universities, American universities will boycott ours. Is that what the UCU wants? More to the point, is it what our universities want?
My Lords, I will list the points that I wanted to develop. First, a boycott would be totally misguided. It would offend against academic freedom and destroy precious bridges between academics internationally. Politically, it would help no one, contributing nothing to solving Middle East problems. I hope that the rational arguments against it will prevail within universities.
Most importantly, the report deals with the underlying evil of anti-Semitism. Sadly, we are witnessing a rising tide of that in Europe and all around us. I feel more anxious about this than I have for a very long time—not least about the shameful actions on campuses. As a lifelong academic, I feel truly ashamed at them. There are no easy solutions. We must look to vice-chancellors to play their role and, above all, to government to express in the strongest terms that anti-Semitism is an evil not to be tolerated or accepted anywhere in our multicultural society.
Perhaps most importantly, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, for opening this debate. It clearly points to the need for a longer debate on another occasion.
My Lords, I also thank the noble Baroness for giving us the opportunity to comment on a current and important issue for our society. That is evidenced by the exceptionally large number of speakers tonight. Unfortunately, it means that we all need to be very brief and selective.
I congratulate the committee on a valuable report. It is often said that it is not easy to differentiate between anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic opinions. I can only say that it is really not that difficult. In my experience, you get the message very quickly. One of the challenges for all campuses is to provide an arena for open intellectual debate for students from different backgrounds and prejudices, without allowing extremist groups to exploit and subvert them. As the committee says:
“While criticism of Israel—often hard-hitting in the rough and tumble of student politics—is legitimate, the language of some speakers too often crosses the line into generalised attacks on Jews”.
Some of us watched in horror last January a chilling “Dispatches” programme filmed secretly in some mosques not known for any extremism, where visiting preachers hurled lethal invective against non-Muslims in general but Jews in particular—not Zionists, not Israel but Jews. I was struck by how many young men and boys were in those congregations. Those are the young who go on to campuses accustomed to that kind of language and thinking, which makes it all the more essential that events and activities on campus should not encourage those attitudes which, apart from anything else, can lead to terrorist activity. It is vital that the Government make it a priority to ensure that everything possible is done to prevent that poison seeping on to campuses.
What steps are the Government taking to ascertain what progress is being made on achieving good practice on campuses beyond merely, as stated in the response, encouraging UUK and the committee to co-operate on trying to achieve that?
My Lords, like other noble Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness for introducing this timely debate. I want to speak from a specifically Christian perspective and make a single point.
Relationships between Jews and Christians in this country have been totally transformed during the past 70 years. Much of that has been due to the Council of Christians and Jews, which was founded in the darkest days of the war by the then Chief Rabbi and the then Archbishop of Canterbury.
The CCJ, whose priority continues to be work against anti-Semitism in schools, universities and elsewhere, has found in its work that the most contentious issue is, as we would expect, the state of Israel. The Christian constituency itself has a very wide range of views between on the one hand Christian-Zionists, who are far more Zionist than most Jews, and those Christians whose overriding priority is solidarity with Palestinian suffering.
Church bodies—the Vatican and the reformed churches—have issued statement after statement trying to come to some kind of consensus within Christianity about its attitude. An American scholar, Paul Van Buren, summing up that range of statements, stated what he thinks is the minimum requirement. He put it in these words:
“Because the state of Israel is in part the product of the ancient and living hope of the Jewish people and is of deep concern to almost all Jews, disregard for its safety and welfare is incompatible with concern for the Jewish people”.
Of course there will be passionate debate in all universities about the Middle East and on the policies of the state of Israel, but it seems to me that those words of Paul Van Buren are non-negotiable for everyone taking part in that debate, Christian, Muslim or whoever. Disregard for the safety and welfare of the state of Israel is incompatible with concern for the Jewish people.
My Lords, of course criticism of Israel is legitimate and not necessarily anti-Semitic. The fiercest critics of Israel are often to be found in Israel itself, certainly in universities in democratic Israel. But criticism of Israel can be a convenient substitute for anti-Semitic sentiment, which may be the subtext of the resolution referred to, which is, in effect, a call for a boycott of Israeli universities.
My 50-year membership of the Labour Party has given me some experience of how well organised groups on the hard left, such as the Socialist Workers Party, can have a disproportionate influence on policy by exploiting what the old Communist Party called “useful idiots”—often well meaning progressives in wider solidarity groups. The UCU resolution is of course an empty gesture. Serious academics will continue to seek partnerships with Israeli academics. Why? Because they value excellence, and Israeli universities are in the premier league of worldwide universities. There are more than 300 collaborative projects between British and Israeli academics under EU auspices. Is it serious or, rather, gesture politics to expect UK academics to withdraw?
This is like the proposed resolution calling on Unison to boycott trade unions in Israel. The truth is that the Israeli trade unions are by far the freest in that region and often very critical of their Government. The truth is that the Israeli academics are by far the freest in the region and include some of the fiercest critics of Israeli government policy. It is thus absurdity on stilts to promote a boycott of the only free universities and the only free trade unions and, apparently, to ignore the more serious abuses of human rights elsewhere.
The teachers’ union leads; it is hardly surprising that many students follow, and not only Islamists, hard-left groups and BNP supporters.
Academic freedom and open intellectual exchange are part of the idea of a university. Surely, notwithstanding this glaring example of the trahison des clercs in the union resolution, vice-chancellors should be vigilant, robust and consistent in combating examples of anti-Semitism on campuses, and the Government, in the spirit and letter of their response to the report, should give them full support when they do so.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords for allowing me to speak in the gap. A predecessor of mine called Foley, in the service in which I was once, saved the lives of many Jews in Germany in 1939. He is honoured for it in Israel to this day. He would have supported as strongly as I do, and most passionately, what has been said in this most admirable debate in the cause of academic freedom.
My Lords, I am also grateful for the opportunity to speak in the gap, as rapidly as I can. I declare an interest as chairman of the governors at the London School of Economics. The director of the LSE, Sir Howard Davies, promptly rejected the UCU resolution, and that appears clearly and firmly on the front of the website. The Russell Group did the same thing. On these occasions I believe that it is vital to be vigilant. Like the noble Lords, Lord Patten and Lord Dearing, I also hope that the Minister will actively encourage the governing bodies of all universities to reject this poisonous resolution of the UCU.
My Lords, there is no doubt that as tensions in the Middle East have risen, there has regrettably been a recent increase in anti-Semitic behaviour. However, we must remember that verbal attacks on certain things done by certain people of Jewish background are not all anti-Semitic in nature. I believe that where people are doing the wrong thing, we should be free to say so without fear of being called anti-Semitic if those people happen to be Jewish. We should criticise the behaviour, not the person or their background. But as the report said,
“it is never acceptable to mask hurtful racial generalisations by claiming the right to legitimate political discourse”.
People, including student bodies, should mind their language. The noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, quoted one of the most important statements in the report:
“While criticism of Israel is legitimate, the language of some speakers too often crosses the line into generalised attacks on Jews”.
I support the recommendations of this valuable report and hope the Government can find ways of implementing them. However, we should remember that vice-chancellors are not in full control of everything that goes on in their campuses. Many speakers are invited or refused a platform by student organisations, not the university, and it can be difficult to know what goes on behind closed doors. This is where the NUS can help, as the noble Lord, Lord Patten, said.
We on these Benches firmly condemn genuine anti-Semitism, indeed all racism. We are opposed to the UCU’s proposed boycott of Israeli academics. I agree with UUK, which states in its briefing for this debate:
“The principles of academic freedom are central to the work of higher education institutions, which were established to be places where there is free debate and the exchange of ideas”.
I abhor the idea of limitations on legitimate academic freedom within the reasonable limits I have already mentioned. Academic campuses must provide the fora for critical thinking and the exchange of ideas, but with that freedom comes the responsibility for all academics to make measured and accurate assessments of the actions of governments and to avoid gratuitous attacks and extreme language that may offend or inflame. Universities should teach people to think critically, not criticise unthinkingly.
My Lords, the report of the all-party parliamentary inquiry into anti-Semitism makes disturbing reading and the Government were absolutely right in their response when they compared the current rhetoric about Israel and Zionism with ancient forms of hatred towards Jews. Anti-Semitism anywhere is unacceptable, but it is particularly disturbing when it is found on our university campuses. Higher education institutions are nothing if they do not nurture the fair, open and inquisitive exchange of ideas and development of thought. This can be achieved only in an environment of tolerance and respect for one another.
Vice-chancellors should be given every possible support to assist them in rooting out intolerance. Can the Minister tell us what discussions have been held to help them with this? We hope that in this task, universities will harness the passion of the National Union of Students, which has a long tradition of standing up against oppression and has the knack of putting its finger on uncomfortable truths. The union has a large part to play in promoting openness and generosity, which, I am sad to say, is in stark contrast to a handful of lecturers who seem to have hijacked their union. It is quite wrong that there should be any question of banning contacts between Israeli and British academics. It makes us look unfairly biased and petty-minded, and plays into the hands of radical fanatics on campus, allowing them to stoke up anti-Semitic feeling. Such conduct can only serve to diminish the standing of British academic life.
There is a time and a place for teenage gesture politics; this is not it. This is a time for building bridges, opening up dialogue and promoting tolerance. I fervently hope that the moderate members of UCU will seize back their union.
My Lords, the House is grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, for raising this important issue, and to the large number of other speakers in this short debate. On the issue of the threatened boycott of Israeli universities, let me say this. The Government unequivocally deplore any proposed boycott. Not only is a boycott wrong in principle, undermining the integrity of relations between bona fide centres of learning, but in practice its only likely effects would be to weaken the progressive forces within both Israel and the Palestinian Occupied Territories.
My honourable friend the Minister for Higher Education visited Israel over the weekend and made clear our explicit opposition to a boycott. He had meetings with, among others, Mrs Livni, Vice Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, and Yuli Tamir, the Minister of Education. He also visited the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where he met academics and students, and the Palestinian Al Quds University in East Jerusalem, where he had discussions with senior Palestinian academics. In statements that were prominently publicised in the Israeli media, my honourable friend made clear that the Government were strongly opposed to an academic boycott. Not only would a boycott be inconsistent with the spirit of openness and tolerance that should inform public life, it would also be counter-productive. Education plays a vital role in developing and aiding understanding between different people, and it is therefore all the more important to keep open channels of communication between academics and education institutions in the Middle East during these difficult times.
My honourable friend went on to make it clear that, in our view, the majority of academics in this country were opposed to any form of boycott, and that the National Union of Students had condemned calls for a boycott in very strenuous terms. My honourable friend was accompanied by Drummond Bone, president of Universities UK and vice-chancellor of Liverpool University, who made clear the opposition of universities to a boycott and the collective determination of universities in this country to work constructively with Israeli and Palestinian academics. My honourable friend also announced our intention to host a seminar in London involving UK, Israeli and Palestinian academics, and we will be developing the programme for this event over the coming weeks.
Let me now turn to the wider issues raised by the report of the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into anti-Semitism. The Government’s view on this is equally unequivocal: we are appalled that a tiny minority of people in our society feel they can physically harm or threaten others, due either to race hatred or perhaps to a misguided view that individuals here share responsibility for the actions of groups or states abroad. The recommendations in the report are addressed primarily to vice-chancellors and others in the higher education sector in recognition of the fact that our higher education institutions are independent. However, the Government have a responsibility to encourage and to support higher education institutions in making clear that racism and discrimination have no place whatever in higher education, and we will discharge that responsibility at every available opportunity, including this debate today.
Britain has in place one of the strongest legislative frameworks to protect people from harassment and abuse and, specifically, racial or religious persecution. This legislation protects Jewish people alongside other racial and ethnic groups. The Race Relations Act 1976 imposes on public authorities, including higher education institutions, a positive duty to eliminate unlawful racial discrimination, to promote race equality and to promote good relations between different racial groups. Public institutions also have specific duties under the Act which are designed to help them meet these requirements, for example, the gathering of ethnic minority monitoring data and assessing the impact of the institution’s policies on different racial groups. This enables higher education institutions to challenge and prevent racism and discrimination, to promote good relations and to create a climate which values diversity and respects difference.
Part III of the Public Order Act 1986 also makes incitement to racial hatred a crime. It is an offence to use threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour with the intention or likelihood that racial hatred would be engendered and, as the House will know, Jews have been included as a group under this legislation, along with Sikhs, by the courts. The Government extended the 1986 legislation in 2001 to include incitement of hatred against groups abroad, so hatred of nationalities cannot be used to hide racial hatred. It is therefore unlawful to incite hatred against Israelis however strong one’s condemnation of their Government’s actions and policies. The Act was further strengthened by the Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006.
The Crime and Disorder Act 1998, which introduced specific racially aggravated offences, also acts as a deterrent against hate crimes. The Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003 and the Equality Act 2006 also outlaw discrimination on grounds of religion and belief.
From the summary of the relevant legislation, I hope that I have made sufficiently clear to the House that we have strong legislation in place which empowers higher education institutions to tackle anti-Semitism on campus. I would like to be equally clear on this basis: the Government are not seeking to further regulate universities in this area. We look to universities to act responsibly, and indeed they are doing so.
But, of course, addressing anti-Semitism and other forms of racism is not only about the law. The policies that universities have in place and how those policies are implemented on campus are all important. There are very many examples of good practice I could highlight in addition to those mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, and others. For example, the Institute of Cancer Research is implementing a system of recording racist and other equality-related incidents called the equality-related incident log. The log will allow the institute to monitor incidents, identify trends and deal with the activity noted.
There are also excellent examples of creating shared spaces through multi-faith centres and dialogue groups to help build constructive relations between different groups on campus. The University of Derby’s well established multi-faith centre has promoted cohesion through a number of specific events; the University of Glasgow recently established a new inter-faith facility on site; and a Jewish and a Muslim student at Manchester University have set up a dialogue group to enable open discussions between Jewish and Muslim students on a range of topics, including political issues. These are just a few examples of universities acting in partnership with students and other bodies to promote harmonious relationships.
Nevertheless, it is widely acknowledged, not least by universities themselves, that there is bad and inconsistent practice alongside this good practice. As my noble friend Lady Warwick said in her capacity as president of Universities UK, Universities UK is due to meet the all-party parliamentary group to discuss existing activity and the recommendations in the reports. In 2005, guidance was issued by the higher education representative bodies and their equality challenge units on promoting good campus relations dealing with hate crime and intolerance. This guidance provides practical strategies to deal with instances of hate crime and intolerance. It also discusses the balance needed between academic freedom and freedom of expression and the need to ensure that these are not used to harm or to restrict the freedom of others. This guidance is already being widely used and it will be updated in June.
Universities UK, with the Association of Managers of Student Services in Higher Education, will be hosting a conference that will explore tackling discrimination on campus, including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, as well as institutional approaches to good campus relations. My department has also acted in this area. We published guidance last November for higher education institutions and colleges to help them deal with extremism in the name of Islam and to help build community cohesion. The guidance is intended to ensure that freedom of speech is not used by those wanting to bully others, incite others to violence or encourage other illegal behaviour on our campuses.
I will reply to the many other points in writing because my time is up. I conclude by noting that there is significant action in train to address anti-Semitism in universities, and the Government will continue to treat the issues raised in the all-party inquiry into anti-Semitism with the utmost seriousness.