Scottish Council of Jewish Communites
Scottish Council of Jewish Communities

 
Scottish Council of Jewish Communities

Edinburgh University fails to protect
Jewish students

 
30 November 2012

SCoJeC joined Scottish Jewish Student Chaplaincy this week in a delegation to Edinburgh University to protest at their failure to take adequate steps to protect the rights of Jewish students.

Disruption of meeting with Ishmael Khaldi

Last year Edinburgh Jewish Student Society hosted a meeting with Ishmail Khaldi, a Bedouin Israeli diplomat, after the Politics and International Relations Society pulled out. That meeting was then prevented from going ahead after it was severely disrupted by demonstrators.  Many of the Jewish students were visibly distressed, and the then Jewish Chaplain, Rabbi Garry Wayland was verbally abused.  University security staff were in the room but did not intervene, nor did they call in the police who were present immediately outside in anticipation of trouble.  At that time the Jewish Chronicle reported that the University pledged to put measures in place to avoid future disturbances”. This has clearly not happened, since similar disruption occurred in October when the Israeli Ambassador spoke to the EU Politics and International Relations Society.  Once again Jewish students, and others, were reduced to tears, as observed by the official EUSA observer, and once again the university security stood by and did nothing.  The meeting was supposedly by ticket only, but protesters who had not registered were allowed in, although the new Jewish student Chaplain was not!

This week Nicola Livingston, Chair of the Chaplaincy Board, Paul Morron, a former Chair of UK Jewish Chaplaincy, both of whom are members of the SCoJeC Executive, and Ephraim Borowski, Director of SCoJeC, met Vice Principal Lorraine Waterhouse, University Secretary Kim Waldron, University Chaplain Harriet Harris, and Associate Chaplain Ali Newell, who is responsible for interfaith chaplaincy.

The meeting was entirely unsatisfactory.  It was characterised by a complete failure even to acknowledge that there is a problem to be addressed or any concern for the welfare, never mind the rights, of the students who had been abused and harassed.  It began with the statements that “The Principal has said that University security should not get involved”, and separately that “The Principal has instructed that the police should not be called in unless there is physical violence”; it ended with repeated assurances that “we note what you say” – but no recognition that there was a problem to address far less any adequate proposals to solve it.

graph

Virtually the only point to which there was an animated response was when we reported that the pattern of enquiries to SCoJeC from students, parents, and academics considering study in Scotland has completely changed: from being only about religious facilities such as availability of kosher food or proximity of synagogues in 2007 to almost entirely relating to antisemitism and security last year (see graph). This tallies with what our Being Jewish in Scotland survey discovered, and the finding of the last year’s JPR survey of Jewish students that

"respondents in Scotland are the most likely to report having experienced some form of antisemitism - over half (52%) have witnessed and/or been subjected to antisemitism, by contrast [with] a third (33%) of respondents in London."
(http://www.jpr.org.uk/downloads/NJSS_report%20final.pdf)

and threatens the reputation of Scotland as a good place to study. Following the attack on the Khaldi meeting we know of three Jewish students who discontinued their studies in Edinburgh. One of them wrote, "This has created an environment in which Jewish students feel intimidated on campus, and might even feel the need to hide their identity". Sadly he was correct - in the aftermath the Jewish Student Society ceased to function normally.

When we have been approached in the past, we had responded that each incident had been unique, that the university had acted quickly to support the victims, and that the perpetrators had been disciplined – but in Edinburgh University the harassment of Jewish students is no longer unique and the University has refused to take any action.  We made clear that with a heavy heart we now doubt whether we can say that Edinburgh university offers a safe or welcoming environment for Jewish students.

Last year the Education Secretary, Mike Russell, the Community Safety Minister, Roseanna Cunningham, and the Lord Advocate, Frank Mulholland, all expressed their concern and offered their support, and we will now be approaching them again to seek their intervention.

Chaplaincy Chair Nicola Livingston commented: "Universities have handled these situations differently, but Edinburgh has handled this abysmally, caving in to the protesters. The university eventually reluctantly met us, but didn't seem to have any appreciation of the fact that they weren't protecting the interests of young people. We produced a report for them and warned it would happen again, which it did, but they still don't seem to understand about the welfare of students in general. Today's meeting was not helpful and we are very upset for the students."

 

   
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