Universities: Anti-Semitism

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:54 pm on 12th June 2007.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Haskel Lord Haskel Labour 7:54 pm, 12th June 2007

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.